Saturday, 11 May 2019

What's my level?

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

A while ago, a prospective student announced, “I’ve learnt until the present perfect continuous, so I think my level is B1*.” This comment struck me as interesting. Imagine all those hours of study, repetition and practice reduced to a grade determined by a single grammar point.

It got me thinking how I felt about my German. What was my level? Let’s see, I’ve passed the B1 exam, so I’m B1. But that was almost a year ago. What does that make me now? B2? How can I really know? Walking up the three flights of stairs to my classroom the other day, I wondered how exactly to say what I was doing in German. That got me thinking even more. I can use the past perfect, but I still can’t use the 1st conditional accurately (though it was in my B1 course book). I even learnt the second conditional back then. If I can't apply the rules now does that mean I’ve slipped back to A2? I ask because I’m listening to an audiobook aimed at A2 learners and, honestly, I don’t understand it 100%. That must make me A1 ….

A1, C1, B2... the fact is this grade really only matters to other people – language schools that need to place you, employers who want to see a score, and other language learners interested in a bit of healthy competition! But learners themselves won’t feel more confident making a call to their insurance company just because they have a certificate that says technically they're able to. Telling German speakers my latest grade doesn’t mean they’ll modify what they say so that it’s level appropriate!

I say: forget the level! “But,” you argue, “how will I know if I’m improving?” And my answer is: as language learners we’re always grading ourselves. You know how you used to understand only about 30% of the news, but now you understand about 60%? Or how you don’t need to look up as many words per page as you read that book? Or how just the other day you used a word you didn’t even know you knew?! That’s how you check if you’re improving. A grade shows what you were able to do one day in a test; it doesn’t reflect how well you communicate on a day-to-day basis. So don’t get hung up on levels.

From the article

struck me as interesting   I found it interesting
flight of stairs    set of stairs
though    however, although, but
aimed at    designed for
modify    make changes to
look up    search in the dictionary for
get hung up on    worry about

*The levels mentioned in this article refer to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). You can assess your own level of English here and all European languages here.

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