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Describing language levels

May 02, 2006

What is the best way to describe a student's level of English?

Hello again,
I have thinking about the way we describe students’ language levels. It’s a really tricky issue because language development doesn’t proceed at a uniform pace. A learner may have excellent reading and writing skills but be poor at speaking. This is something I met frequently among French university students, who had done a great a deal of reading and essay writing but hade seldom...

... practised listening and speaking skills. However, if we make a diagnosis of where students need to improve when they begin a course, we can hope to bring some balance to the four skills during their period of study. On leaving I think the level descriptions developed by the Association of Language Testers in Europe (ALTE) are useful.

The ALTE “can-do” statements (see http://www.bulats.org/tests/alte_levels.php) for each language level provide a clear guide to what tasks a person with a certain level of attainment is able to perform. Can-do scales are made up of some 400 statements, organized into three general categories: Social and Tourist, Work, and Study. These are the key areas of interest for most language learners. The ALTE levels framework used for the can-do statements is:
• ALTE Breakthrough Level: basic ability to communicate and exchange information.

• ALTE Level 1 (Waystage User): can deal with simple, straightforward information and begin to express oneself in familiar contexts.

• ALTE Level 2 (Threshold User): in familiar situations, users can express themselves in a limited way and deal in a general way with non-routine information.

• ALTE Level 3 (Independent User): users can achieve most goals, and express themselves on a range of topics.

• ALTE Level 4 (Competent User): users are aware of appropriacy, sensitivity, and have the capacity to deal with unfamiliar topics.

• ALTE Level 5 (Good User): This level indicates a capacity to deal with academic or cognitively demanding material, and to use language to good effect. This level may in certain ways be more advanced than that of an average native speaker.
Let me know what you think.

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