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Advanced English Students

Questions and concerns often arise among teachers when it comes to advanced students: just what can a high-level learner do? They have cleared the hurdle of fluency problems, as much of the language has become automatic. In other words, they don't pre-translate and then speak. They also don't get hung up on particular words, and instead can explain around unknown vocabulary. When listening or reading, they don't need to translate, and can often guess the meaning of a new word, phrase, or difficult sentence through context.

Herein lurks the problem, though. Because of their ability in these areas, which they have slowly built over the course of months or years of study (and our encouragement and guidance), it sometimes becomes difficult to clearly determine what an advanced ESL student is capable of. Add to the mix that individual students often need fine tuning of a particular skill set, as opposed to lower level learners who need to build skills as a whole.

As teachers, it becomes difficult to help our students reach their full potential through effective lessons. We don't want to build a lesson that simply allows our students to chat away, while we cover any mistakes as they pop up. Therefore, follow the below guide to determine how advanced your advanced students are, and which activities they need to get them to the top.

Advanced learners are able to participate in a conversation. At lower levels, students react to the conversation rather than fully join it. How many conversations have you had, or overheard, that progressed like an interview? One side asks a question, the other answers it, and if no further questions are asked, the conversation ends. What about the fillers? redundancies? stories? experiences? body language?

Advanced learners can use speaking strategies. This ties into the above, as they adjust their speaking with intonation, rates of speech, nuance, and vocabulary to color a conversation. Fluency may suffer as advanced ESL speakers grope for the right word.

Advanced learners can talk at length on personal topics, as well as on current topics. Their ability to narrate and describe events and ideas, and to explain around unknown words or phrases, lets them speak uninterrupted for several minutes if necessary. They can also speak smoothly, and link ideas together, aiding long monologues needed for stories, presentations, or discussions. With unfamiliar topics, or topics that don't hold much personal interest, lengthy discourse becomes more difficult.

Advanced learners can comfortably use English for work or for school. Where the previous points primarily focus on fluency, we need to consider reading ability, too. Advanced students should be comfortable skimming for main ideas, or scanning for specific information in a text. Although a 60-minute lesson (or even a 90-minute lesson) makes an article culled from a newspaper or magazine difficult to use effectively, students at this level can read and understand most newsstand material if read at their leisure. On familiar topics or topics of personal interest, there should be a higher level of understanding than just a general comprehension plus a few specific details. Advanced students should also be comfortable writing in English.

Of course, students at this level will be stronger in some areas than others. For example, student A may find writing very difficult, student B may have trouble elaborating on ideas, and student C still suffers from problems with listening But all students at the advanced level have done more than dip or wade into the above categories, as can be demonstrated by their ability to be clearly understood, and without difficulty, by native speakers.

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