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?
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?
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!