How to Talk about Language Learning - Chatterblog (2023)

One of the most difficult parts of learning a new language, especially if you’ve never done so before, is having a good idea of just what exactly it is that you’re in for. Here we’ll take a look at the various stages of language learning and how many European language teachers talk about these stages.

To many people (Americans especially) you either know: a) none of a language, b) a little of a language or c) you are fluent. There is actually, however, a vast spectrum of language learning stages that everyone goes through on a journey from learning their first word to being comfortably fluent.

I feel that knowing how to talk about language learning is valuable when you’re planning to tackle a new language. There is a long journey between knowing a little of a language and being fluent. If you’re not prepared for this journey, it can seem like you’re not making progress on the way.

So let’s take a look at that what this trip will look like, what you can expect to do at each of the different stages along the way and how long it will generally take to reach each point.

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The CEFR Scale

While there are many language proficiency scales and testing services that all have their own systems, I find it pretty valuable to talk about language stages using the 6 point scale referred to as the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, or the CEFR scale (I pronounce this “See-Fur”). It’s simple, widely recognized throughout Europe, and pretty easy to follow.

In the CEFR scale, there are six stages of language learning – A1, A2, B1, B2, C1 and C2.

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In a nutshell, the A levels are beginning speakers, the B levels are intermediate, and the C levels are advanced. Let’s take a closer look.

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Level A1: Super Beginner

“Hulk Smash” – the Hulk at A1

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When you reach the A1 level, you will have a rough working vocabulary of about 700 words. Some will be derivatives (“run” and “running”), some you will be able to recall quickly and others only slowly and with a lot of effort, but it’s a good ballpark number.

Grammatically, you should be able to understand some really simple past and future constructions, some comparatives and superlatives (“this is larger than that”, “this is the biggest”), basic questions, modal verbs (“could”, “should”) and a little more, but overall it’s pretty basic. The ability to consistently produceall of this is even more limited, if you can produce many coherent sentences at all.

Now, 700 words and superlatives may sound like a lot, but in a spoken language, it’s a surprisingly limited set. You’ll be able to explain simple things in a very basic way and interact with native speakers only if they really are willing to slow down and work with you.

This is a super important point. At A1, you’re not having really sophisticated conversations with people. Think Paulo, Rachel’s Italian boyfriend from the first season of Friends. Or, from another of Jennifer Aniston’s former love interests, Brad Pitt’s Italian in Inglorious Basterds. Perhaps the Hulk from the Avengers movies. Hulk smash. You can get things across, but it’s not going to be easy on anyone involved.

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It will take you about 80-120 hours of work to get here from zero, depending on what you count and how you do it. For example, if you take an Alliance Française intensive course, it’s 80 hours of class time plus probably another 20-40 hours of home study, which can be done in four weeks, but that’s all day, every day. If you’re spending maybe an hour a day on it, it will take closer to four months or so.

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Level A2: Slightly Less Beginner

“the Hulk likes to smashes things” – the Hulk at A2

When you reach the A2 level, you should have a working vocabulary of about 1500 words and far more grammar than at A1.

Here you can have some real conversations, but they’re still simpler and every sentence is sprinkled with “um’s” while you search for the word. Now you can talk very basically about your family, your past, a movie you saw, your favorite foods, things like this. You’re still pretty dependent on your speaking partner slowing down and working with you a lot, but it’s not quite so painful for them.

Think maybe Tom Hanks’s English around the end of The Terminal.

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It will take about another 100-150 hours to get here from A1 so let’s say 250 hours from absolute zero. All of these estimates are for somewhat similar languages like English to Spanish, French or Dutch. At an hour a day, this means about 8 months of work from zero. If it’s 4-6 hours a day, we’re talking about 3 months total.

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Level B1: Intermediate

“Both the advantages and disadvantages of being the Hulk is the constantly need to smash things” – the Hulk at B1

At B1, you’re getting more comfortable. You now have a working knowledge of around 2500 words total, maybe half of which you can recall and use pretty quickly. This makes conversations much more fluid generally.

You’ll still hesitate if it’s a topic you haven’t talked about much, but this is where you can start going into stores or ordering at restaurants and it’s not much of a burden on the people working there. You can read simpler books or read a good amount of newspaper articles if you know the context. You can even watch TV if the subtitles in the target language are on – it’s still pretty rough without them.

Think Dev’s Italian in season two of Master of None. Or maybe Colin Firth’s Jamie proposing to Aurelia in Portuguese at the end of Love Actually. They’re not totally fluent, but it’s not a huge struggle to understand what they’re getting at or generally communicate with them.

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Reaching B1 from A2 takes about 200 hours, so you’re looking at roughly 450 hours of work from scratch. At one hour per day, this is about 18 months of work total. If you’re working at it full time in a program, you can probably get here in about 4 or 5 months.

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Level B2: Basic Fluency

“Being the Hulk is difficult, because although I don’t want to smash things, it’s quite hard for me to resist the urge to” – the Hulk at B2

Reaching B2 is generally considered by most people as having basic fluency. You’ll have a working vocabulary of around 4000 words.

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It’s not always effortless and it’s not always perfect, but neither you nor your native speaking partners are having a really hard time in most circumstances at this point. Conversations about wide ranges of things are pretty easy for everyone involved. Most television or movies in the target language are understandable.

Think of Massimo, Jennifer Lopez’s unrequited Italian courtier from The Wedding Planner, or maybe Jackie Chan in Rush Hour. You’re perfectly understandable and you don’t have issues understanding what native speakers are saying, even at the speed of a Chris Tucker.

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Getting to B2 from B1 is another 200 hours probably, making it about 650 hours from zero. At one hour per day, this is nearly two years of work if you’re starting from scratch. With intensive language courses, missing nothing, and taking courses 4-5 hours every day plus a ton of homework, this is still 28 weeks (7 months) of work.

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Level C1 and C2: Advanced Fluency

“When we really consider the etymology of the word Hulk, is it at all surprising that he defines himself by the destruction of the objects that surround him?” – the Hulk at C1

I’m combining these levels into one description because they’re shades of fluency. A C1 speaker rarely has to search for a phrase, has full grammatical knowledge, knows idioms, can read technical papers, etc. A C2 speaker has essentially the grammar and vocabulary grasp of a native speaker.

Often at the C levels, learners will dig into a specific topic more, such as legal, scientific or business specific language skills.

Think Christoph Waltz’s English in Inglorious Basterds. Not really native, but super close.

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The time it takes to progress through the C levels vary based on what your specific goals are and how you’re working your way there. The Goethe Institut says it takes about 1000 hours of total class time to reach C2, so maybe another 300 hours after you’re done with B2. From scratch, 1000 hours means about 4 years of being in class for an hour every single weekday, plus studying time.

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If you did it absolutely full time, in a classroom or with a tutor just about all day, every day, you could probably get to C-level language proficiency from scratch in about a year of constant work.

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Reaching Your Goals

Of course, all of these estimates are based on various assumptions – it will take longer to reach these levels in languages that are more dissimilar from your native language. Learning Portuguese if you know Spanish will probably take much less time, whereas learning Japanese if you only speak English may well take twice as long as what we’ve talked about here.

The main point is that it takes a long, long time with a lot of work. There is no shortcutting this. There are many organizations and governments who have worked for a very long time to make this process more efficient and it’s just not possible to get to these levels a whole lot faster.

If someone is telling you that they hold the key to becoming fluent in a few months, they generally mean by working 8 hours a day. If they say you can learn a language in only a few minutes per day, their definition of “language learning” is probably different from what we’re talking about here – a complete lack of verbal production or listening skills perhaps.

What is possible for nearly everyone, however, is reaching these milestones if you plan and put in the time. Also, people can get to these levels at different rates. I’m giving good ballpark estimates, but your journey to each level depends on how and how often you study and practice and what your motivation is.

If you want to learn a new language, figure out what your goal is.

If it’s to pass for a native speaker, you have a decade of work in front of you. If it’s to relatively effortlessly understand or produce everything in the language, you have a few years of work to do. If it’s to have simple conversations in fallback circumstances, you have a few months to work to do.

Determine your goal, make your plans, and start down your path. It’s entirely achievable and the journey itself is fun and interesting the entire time as you immerse yourself deeper and more complexly into a new culture.


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How do you comment on language proficiency? ›

You can describe your language skills as Basiс, Conversational, Fluent, or Proficient. Basic – you can communicate on simple topics or know some phrases in this language. Conversational – you can communicate on everyday topics with minor grammar or vocabulary mistakes but you can't write in this language.

What are the 5 levels of language proficiency? ›

Levels of Language Proficiency
  • 0 – No Proficiency. At this lowest level, there is basically no knowledge of the language. ...
  • 1 – Elementary Proficiency. ...
  • 2 – Limited Working Proficiency. ...
  • 3 – Professional Working Proficiency. ...
  • 4 – Full Professional Proficiency. ...
  • 5 – Native / Bilingual Proficiency.
Nov 24, 2022

What is the most effective way to learn a language? ›

Top tips from experts to learn a language quickly
  • Take risks and speak the language whenever you can.
  • Read children's books and comic books in the foreign language.
  • Consume foreign language media.
  • Immerse yourself in the local culture.
  • Make use of free foreign language podcasts and apps.
Mar 3, 2015

How do you describe language mastery? ›

If you show mastery of a particular skill or language, you show that you have learned or understood it completely and have no difficulty using it. He doesn't have mastery of the basic rules of grammar.

How do you give feedback to fluency? ›

Tips for giving feedback on the fluency activities

Before you begin the fluency activity, make sure students understand the task and their roles. Modify the task and the roles to fit your s udents' interests and abilities. Give a time limit. As students begin the activity, be sure to provide language support as needed.

How do I give feedback to ESL learners? ›

7 ideas for giving constructive feedback in an online ESL...
  1. Provide feedback using the student's current knowledge. ...
  2. Give real-time feedback after the student finishes speaking. ...
  3. Nonverbal feedback can encourage the student. ...
  4. Ask the student to self-assess. ...
  5. Provide feedback based on the content of the lesson.

What are the 5 C's of language learning? ›

The five “C” goal areas (Communication, Cultures, Connections, Comparisons, and Communities) stress the application of learning a language beyond the instructional setting.

What are the 4 levels of Ell? ›

English language learners may come with writing styles influenced by their home cultures.
  • Inclusion of Five Levels of Language Proficiency.
  • Level 1-Starting.
  • Level 2-Emerging.
  • Level 3-Developing.
  • Level 4-Expanding.

How do you say you can speak a language but not fluently? ›

the “proficient” label can refer to someone who is very skilled in the use of a language but who uses the language less easily and at a less-advanced level than a native or fluent speaker.

What is the hardest language to learn fluently? ›

Across multiple sources, Mandarin Chinese is the number one language listed as the most challenging to learn. The Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center puts Mandarin in Category IV, which is the list of the most difficult languages to learn for English speakers.

What is the fastest and easiest way to learn a new language? ›

10 Tips to learn a language fast
  • Start with short, simple dialogues. ...
  • Focus on comprehensible input. ...
  • Study pronunciation very early on. ...
  • Read wisely, not widely. ...
  • Start speaking early. ...
  • Immerse yourself in the language. ...
  • Learn one language at a time. ...
  • Focus on real concentrated study… not cheap hacks.
May 28, 2021

Is there a best method to teach a language? ›

The Direct Method

It's based on the active involvement of the student in both speaking and listening to the new language in realistic everyday situations. The process consists of the gradual acquisition of grammatical structure and vocabulary.

What are the major skills in language learning called? ›

When we say that someone 'speaks' a language fluently, we usually mean that they have a high level in all four skills – listening, speaking, reading and writing.

What is the word for understanding language? ›

Receptive language is the ability to understand words and language.

What are the three dimensions of language proficiency? ›

In addition, language development is differentiated across six proficiency levels according to performance criteria using three dimensions of language: word, sentence and discourse.

What are 3 three tips for giving feedback? ›

Here are some tips for providing feedback that is meaningful and actionable:
  • Prepare for the discussion. ...
  • Present the 'big picture' ...
  • Be tactful. ...
  • Meet face-to-face. ...
  • Focus on the fix. ...
  • Offer clear guidance. ...
  • Make it a conversation. ...
  • Follow up.
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What are the 6 D's of solution fluency? ›

The 6Ds of Solution Fluency are an essential system for building problem-solving prowess and strong critical thinking capacity. These 6Ds are Define, Discover, Dream, Design, Deliver, and Debrief.

What are the three 3 elements of reading fluency? ›

This process begins with assessments of the component pieces of fluency: prosody, accuracy, and rate.

How do you give feedback for a learning session? ›

How to Give Feedback on Training Session
  1. Explain why feedback is essential.
  2. Apply a framework for providing formal or informal feedback.
  3. Use descriptive language in delivering feedback.
  4. Describe six characteristics of effective feedback.
  5. Provide feedback in real situations.

How do you comment on a learners performance? ›

The student:
  1. is a conscientious, hard-working student.
  2. works independently.
  3. is a self-motivated student.
  4. consistently completes homework assignments.
  5. puts forth their best effort into homework assignments.
  6. exceeds expectations with the quality of their work.
  7. readily grasps new concepts and ideas.

What are the six language learning strategies? ›

There are six major strategy categories: memory, cognitive, compensation, metacognitive, affective, and social. Under each of these general categories is a set of less complex strategies that are considered to be more basic learning strategies.

What are the 6 principles of language development? ›

Principle 1 Children learn what they hear most. Principle 2 Children learn words for things and events that interest them. Principle 3 Interactive and responsive rather than passive contexts promote language learning. Principle 4 Children learn words best in meaningful contexts.

What are the 4 domains of language proficiency? ›

The next group of strategies is organized by four language skills: speaking, listening, writing, and reading. These are called the four domains of language, and students must master all four domains to attain academic proficiency in a language.

What is L1 and L2 for ELLs? ›

These terms are frequently used in language teaching as a way to distinguish between a person's first and second language. L1 is used to refer to the student's first language, while L2 is used in the same way to refer to their second language or the language they are currently learning.

What are the three levels of ESL? ›

The EFLs for ESL are organized into three modalities: interpretive, productive, and interactive. These modalities include the domains of reading, writing, speaking, and listening.

What are the 5 levels of ESL students? ›

How many levels in ESL do you have? The school has five (5) levels: Beginner, Intermediate, High-Intermediate, Advanced and High-Advanced.

How do you talk to someone with a limited English proficiency? ›

use jargon, slang, acronyms, or specialized words. Use simple words that are easily translated. Also keep in mind that there may be many dialects associated with a language. Try to add expression and use appropriate pitch in your voice.

What can I say instead of fluent? ›

Synonyms of fluent
  • articulate.
  • eloquent.
  • vocal.
  • outspoken.
  • expressive.
  • well-spoken.
  • talkative.
  • voluble.

What is the 2 hardest language to speak? ›

The Hardest Languages To Learn For English Speakers
  1. Mandarin Chinese. Interestingly, the hardest language to learn is also the most widely spoken native language in the world. ...
  2. Arabic. ...
  3. Polish. ...
  4. Russian. ...
  5. Turkish. ...
  6. Danish.
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What is the easiest language to learn ever? ›

We've used data from the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) to rank them from the easier to the somewhat more challenging.
  • Frisian. ...
  • Dutch. ...
  • Norwegian. ...
  • Spanish. ...
  • Portuguese. ...
  • Italian. ...
  • French. ...
  • Swedish.
Oct 25, 2021

What is the 3 hardest language to learn? ›

Let's explore the 10 hardest languages for English speakers to learn, and the challenges they deliver:
  1. Mandarin. Mandarin is spoken by 70% of the Chinese population, and is the most spoken language in the world. ...
  2. Arabic. ...
  3. Japanese. ...
  4. Hungarian. ...
  5. Korean. ...
  6. Finnish. ...
  7. Basque. ...
  8. Navajo.
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What is the 3 easiest language to learn? ›

Easiest (about 600 hours of study)

Of these, Spanish and Italian are the easiest for native English speakers to learn, followed by Portuguese and finally French.

How long does it take the average person to learn a new language fluently? ›

The correct answer is: “it depends,” but you probably already knew that. The next and most accurate answer is that it can take anywhere between three months to two years to learn how to speak, write, and read in a new language fluently.

How many hours a day should you study to learn a new language? ›

The short answer is as much as possible.

Realistically, however, at least 20 minutes per day should be dedicated to learning a new language. The ideal amount of time to spend on daily study, if you can find the time, is an hour, but you don't need to cram it all in at once.

What are the 4 approaches in language learning? ›

The different teaching approaches in this post can be classified into four theoretical orientations: structural, cognitive, psychological and functional.

What is a fun way to teach a language? ›

Fun activities that help develop language learning in children
  • Word games. Expand your children's vocabulary with word games. ...
  • Jokes. Telling age-appropriate puns will also help foster good humour and creativity in children. ...
  • Riddles. ...
  • Rhymes. ...
  • Homonyms. ...
  • Storytelling. ...
  • Songs. ...
  • Tongue twisters.

What are the 8 approaches? ›

Direct Method, the Audio-Lingual Method, the Silent Way, Sug- gestopedia, Community Language Learning, the Total Physical Response Method, and the Communicative Approach.

What is the first rule of improving speaking skills? ›

The first step in improving your speaking skills is actually working on your listening.

Which of the language basic skill is the most important? ›

That's why speaking is the most important skill of language learning. However, you need to remember that if you really want to learn a foreign language, you have to work on the main 4 language skills: speaking, listening, vocabulary, and reading.

Is language a skill or knowledge? ›

As such, language is a skill, but it's 100% backed up by knowledge.

What do you call a person who understands a language but can't speak it? ›

The correct term is receptive bilingualism.

What is it called when you can't understand a language? ›

Aphasia is a language disorder that makes it hard for you to read, write, and say what you mean to say. Sometimes it makes it hard to understand what other people are saying, too. Aphasia is not a disease. It's a symptom of damage to the parts of the brain that control language.

What is it called when someone can't understand a language? ›

Aphasia is a language disorder that happens when you have brain damage. Your brain has two halves. Language skills are in the left half of the brain in most people. Damage on that side of your brain may lead to language problems.

What are 3 language barriers? ›

Types of language barriers
  • Spoken languages and dialects. ...
  • Technical languages. ...
  • Language disabilities. ...
  • Written communications. ...
  • Company-specific language. ...
  • Use plain language. ...
  • Find a reliable translation service. ...
  • Enlist interpreters.

What are 3 important phases of teaching each language skill? ›

The focus of TBLT teaching is solely on the completion of a detailed task which interests and engages the learners. Learners use the language skills that they already have to complete the task and work through three distinct phases – a pre-task, the task itself and post-task.

What are the 3 levels of proficiency? ›

The CA ELD Standards define three proficiency levels—Emerging, Expanding, and Bridging*—to describe the stages of English language development through which ELs are expected to progress as they improve their abilities in listening, speaking, reading, and writing English.

How do you evaluate the language proficiency of your students? ›

One way to describe general language proficiency is to see it as the ability to read, write, listen and speak in real situations. To test this we'd usually develop a test for each skill, with questions that are designed to imitate real life and that are assessed based on how performance reflects real life.

How do you write a language review? ›

Useful language
  • introduction: say what you are reviewing. – The (film, book…etc) I would like to review is….. – The last Film I saw / book I read was…….
  • explain: give details of what you reviewing. – It's set in………. – The story is based on (a book..) ….. ...
  • opinion: give your own opinion of what you are reviewing.

What are the 4 levels of language proficiency? ›

This means that knowledge of the language is nonexistent or limited to a few words.
  • Elementary proficiency. ...
  • Limited working proficiency. ...
  • Professional working proficiency. ...
  • Full professional proficiency. ...
  • Primary fluency / bilingual proficiency.
Feb 25, 2020

What level is language fluent? ›

Fluent. A fluent language skill means you can read, write, and speak a language fluidly and without hesitation.

What is the level of language skills? ›

Advanced: native, fluent, superior, proficient, highly developed, mother tongue, distinguished. Mid-range: professional, advanced, conversational, competent, upper-intermediate. Beginner: elementary, beginner, basic, low-intermediate, novice, limited working proficiency.


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