Language learning: Make it a part of your plan

I need a B1 level because I want to go on an Erasmus exchange. 

I need a B2 level to earn my degree and I’m graduating next year

I need a B2 level to apply for a master’s programme. 

I need a C1 level to apply for a job at a multi-national company. 

We at the Servei d’Idiomes have heard one or all of these statements at one time or another during our careers as language educators. It’s rather curious because I can’t imagine this happening in other subjects. What would happen if I walked into a Nursing programme and said, “I took biology classes in high school, and I need to become a nurse in one year,” or “I once took a micro and macro economics course, and I need to get my MBA to apply for a job.” 

Oral skills class at UManresa

Yet this is happens with more frequency than I would expect when it comes to language studies. It’s as if we language teachers have a magical syringe full of grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, speaking and writing skills, reading and listening comprehension, and all we have to do is give our students the language injection. Suddenly, you will reach B2 level English even though the last time you studied English was in your state secondary school, where you passed because you learned enough to pass an exam and promptly forgot it all once the exam was over.  

Just for your information, here are the general skills that students should have at the B2 level: 

  • CAN follow or give a talk on a familiar topic or keep up a conversation on a fairly wide range of topics. 
  • CAN scan texts for relevant information, and understand detailed instructions or advice. 
  • CAN make notes while someone is talking or write a letter including non-standard requests. 

And if you are learning for academic purposes: 

  • CAN give a clear presentation on a familiar topic, and answer predictable or factual questions.  
  • CAN scan tests for relevant information and grasp main point of text. 
  • CAN make simple notes that will be of reasonable use for essay or revision purpose 

Finally, if you need a B2 level for professional reasons:  

  • CAN take and pass on most messages that are likely to require attention during a normal working day. 
  • CAN understand most correspondence, reports and factual product literature he/she is likely to come across. 
  • CAN deal with all routine requests for goods or services. 

More importantly, at B2 students should be what is referred to as Independent Users, meaning there is less reliance on native speakers accommodating their speech for you: speaking slowly and exaggerating pronunciation, using simpler vocabulary or using shorter, simpler sentences. As an independent user, you can achieve all your goals and express yourself. 

As most language teachers know, all learners are different, and there may be some who can start at an A2 level and reach a B2 level in two years, but those tend to be the exception, not the rule. Therefore, what students ought to understand is that they should: 

1) Know which level you are starting out at. Take a diagnostic test (or as we call it at Servei d’Idiomes, prova de nivell) to see which level you have. 

2) Learn more about the level that is your goal. Knowing “I need a B1,” is not enough. Research what you need to be able to do, how much time it will take you to get there from the level you currently have. 

3) Think about any language requirements along with the other academic and/or professional goals you have. Can you realistically go from an A2 to a B2 in one year in addition to the studies or work obligations you will have? 

Knowing these three things can help you come up with a language learning plan that won’t have you scrambling for the language injection at the last minute. 

* CAN DO statements taken from: https://www.cambridgeenglish.org/Images/28906-alte-can-do-document.pdf 

Nancy LeeHead of the School of Modern Languages

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