A typical problem that my students are experiencing when they first start their classes, is that they have reached the B2 English stage, but are unable to advance to the next level of proficiency. Going from a competent speaker, one who understands almost everything and can have a conversation about most topics, to one who has a near-native level and feels truly comfortable speaking English at all times, is perhaps the most frustrating point in language learning. It seems a long journey, but have no fear; there is a simple solution.
Don’t worry about the “F-word”
The F-word – fluency. Expecting to be fluent in English is dangerous thinking; you’ll start to feel like the language is infinite. That’s because it is! But don’t lose motivation; no one is fluent in the entirety of a language. Even most native English speakers wouldn’t be “fluent” if you started speaking about quantum physics, for example. So focus on the areas of English that are necessary to you at this point in time.
To explain this concept, in this article I’ll be using the example of someone interested in cooking. This person would start by focusing their attention on the language of cooking in order to become “fluent” in that area alone. As a B2 English speaker, you will get far better results by learning areas of language in detail, one at a time, rather than looking at the whole language all at once.
Put down the textbooks
At this stage, textbooks filled with grammar and vocabulary are far less necessary. Why? Because they become to broad and unfocused. When you start learning, its absolutely essential to learn the verb “to be”, but at a B2-C1 level there are hundreds of different paths you can follow. So you should be the person determining what it is you need to learn, depending on what is interesting and necessary to you.
I’ll continue with the cooking example. Our cooking enthusiast would take a recipe, slightly above their comprehension level, and underline or highlight words and structures that they don’t understand, without looking them up initialy. Then, they continue reading recipes until they start underlining words or structures various times. Sometimes the words we don’t understand aren’t necessary to look up and spend time learning because they’re so uncommon, they’ll waste precious time.
Study only those words that cause problems consistently to become fluent in your area of language. A word like “blanch” might appear infrequently in a recipe, whereas “teaspoon” will probably come up over and over again. “Teaspoon” should be the word we decide to put into our vocabulary list, and “blanch” left to the side.
Put your study into immediate practice
Once you have a series of vocabulary and structures, in this case taken from the recipes read by our cooking friend, find a way to practice them the very same day. In my classes I make sure that whatever we learn is then used in an authentic context as soon as possible. For example, our learner would write their own recipe in English for a favourite dish, or tell an English speaking friend about how they made their dinner last night, being careful to apply recently learnt words. In fact, on average we remember 10% of what we read, 20% what we hear, 70% of what we say, and 90% of what we say and do. So don’t underestimate this crucial step.
Find gaps in your knowledge
As you start practicing the newly learnt vocabulary, you should start to see words and phrases that you aren’t sure about. Our learner wanted to write “teaspoon” in their recipe, and that was easy, but then they needed the word for a larger spoon (“tablespoon”), but had no idea what it was. Great! That is organic learning at its finest. The learner has identified a word to learn out of necessity, not because a book told them to. This is a definitely a word to put into the vocabulary list and study, ready for the next time they write a recipe.
Another way to find gaps is to translate your thoughts and experiences in every day life. Our cooking friend wakes up one morning and makes their typical breakfast: eggs on toast. As they put the toast in the toaster, they should make a mental note of what they are doing, and make sure they can say each of those things in English. “I’m putting the bread in the toaster”, “I’m frying the eggs”, and so on.
Find a native speaking partner
When you start testing the new language you have learnt, there can be uncertainty as to whether or not you are saying or using terms correctly. That’s why its important to have a native partner or teacher who can correct you when you haven’t got it exactly right. If you’re in a city, there will likely be language exchanges, which are a great way to meet native English speakers. Make mistakes, ask to be corrected, and ask about words you’ve recently learnt. If you learn with a teacher, make sure to direct the classes towards the topics that you want to talk about, and become an active C1 English speaker.
Once you feel that an area of the language has been sufficiently well-learnt, move on to the next item until you have a whole list of areas in which you are an English specialist. Good luck in your journey towards C1 English!
If you are looking for a native teacher to guide you towards C1 English, contact me at Ben@BensEnglish.com.