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Lower-Intermediate Students

Lower-intermediate students perhaps can best be summarized with the following statement: They are in a state of transition, having acquired the basics of the language yet unable to use these elements consistently and accurately.

The weakest of lower-intermediate students can handle short, basic conversations relegated to work, family, hobbies, and other areas of interest. In many cases, a lack of vocabulary sends the students scurrying for dictionaries, as they don't yet possess the ability to explain around unknown words. In fact, vocabulary usage remains quite low, and suffices for simple conversations. These conversations tend towards the reactive rather than the participatory. In other words, students can ask and answer questions, but little or no additional information or follow-up questions voluntarily occur. The conversations often feel more like an interview.

Stronger students at this level similarly react to conversations, unless otherwise directed by the teacher. (For example, the teacher instructs the students to speak about two questions for at least five minutes, or assigns the class to ask additional questions based on a partner's response.) Stronger students may also speak with somewhat more ability and confidence on less familiar topics, yet they will do so with long pauses. These topics will need to focus more on concrete, everyday aspects like travel, friends, or work. Discussions on politics, the environment, and most current events will generate only the most elementary of responses, and will lead to frustration rather than a meaningful opportunity to practice the language.

With all students of this level, though, pronunciation problems may likely hinder comprehension, both for the native speakers in the conversation and for the students. For native speakers, unless familiar with the usual mistakes associated with the mother tongue of the students, misunderstandings will arise. For the students, the actual pronunciation of the word doesn't match the sound in their heads, and so an inability to easily follow conversations often occurs.

Students at this level are best served with the following:

Repetition and extension of activities. Students need practice with the language already learned, repeating activities to build fluency. In addition, they will need opportunities to mix new language with previously learned grammar and vocabulary. Again, repetition allows new and old language to be successfully practiced. Some students may become overly concerned with accuracy, which will significantly slow down the reaction time in a conversation.

Listening practice. Students will primarily pick out key words when listening, and so may miss verb tenses, plurals, prepositions, and other aspects. They will not fully understand lengthier conversations as a result. Extensive listening opportunities, whether in the classroom or assigned as homework, are of benefit.

Pronunciation practice. Students must build a better ability with the sounds and intonation of English. This will greatly help their ability to participate (listen and speak) in a conversation.

Speaking practice. As has been mentioned, conversations could proceed slowly,, especially with unfamiliar topics. An inability to incorporate speaking strategies and appropriate language forms will produce long, frequent pauses. Students need the opportunity to speak in semi-controlled to free activities, as well as some preparation before beginning an activity. (For example, the teacher allows students two minutes to think and jot down notes to talk about two questions on family.)

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