“Why am I doing this? Don’t I know enough already?” If you’re an advanced or proficient student in your target language, this is what you may have wondered.
Some advanced or proficient students ponder (think over) if they should learn more by taking group classes or learning with a tutor. Did you know that some teachers are actually afraid to teach advanced students because they worry that higher-level students know as much as they do--or will catch them in a mistake? But advanced students are actually a joy to teach at this stage in their learning. Let me tell you why, and some of the things advanced students can still learn.
Language is no longer a Barrier
There is no better time to have a conversation when a student has reached the advanced or proficient level. Proficient students know enough vocabulary to express themselves clearly on everyday subjects, such as their job or school. They think less and less in their native language and can speak with ease in their target language. Hesitation is no longer a problem. Proficient (and advanced) students can forget themselves in their foreign language. Embarrassment or self-consciousness are more rare when they speak.
So if you’re an advanced or proficient student, you can still learn to:
Before, you might have started to understand jokes, but only if they were told to you slowly and with a lot of explanation. But now you can remember jokes and repeat them to other people. At this point, you also learn what and when jokes are appropriate in different situations. For example, you might think a joke is funny but perhaps it’s not a joke you would tell on a first date or when you’re with your boss.
Become very specific
Do you have a hobby, sport or interest you would like to talk about in your target language? Maybe you love ancient Egypt or another civilization and would like to share it with someone. Perhaps you’d like to tell someone how to improve their tennis game. Now you can. Because you know the basics of your target language, you can branch out to other areas. Maybe you’ll be entering a medical field; you’ll need medical terminology. The same holds true for law or accounting.
Work on pronunciation and accent reduction
“Even fluent ESL students can usually use some work on their pronunciation,” says Stacy Levi of Where To From Here: Teaching the Advanced ESL Student. In this way, she says, “you can work on faulty intonation patterns (such as failing to use rising intonation for questions) and stress [failing to reduce or increase the emphasis on certain words in a sentence].”
Focus on advanced writing and composition skills
Up until you reached the advanced or proficient level, most of your writing was academic. Now, thinking of your career or other pursuits, you can concentrate on some of the writing you’re likely to encounter in the workplace, for example. These include emails, memos, reports, analyses, and recommendations, says Levi. You can also learn to use the internet for research instead of just looking up the definition of words.
Use special idioms
You can go to parties or certain cultural events, using your target language with ease. But there are still idioms you have to learn to truly express yourself. English, for example, is full of idioms (I’m so glad I don’t have to learn them), and it’s those idioms that make you sound more like a native than anything else. Says Stephanie Long of Reach to Teach “What [students] need is a subject, some vocabulary to go along with it, maybe a few useful grammar patterns, a little bit of time to get their thoughts on the subject together, and then the freedom to discuss, argue, and express their opinions.”
Argue in your new language
Arguing takes passion and being in the moment. It means not stalling, stumbling, looking for the correct words. And this must be learned by the proficient student, who needs to learn the tempo of an argument, which is not the same as a regular conversation or even an academic debate. This is the time when swearing in your new language means something. It’s ironic that when we first learn a language, we often learn the vulgar words. But when we say them, it feels like we’re saying any other foreign word. But not so after you can argue in you target language. This does not mean you should be vulgar, but if you are, you’ll feel these words the same as when you feel them in your own language.
Go back and correct simple mistakes.
I had a student who I would say was totally proficient. She had all the earmarks (signs) of becoming totally bilingual--except for one thing: she had forgotten some of the basic tenets (aspects) of her new language. For example, while she was using sophisticated vocabulary and discussing complex subjects, she would say, “He go to work.” Now, how can this happen?
While I don’t have a linguistic answer for this, I believe as we learn more complex language, we let the simple rules go. Reviewing these beginning rules is like finishing a house. Once it’s done, it’s time to go back and correct the smaller things, like the little spots where the painting brush missed.
Remember, there’s a lot you can still and should learn when you’re an advanced or proficient student. And if you’re not quite ready yet, be comforted by this adage (proverb) from a Chinese philosopher who lived centuries ago:
“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”
Where To From Here? Teaching the Advanced ESL Student
Ilene Springer is a long-term italki tutor, who teaches English. She is also the author of The Diary of an American Expatriate.
When the student is ready, the teacher will come. This is from an old Chinese proverb.