It’s quite common for students to come to me asking when they’ll be good at English. Sometimes this question is motivated by an eagerness to get quick results and other times because they’ve been studying for a while and resorting to a private teacher seems the last chance to speak fluently.
But, the truth is, how can we define what it is to be good at English?
The answer to this question varies considerably from a student to the other. It depends on each person’s objectives regarding English. Do you need it for professional reasons? For travelling? For studying? What is your motivation to study?
After you analyse your driving to learn this language, you can consider some examples from your first language and compare them to the second language. It goes like this, if you’re studying English because you travel a lot and want to be more confident when talking to foreigners in a shop or restaurant, this scenario is your thermometer to measure how good you are. Ask yourself:
- Can I ask and understand the price of a product?
- Can I ask and understand if there are other colours or sizes of a product?
- Do I understand and say numbers and prices confidently?
- Do I understand and know how to talk about payment conditions?
Did you get the idea? As you can see, when you start imagining the situation in your mind and the probable interactions it would allow you to have, it’s possible to assess if you have language to perform confidently and well.
After this analysis, identify areas for improvement. What is missing? Vocabulary? A specific construction? Your answers to these questions will help you elaborate a study plan and guide your training, focusing on what your weaknesses are.
When it comes to business English, I feel that identifying these areas for improvement can be even easier, make a list of tasks related to your activities and analyse if you can perform them in English.
Think of you business area and consider aspects like these:
- Do you have vocabulary to describe your tasks and responsibilities?
- In case you need to talk to customers or suppliers, do you know how to carry a conversation in English?
- Do you know how to describe a product or component you need?
- Can you describe the steps of a process?
- Can you describe graphs and statistics?
- Do you know how to describe a balance sheet or budget?
Now if speaking English is an integral part of you job; I recommend that you consider what, in my point of view, is one of the most important thermometers to assess your performance:
Can you negotiate in English as successfully as you do in your first language?
At a first glance it may not seem that negotiating is so delicate and relevant but it is. I’ve had the opportunity to see several students that decided that they were quite pleased with the level of performance they had acquired and didn’t need to go that extra mile to learn new constructions, expressions or vocabulary. More often than I wanted to hear it, students would say something like “But if I say it this way, they’ll understand me; so, no problem!“. After some time, they’d be faced with scenarios in which they needed to negotiate with foreigners and ended up feeling frustrated and disappointed because they couldn’t perform as well as they imagined.
So, as you can see, your ultimate purpose for studying is going to help you decide whether your English is good or not.
The Association of Language Testers in Europe (ALTE), a group of leading European language testing organisations (for example Cambridge ESOL) has developed a series of Can-Do statements describing what a person “can do” using the language at a particular level and in a particular context.
The four contexts are: general, social & tourist, work, and study. The table below shows the 6 ALTE levels and Can-Do statements (in the context of general language).
If you want a detailed Can-Do list for the four context areas, you can visit ALTE.
The table below shows comparisons between various test scores and level systems (like TOEIC, TOEFL and IELTS) and the VEC level system. Use this table to compare your own score with the approximate equivalent score of another test.
Enjoy your study!