The Intermediate Plateau
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In order to classify learners according to their English proficiency, English is divided into a number of levels. This classification system is known as the Common European Framework of Reference and is used by teachers and schools all over the world to determine which class a learner should be in or which stage they are at in their learning.
The CEFR is a very useful tool when dealing with students’ progress
The CEFR gives students clear confirmation of their improvement. However, it can become demotivating if students focus only on progressing to the next level. In fact, TEFL teachers usually find there is a specific level where students tend to get stuck, so to speak, and lose motivation and hope.
This is B1, or the Intermediate level.
At this stage of learning, students tend to stagnate. This is known as the Intermediate plateau. Up until this point, language learning is relatively easy because there is so much the learner doesn’t know. Learning very basic vocabulary and language structures will allow learners to communicate in a very basic way and accomplishing this communication, even if it is very limited, is a great motivator.
However, once a basic level of the language has been achieved, learners reach a plateau. Learning new words is no longer as easy because the words learnt now are not as high frequency as the more basic words. Grammar becomes more of a focus now as it is used to convey nuances in meaning which the more basic language couldn’t.
Learners tend to go through the beginning stages of learning a language quite quickly, but at this B1 stage it can take longer to progress to B2. This can be extremely demotivating for learners, who may feel they will never get past this level. To be fair, not everyone needs to. Sometimes basic communication is all a learner needs.
For those who wish to become more proficient, though, this is a difficult time and a time when learning practices need to change. Learners need to become more dedicated and commit to regular practice and learning. They also need to realise they cannot learn everything at the same time and so be patient with their progress, understanding that they may need to learn one structure before another.
Finally – and this is where us as teachers come in – they need to ensure that learning continues to be fun. It cannot be a chore or else motivation will fly out the window. They must immerse themselves in the language in ways that appeal to themselves, so that they will continue to be excited by the prospect of learning more of the language.
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