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.
In understanding the levels, it helps to be familiar with some of the certificate testing organizations, especially because there are various definitions of what each level might entail. In reality, levels can be defined by exam syndicates such as Cambridge ESOL or the University of Michigan and a great number of other proficiency type exams, as well as more academic purpose type exams.(ex: TOEFL , TOEIC, IELTS ).
Most ESOL/EFL publishers write books for various levels based on either specific exams or the CEF, a body of work known as the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. Levels are categorized as A1, A2, B1, B2, C1 and C2. The CEF is for the most part considered to be the standard. Even in the USA, their level descriptors are being adopted more and more.
Also, The CEF is what most of EFL related proficiency exam bodies and publishers tend to follow. Before this body of work there were various "loose" descriptions of levels with terms such as beginner, elementary, lower-intermediate, upper-intermediate, advanced and then proficiency (in some countries).
For more general purposes, the following terms are often used:
Here is how ALTE (the Association of Testers of Europe) describes some of the levels we discussed above:
Elementary: Basic command of the language needed in a range of familiar situations, for example: can understand and pass on simple messages.
Lower intermediate: Limited but effective command of the language in familiar situations, for example: can take part in a routine meeting on familiar topics, particularly in an exchange of simple factual information.
Upper-intermediate: Generally effective command of the language in a range of situations, for example: can make a contribution to discussions on practical matters.
Lower advanced: Good operational command of the language in a wide range of real world situations, for example: can participate effectively in discussions and meetings.
Upper Advanced: Fully operational command of the language at a high level in most situations, for example: can argue a case confidently, justifying and making points persuasively.
These comparisons are by no means accurate and are approximations.
|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|
Beginners are starting out learning English.
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.
An intermediate level students have generally enough knowledge of the language to branch out to more specific English courses, such as Business English or English for Academic Purposes.
A Pre-Intermediate level gives scope for improvement in all areas (grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, etc.) as students have a good basic ability to communicate and understand. They can confidently use all the simple tenses and handle many everyday situations like shopping, booking a hotel room, asking for information, etc. Grammatically they have generally covered the parts of speech and know how to use them.
At Upper-Intermediate level students have an effective, but not perfect, use of English. They can take part in extended conversations on a wide range of topics. If they don't know the appropriate term for something they are able to find a way of describing it. They have a knowledge of some idiomatic English and colloquial expressions. All main areas of English grammar have been covered at this level.
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.