Wednesday, January 3, 2018

What's your Spanish Level?

Did you know there is an international grading system for judging foreign language proficiency? There is! "CEFR" is the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages

Your CEFR level is mostly used when speaking with potential employers, but can also be used to predict and manage the time required to achieve your own language learning goals.

This article will show you how.

The CEFR System

The basic idea is that there are three levels of language user:

  1. "A", "Basic"
  2. "B",  "Independent"
  3. "C", "Proficient"
Within each of these types there are two levels.  So you can be an A1 if you just learned how to ask for beer, or a C2 if you just finished your Masters Thesis in the local language while studying abroad.

Learn Your Level

So how do you determine level? There are professionally administered tests to certify your level for employment purposes, but if you are just curious, head on over and take some free online tests. Start at A1 / beginner, continuing to each higher level test until you no longer pass. There you go, that's your current level.

As a personal example, when I first took these, I was A2 in Spanish. Hey, not bad! But I can't hold normal conversations and I find that frustrating. I wanted to get to B2 in one year, and C2 in two years.

Predict The Future

Now here is the part I think is fun. Using science and math, you can predict the future. (Yes, science and math can be fun, quit hovering your mouse pointer over the close window button!)

There is research how much work each level requires, so if you know your current level and your goal level, you can budget the right amount of time to achieve your goal in the time you want.

Here is an example. I'm A2 now, and want to be B2 in one year and C2 in two years.

  1. Look at the typical amount of time to reach a level (and assume romance languages like Spanish and French are equivalent) 
  2. take the worst case time estimate from the link above for the levels you are interested
  3. Work out how many total hours and hours per week to reach your goal level
For me at A2, I had the equivalent of 200 hours of study already, and I need 650 total for B2 and 1200 total (!!) for C2. That's a difference of 450 hours for this year, and 1000 hours for C2 over the next two years. That's about 10 hours a week.

Here's what it takes to achieve any language level over two years:

Achieve Your Goals

Oh no! With only 5 hours a week of Spanish lessons, I'd only achieve B1 in a year and probably still have difficulty holding normal conversations. I was way off target. This would have been a sad surprise, but knowledge is power.

With the new information I redesigned my language learning plan. I added individual vocabulary study, and I converted some of my pleasure reading to Spanish. To support that, I changed some of my weekly tutoring time into review discussions about my individual reading, and also used some of the time for focused vocabulary review on words I had studied independently but wasn't sure about.

With this combination I did achieve B2 in the expected year, and I am on my way to C2 with steady progress. Success! Thank you, science, and thank you free internet quizzes.

If you give this a try I'd love to hear about it as a comment. I was personally surprised at only being A2 the first time I took the test but I had to admit it was accurate. I had been deceiving myself into thinking I had more skills than I had :-). Following my new plan I did successfully achieve B2 in the expected time though, and I hope you have the same success.

Good luck!

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