which English level am I

Which English level am I?

After years of teaching in language schools, I can’t tell you how many times students have asked ‘Which English level am I?’.
And when I talk to English learners about what they want to learn, the answer is often ‘I need to know all the tenses’ or ‘I need to understand all the vocabulary’ or sometimes ‘I need to reach advanced level’. It is as though they see the English language as a mountain to be climbed. They believe they are somewhere near the bottom or half-way up grabbing the relevant tenses and vocabulary on the way to the top, where advanced level can be found along with the ‘advanced flag’.

Why do we focus so much on our level?

I think it’s totally understandable that we want to know our level and put a label on it because it’s the way we are taught languages at school normally. Throughout school, we are placed in all our classes according to our level and then we try to get to a higher level.
And, of course, if you are taking a test in English, then that approach might be the only option.

What should we focus on instead?

But, if you are learning English for reasons other than a test, then maybe it’s better to think about this question instead:

What exactly do I need to learn for the type of communication I’m going to have?

For example

If you are a grandparent visiting your grandchild in England, then maybe you’d like to know a few small talk phrases to use with the English relatives you meet. Maybe some language to use when you check into the hotel or buy food at the corner shop would be useful.

If you are planning to go travelling in America, then perhaps some phrases to use on public transport would be the best place to start and some nice vocabulary for describing the places you have visited.

If you have moved to Australia recently, you might like some useful vocabulary for setting up a bank account and joining the local gym. Or some phrases to use when you’re ordering food in a restaurant.

Then you won’t need to ask ‘Which English level am I?’

Can you see what I mean? If you follow this approach, it doesn’t matter what your level is now and you aren’t climbing the mountain to ‘advanced’.
You just think about what situations you might face and you learn the language and phrases connected to those situations. Does that make sense?

bottom of mountain

Forget about your level, forget about learning all the tenses and all the vocabulary, forget about the mountain!

Does this approach make sense to you or do you still think it’s important to ask ‘Which English level am I?’ – I’d love to hear your thoughts in my comments section below!


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Nicki is a Cambridge qualified, experienced English teacher for foreign learners. She loves helping English learners to learn real English and communicate with confidence!

8 thoughts on “Which English level am I?

  1. I think than your comment is very important .If one person want to learn english might to study the main vocabulary daily situations like you said .

  2. I agree with your thoughts . It is a good idea but I have a question . Is that useful for learners want to reach a level better to enter the university in England to qualify an advanced degree ? My wife she has difficulties in learning English . She cannot built phrases and sentences to understand what she hear or speak . I want to help her I don’t know how . Are these tips useful for here case ? Could you help please ?

    Farah Mouteb
    MSc civil engineering with structural engineering

    1. That’s a really interesting question Farah. Your wife will obviously need some specific language for her university course but there will be still some vocabulary/phrases that come up often in that environment that she can focus on initially. The idea is really to try and take it step by step and identify the priorities for her specifically rather than facing the whole challenge at once….although I know that can feel difficult if she has a time pressure to get into university.
      I would say it is always worth learning ‘chunks of language’ rather than trying to build all sentences from scratch. For example, she should learn “Could you repeat that please?” rather than just learning the word “repeat” and then trying to build a sentence when she needs to use it – Does that make sense?
      If she is struggling to learn and remember vocabulary, it might be worth thinking about what TYPE of learner she is because she might need a different learning style to you or her friends. For example, if she is an auditory learner, she might find it beneficial to record phrases onto a dictaphone and then listen to them again and again until they stick in her head instead of writing them down. For more about learning styles, this blog post might be useful: https://theenglishenglishteacher.com/best-way-to-learn-english/
      I hope that helps but you can always email me if you would like some more advice. Thanks for your question and comments, I really appreciate it, Nicki 🙂

  3. My daughter was ill and I had to bring her to the doctor, I knew the name of illness in my language but I didn’t know it in English. So I checked it from the dictionary even I read an article about the illness. Before going to the doctor, I learned both meanings and pronunciations of chickenpox, vaccinated and rash. I don’t forget them:)

    1. That’s a great example of focusing on the language you need for specific situations! And you’re right, if it is a real life situation, you always remember the vocabulary! Brilliant story Hatice, thank you for sharing it and I hope your daughter didn’t suffer too much with the chickenpox 🙂

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