TEFL/TESOL teachers talk about students being Beginners, Intermediate, Advanced and so on. But what does that really mean?
There is no single method used to describe the learner level of an English speaker, however this article will provide a rough idea of how to classify a student and how they are generally classified in TEFL.
Note that no single system is definitive and there are overlaps and variations with all the systems used. Schools in different countries may well have their own system but if you look at most books for students you will find that the level is classified using one of these system below.
Informally you'll often hear students of English being referred to as:
As a very rough guide...
Beginners are starting out learning English. They can talk about the present, give their name, have simple conversations and so on.
False Beginners are students who have had perhaps some exposure to English and have a very limited grasp of the basics. They have either learned English many years before (perhaps at school) and are coming back to the classroom later in life, or perhaps they have had some contact with English speakers but no formal training.
False Beginners often learn faster than Total Beginners who may well know nothing at all of English. On the other hand, False Beginners may well have imperfect English embedded in their minds and this can take some work to correct.
However, remember that certain words are almost universal: internet, computer, pizza, taxi and so on will be understood by almost all nationalities so it is sometimes difficult to find a complete and utter beginner.
See also the full article, Beginners.
Students at intermediate level can talk and read about a wide number of subjects using appropriate vocabulary and fairly correct, if basic, grammar. They can confidently use all the main tenses, and are beginning to use phrasal verbs, modal verbs, and suchlike.
Tone and style are not refined yet but there is an awareness of pronunciation and what it entails.
When you speak to an intermediate level student you will hear mistakes and sometimes the verb tenses and forms get a bit confused, but generally you can have an extended conversation with them.
See also the full article, Intermediate.
Advanced students can hold extended conversations and write extended texts.
They are aware of differences between formal and informal English and whilst they may make occasional mistakes and their pronunciation is obviously not like a native speaker, they have little difficulty in communicating on everyday topics as well as specialized subjects.
See also the full article, Advanced.
The classification above is very general. However, several major examining bodies have developed their own system of classification which tries to place students in certain bands depending on their level of English. Two popular ones are:
ALTE is the Association of Testers of Europe. They use the following to describe those levels discussed above:
The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages uses these levels. An abbreviated list is here:
The CEFR system is becoming more popular and has been adopted by many institutions around the world.
As well as ALTE & CEFR there are other organizations which have offered more formal classifications for students. This is an approximate comparison of levels using criteria from those different organizations.
Note that UCLE, TOEIC and TOEFL are examining bodies.
|General Terms||CEFR||ALTE||UCLES||TOEIC||iBT TOEFL|
|Pre-Intermediate||A2 Waystage||Key English Test|
|Intermediate||B1 Threshold||2 Lower Intermediate||Preliminary English Test||405-500||57 - 60|
|Upper Intermediate||B2 Vantage||3 Upper Intermediate||First Certificate in English||505-780||61 - 89|
|Advanced||C1 Proficiency||4 Lower Advanced||Certificate in Advanced English||785-900||90 - 106|
|Advanced||C2 Mastery||5 Upper Advanced||Certificate of Proficiency in English||900+||107 - 120|