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Advanced learners

March 06, 2007

Hello again,
As English gains greater coverage as a lingua franca, we see the general rise in language ability among students. However, as advanced learners have already met the major structural and lexical components of the language the issue of how to motivate and stretch them remains something of a problem in the classroom. If you concentrate simply ...

...on skills development, they may feel that they are treading water rather than making linear progress.

I have a few suggestions for an approach with advanced learners that I would like to share with you. First, I think it is a good idea to involve them in some self-diagnosis. Find out where they feel they want to improve and plug gaps. Of course the idea is fine but how to implement it is another matter. This rather depends on the styles of teaching you encourage in your school. In a very traditional school, you could simply administer a diagnostic test, discuss the results with the students to find out their views and base the study scheme on the areas where the advanced learners showed weakness and expressed a wish to improve. Another possibility is to draw up a checklist and discuss the items with the students, so that they select but you have provided the framework.

Next it is helpful to raise the awareness of the students about the nature of language learning and its likely progress. Explain that in the early stages, because so much is new, learners have the impression of fast progress and achievement. As they acquire more, the learning process is more to do with deepening understanding and refining what they know.

The main area where new opportunities exist is vocabulary building as this is by far the biggest and most complex area of English. They can also learn how to use the language with greater subtlety. To map out a course with vocabulary targets, you could decide to work on topic areas to reflect the learners’ interests. Select reading and listening texts that are vocabulary rich and make sure you exploit all aspects of meaning. For example, in English many words are almost but their use depends on factors such as context, register, collocation. Try the kind of exercise that requires them to work out when to use nearly synomous words: strive, try, endeavour, attempt, make an effort. Try exercises too with new words; the Oxford Advanced English Dictionary site provides a good worksheet for this (http://www.oup.com/elt/catalogue/teachersites/oald7/exercises/?cc=global). Idioms are another rich field for advanced learners.

For grammar the key areas for advanced learners are old chestnuts such as phrasal verbs, accurate use of prepositions, collocation, state and event verbs, patterns of verb complementation and subtler points such as inversion and cleft sentences. To provide students with exercises that flex their grammar muscles, transformations are very rigorous. Once they have done a grammar transformation exercise, discuss with them how the transformation affects the nature of the message. Another exercise along these lines is to ask them to distinguish the difference in meaning between sentences that seem similar, For example, if inversion and cleft sentences are being studied, ask students to explain the differences in such versions as: he met his wife in an Italian restaurant/it was in an Italian restaurant that he met his wife/ his wife was the person he met in an Italian restaurant. Incidentally they might also be asked to explain the ambiguity in those sentences.

Writing is likely to be weakest area for advanced learners among the four skills and in speaking, pronunciation and prosody can usually do with attention. Gear writing practice to what learners need to do. They will be more motivated if they see the relevance of their writing practice.

Teachers may need a lot of support too when dealing with advanced learners so ensure you select those teachers with the confidence to deal with these demanding classes.

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  1. C Says:

    Great article, as always. I'd also be interested in hearing about how to motivate and to help intermediate students, as I feel they have the same problem in that they often plateau at this level and then don't feel like they can ever get better.

  1. Brenda Townsend Hall Says:

    Thank you C; you have just given me an idea for a new entry!

  1. Nick Says:

    Hi everyone,
    I have just finished a Phd programme in linguistics and I'm planing to travel to Asia for a year.It is possible for someone like me from cameroon and being Black to have a teaching job in Asia?

    Though, I am a trained teacher and have been teaching English for the past four year as well as a linguistics course in a university for two years. I'm still skeptical securing a job in Asia
    I'm eagerly waiting for your advice

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