The process of learning English as a Foreign Language (EFL) is often divided into levels or grades. For example, many countries split it into “beginner”, “intermediate”, “advanced”, and “proficient”, but some may use different definitions.
But despite the differences, there are also many similarities in the way the experience of learning a foreign language is graded around the world. This is due to the fact that the basic, intermediate, and advanced (as well as the highly sought-after proficient) levels have similar characteristics regardless of the language you’re trying to learn.
In an attempt to further explain those different grades, we’ve prepared a series of posts explaining what each EFL level entails. Today’s post addresses the basics for beginners. Don’t forget to check out the other posts on how to learn English as well!
Basic Phrases for Beginners
Beginner students of English should be able to use and understand simpler phrases when compared to other levels, such as intermediate. Beginners may also need to say those phrases a little more slowly. When someone is starting to learn English, their speech is notably slower.
It is worth highlighting here the four key skills when learning a language, namely, listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Upon improving any of those skills, we obviously can – and should – develop the other ones as well.
Your level of English is directly affected by the extent to which you have mastered those skills. By assessing your mastery of them, your English teacher is able to determine both your strengths and your areas of improvement.
When it comes to speaking English, beginners frequently make the same typical mistakes, the most common of which being the pronunciation of the sounds, as they do not exist in most other languages. Beginners must therefore focus on how to pronounce them in order to eventually get them right. That usually only happens when a student reaches a more advanced level.
Hearing is also a hard-to-master skill in the beginning. Students may face certain difficulties, especially when listening to more complex topics or faster speeches. It can also be particularly challenging when the student is exposed to uncommon accents.
Thus, one of the key goals for beginners is learning how to correctly pronounce the most commonly used English words. Especially in ordinary, everyday contexts. The goal at this level is not to pronounce everything flawlessly, but rather to understand the importance of practicing pronunciation in general.
A beginner’s vocabulary is much more limited than a more advanced student’s thesaurus. And that’s ok. Learning a foreign language requires constant exposure to its vocabulary so as to gradually expand it.
More often than not, beginners are only able to use very common words. For example, they may learn the word “but” at the beginner’s level and only later on discover its more advanced synonyms, such as “however”, “nevertheless”, “yet”, and “though”, the reason being that words at the more basic levels, especially for beginners, are tied to concreteness and practicality. More abstract terms, such as those denoting judgments or feelings – therefore requiring further explanation – are usually only learned later on as the student progresses.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you won’t learn how to provide information about yourself or other topics that aren’t necessarily concrete. It does mean, however, that your words will convey a simpler message at the beginner’s level, as your vocabulary is still significantly limited.
And there is no better way than reading to improve your vocabulary. Reading is therefore highly encouraged for beginners.
Reading and Writing
Reading in turn is closely tied to writing for beginners, as learning one not only succeeds the other, but also reinforces it.
Since we’re talking about students with very limited knowledge of English, texts aimed at beginners resemble those written for children who are still learning their native language. In other words, the vocabulary is simplified, and the topics presented are much more concrete than abstract.
By no means does that suggest that beginner-level texts are necessarily childish, especially when we consider that such topics do not appeal to adults at all. If that were the case, many would ultimately lose interest and give up on trying to learn English.
For that reason, while adult-oriented learning methods entail contents with a more simplified vocabulary, they should still be appropriate for the student’s age range. Meaning, they should present pertinent topics, but in a simplified version.
The same goes for writing. As writing helps to anchor what has been learned in reading, the contents are often equal in depth and vocabulary. Also, texts written by beginners have their own specific characteristics.
They are mostly short in length and only convey a single message. They resemble notes and reminders more than proper texts or essays. Thus, at this stage, the subjects remain superficial, without much extrapolation. Their purpose is simply to provide information as clearly and straightforwardly as possible.
Topics Studied by Beginners
Although teaching methods may vary depending on the teacher, at the beginner level, some topics are fairly common and can be found in virtually all learning plans. The most common topics include:
Letters, Numbers, and Amounts
These include all the basic symbols that will be used throughout the student’s learning experience. Aside from using numbers to represent amounts, they are also commonly used to indicate the order of items within a given sequence.
Common greetings and goodbyes are easy to teach, as they occur almost automatically.
Information such as name, age, and address also follow a well-defined pattern. They are therefore easy for beginners to learn.
And so are occupations. The most common ones, as well as those that are part of the student’s day-to-day life, are taught at this level. Because students are so familiar with them, they can also be a great way to create identification right from the start.
Countries and Nationalities
These are also part of the student’s description. This information allows us to get to know people better, while also giving rise to several new topics for discussion.
Conversations involving a person’s immediate family are a very effective way to teach cause-and-effect relationships. This will be useful at more advanced levels.
Foods and Beverages
This list can go on forever. Apart from being a way to help avoid unpleasant situations, this topic may trigger countless discussions as well.
These may be used together with health-related topics, which will be presented further at more advanced levels.
This category is useful for several different purposes, such as to describe something.
Passing of Time
Critical for communication. Knowing the days of the weeks, months, and seasons of the year is crucial for making appointments, for example.
Verbs indicating immediate actions or states help convey information more clearly, even in short dialogs.
Attributing qualities to personalities and feelings or describing something, even if only superficially, helps reinforce an idea.
Of course, it is up to teachers to decide what topics are more effective and relevant depending on each learning context. However, teaching English to beginners always goes through those initial topics, as they correspond to the basic needs of anyone who is striving to learn the English language.
Now, if basic English is where you’re at or if it’s the level you’re trying to reach, check out everything the Cambly app has to offer to help you learn more and improve your English skills. Schedule your first class now!
And don’t forget to check out our exclusive content for English students on the Cambly blog!
We hope you’ve enjoyed this post. Thank you and see you in the next one!
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