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!

24 thoughts on “Which English level am I?

  1. Hello teacher,
    I liked your thought about English level. It is not important my English level, but it is especially important to understand conversation by phone for example. Usually people speak fast and i do not understand everything they say.

  2. Hello, Nicki. I guess, my level is intermediate. I’d like to increase myself vocabuler and rise a level of speaking, make wider my knowledges English. I will be glad to recieve the letters from you.

    1. Thanks for your comment Zoya! It’s great that you know where you are now and what’s important to you. So now I would suggest thinking of little tasks that would help you reach those goals. In other words, how exactly are you going to increase your vocabulary? And what type of vocabulary is relevant to your life?
      I wish you lots of luck and yes, hopefully my Monday emails will help you too 😊

  3. Thank you M’dam. We learn English language through class room teaching using grammar translation method of teaching so we could not be a full competent and performance of the language though we can write English without grammatical errors. As we don’t have such an environment where English is spoken, we are unable to speak English fluently but tried very whenever we find a platform where English can be spoken whether it may be classroom. Sometimes we find ourself learning by teaching children in classroom.. 😂 😂 😂 Yes M’dam I know that you would like to know my level of English language. Listening English country song, watching English movies is my regular practice for improving my fluency.

    1. It’s true that a lot of classrooms focus heavily on grammar so conversational English can slip down the list of priorities. It’s really important to decide what is a priority for you and work on that. And teaching is actually a great way to learn, isn’t it 🙂
      It sounds like you are very aware of your personal goals Shanti, which is brilliant, and songs and TV are both good ideas for improving fluency! Thanks so much for your comment!

  4. I work as a consultant and my clients are all kinds of people: dorctors, engineeris, solicitors, sales people, so I need to have a wide range of vocabulary to comunicate with them. I think my English is good enough but there is always a way in which i can improve. I love your weekly mails with phrases and tips.

    1. Ah thank you for your kind words Grace 🙂 Wow, it sounds like you have a lot of responsibility in your job and it’s great that you’re getting an opportunity to use your English vocabulary. You’re right though, there is always room for improvement – It’s a never ending journey!

  5. I appreciate that gave me chance that I explain my idea I want to improve step by step so currently I am intermediaye level and especially I want improve my speaking and writing

    1. Yes Ehsanullah, it’s a good idea to have little goals and take it one step at a time, rather than getting overwhelmed by the bigger picture. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  6. I have been studying English language for fifteen years now,yet i am still encountering problems when it comes to speaking.Even though my English language level is advanced according to some online sites that i have tested myself .
    I have a rich vocabulary of words ,phrases and idioms ,but these things haven’t helped me to gain that level of fluency that I would be satisfied and would give me the confidence needed to express my thoughts freely and without thinking much.
    I think ,grammar ,listening and reading are skills that can be gained with hard work and determination ,but speaking is different.
    I think that it is impossible to reach a level of fluency in speaking if you are living in a Non-English speaking country and one is unable to promote his English speaking skills in daily basis

    1. I agree Fitim, it’s definitely a challenge to become a fluent speaker unless you are completely immersed in the environment.
      You should still be so proud of what you have achieved though. Your English is great!
      I hope you get an opportunity to use it with native speakers in the future on a more regular basis.
      In the meantime, I would recommend recording yourself lots and singing along to English songs. As crazy as that sounds, it does help with fluency.
      Thank you for sharing your thoughts 🙂

  7. The way I thought is the same to you. As for me, it doesn’t matter what level I am, what the matter is that I can communicate effectively and correctly in my business society. Therefore, my focus is to learn useful vocabulary, phrases or expressions that are related to business meeting or business reception and so on.
    And your wonderful lessons are really useful for me! 😊

    1. That’s a fantastic attitude Thiri! I wish you lots of luck with those goals. Thank you for your lovely comments.

  8. I agree. People should focus on what they really want to achieve rather than any other goal. English is a never-ending challenge.

    1. Yes that’s right Juan! You can never tick it off the list 🙂 It’s important to stay focused on your goals, as you say.

  9. 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 .

  10. 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 🙂

  11. 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 🙂

  12. This practise was great! I have understand almost everthing! 😀

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