Published 31st October 2017

Teaching English as a Foreign Language can mean many things. It can mean teaching kindergarten in China, teens in Spain, businessmen and –women in Argentina or nurses in Poland. It can mean teaching Beginners to Intermediate to Advanced students. It can mean teaching highly motivated students or students whose parents make them go to English classes on weekends.

Sometimes it can even mean teaching Proficiency students.

What is a Proficiency student?

A Proficient English user is one who can “use English very fluently, precisely and sensitively in most contexts”, according to the CEFR. In other words, a Proficient English speaker has no trouble understanding natural, spoken English and long, complex reading texts, can write clearly and appropriately using complex structures, and can speak fluently, making use of idiomatic expressions and colloquialisms.

As you can imagine, teaching students at this level can be highly challenging. These students may have had years and years of grammar instruction and exposure to English. On the surface it may seem as if there is no need for them to be in the EFL classroom. Yet they are.

What can you expect from a Proficiency student?

Of course, you can expect them to be like any other student. They will have good days and bad days. They can be positive or irritable, depending on their mood. They can be hard-working or relaxed, depending on their personality. In many ways they are the same as students of any other English level.

But there are a few ways in which they are different:

They may be bored by the classroom.

Proficiency students have probably had a lot of experience in the EFL classroom, so they are aware of how they learn best and what works well in the classroom. They’ve probably done running dictations, jigsaw readings, roleplays and information-gap activities ad nauseam – and we don’t want to even think how many times they've played Back to the Board!

To interest and excite a Proficiency student you may need to do things differently. Use authentic texts, current events and up-to-date resources to maintain their attention. Invent new activities that are more real-life than EFL-classroom.

They like to challenge the teacher.

One thing’s for sure: before you step into a Proficiency classroom, make sure you know what you’re teaching. Proficiency students are generally not shy to ask difficult questions and try to trip up the teacher. If the level of the lesson is too easy for a Proficiency student, they may turn their attention to finding flaws in the logic of the English language (of which there are many!) so have no doubt they will keep you on your toes.

They are probably highly educated.

Research has shown than Proficiency students are generally high educated. This is a blessing because it means your students will always have something to say and will be able to pass specialised knowledge onto their classmates. Find out what your students have studied and use this to your advantage, to teach specialised language or to use your students as teachers.

They are usually highly motivated.

This should come as no surprise. To get to this level of English requires a huge amount of hard work and dedication. If you make sure your lessons are interesting and stimulating for your students, you will find they will respond well to your materials and enjoy your lessons.