THE FCE BLOG by Claudia Ceraso

Sunday, September 25, 2022

CEFR Levels and the European Day of Languages


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September 26th, The European Day of Languages, is a day I like to celebrate. As an aspiring polyglot, I've always felt identified with the idea of this day, even if I do not live in Europe.

Browsing the website that marks the celebration, I've found this excellent video to explain the Common European Framework for Reference -CEFR- to explain what knowledge level of a foreign language implies and entails. 

What is a language knowledge level? 

How long does it take to be an A1 or a B2 in a foreign language?

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Questions like these are posed to us, teachers of English as a foreign language, every year. The difference between the concept of a level and the reality of a level are slippery things to explain.

Languages are expressions of culture. Knowledge implies so much. They are so much more of a bridge across cultures than a box with a label or a piece of paper with a certificate. 

I kept nodding as I listened to Peter Brown on this video. Hope you enjoy it too.

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Monday, February 28, 2022

You can count on it!

Every now and then, the question about the number of words in your essays pops up. Cambridge First (as well as the CAE and CPE tests) rubrics include an approximate number of words you must write. 

Foto de Mikhail Nilov en Pexels

A colleague from Poland, Simon Jones, has a couple of interesting posts about this topic in his C1 blog. In Do I need to count my words? Simon says;

  1. Before the exam, look at some old written work.
  2. Count the number of words in the first three or four lines and calculate the average number of words in one line. It’s usually around ten but depends on the size of your handwriting.
  3. Remember this number. Then, in an exam, you can multiply it by the number of lines you write.

I definitely agree with Simon's advice. You should not lose time on the word count. There are far more important uses of your limited exam time. As a general rule, I would say that if you write what you are asked, with proper expansion, without going off-track with your ideas, you need the number of words proposed in the rubrics to do your task well. 

So stay on topic. Remember you are communicating through writing, not just trying to write and reach number of words.

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Parts of Speech: What's in a verb?


Let's begin by clarifying the basics. Parts of speech are generally taken for granted in our advanced courses, yet some details need reviewing by focusing on small differences.

The parts of speech in a sentence are usually identified by structure, the right order is important. A simple question such as: What do you do? gets two different verbs with distinct functions, although they are spelled the same, but the position in the sentence will distinguish the auxiliary from the main verb.

You can put parts of speech to the test in order to identify them. Here is an image prepared by Mrs Gilbert for her class:

Now, taking a closer look at the verbs, we usually forget to distinguish a transitive from an intransitive verb. A distinction that will be very useful to master the different forms phrasal verbs can take.

Here is a video from the Cambridge Latin Course which takes a very interesting approach to explain the basics when it comes to parts of speech. Do you have 7 minutes? Watch this.

Now that you can tell the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs, you might as well explore this website for a more extensive collection of examples. There in the Woodward English website, you will see a video to explain how these concepts relate to phrasal verbs, which they summarize in the following graph:

All right. This is a lot to take in at one single post!


Remember the time to learn these grammar distinctions will take you a long way in your future studies of the English language.

Monday, August 31, 2020

The Interactive Communication Skill

The Speaking Paper of the Cambridge First exam offers opportunities to talk with your partner without the intervention of the examiner. Those are moments when you are in total control of your say, the turn-taking, initiating and responding for about 3 minutes.

There are phrases that add up to making it all fluent and natural. Without those phrases, we sound like words read aloud from a book. You need to make a bit of effort to acquire them, These are expressions that range from:

  • agreeing
  • disagreeing
  • asking for an opinion
  • asking for clarification
  • rephrasing
  • summing up
Here is a presentation that lists quite a few examples:

Perhaps one the challenges when using these expressions is not feeling like an actor or actress performing a part. Think of what you say in your own language instead of the English words. Mind you, I do not mean you should attempt a word-for-word translation. What needs translating is the situation. What do you say instead?

Once you are aware of what you naturally say in those situations, it is only a question of practising and directing your attention to those colloquial links in our interactions. Having interactive skills means you can effortlessly initiate, respond and react to what your partner is saying. Remember the old adage: practice makes perfect!

Thursday, February 28, 2019

The Dreaded Vocabulary Gap

Is it possible to say exactly what I mean?

There are those moments at speaking exams -or real life as well- when you just cannot land on the word you need. You either get stuck or nervous or both. How to deal with those dreaded seconds is the subject of this post.

For some reason, students of a foreign language assume that there is always a better, more precise choice of word than the one they can first think of. My guess is we tend to be more self demanding in the exercise of finding appropriate vocabulary in a second language than in your mother tongue.

At times, we know we have studied that word and we simply forgot it. Forcing your memory can be fruitless and frustrating.

When speaking, we need to have some resources to deal with our temporary or permanent linguistic gaps. Here some tips:

-Is there a more general word? For example, flower can be more general than jazmin or daffodil.

-Can you recall an opposite?

-Can you describe it? "It's a kind of.."

-Can you compare it? "It's similar to...but different because..."

-Can you give an example of what you mean?

See? There are options to those seconds of uncomfortable silence.

Last but not least, you can still have the control of your speech by voicing what is going on. Phrases like, "The word is on the tip of my tongue"; "I know it, but I just cannot remember it now"; "I'm not sure this is the right word"...etc.

Remember: native speakers of English also have word gaps in their knowledge. So next time you run dry for a word,  please don't suffer or start apologising. Just make it ok and carry on.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Breaking the ice

It is that time of the year again. I am about to start a new Cambridge English First couse and I am thinking of the first lesson. A plan for students I have not met yet. A quick search for pages to practice lead me to this article listing possible questions for the Oral exam Part one.

Take a look.

Quite complete in my opinion. Now... what would your answers reveal about you and your new classmates?

Which questions would you ask your teacher? That would be an interesting scenario...

Toast to another year of learning from my students.

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Wednesday, January 31, 2018

What is B2 Level?

Students often ask how to describe their level of English language in a CV. To say words like "advanced" "near native" are not only high sounding, but also purely subjective and generally inaccurate.
The EU has solved the issue of subjective qualifications by providing a descriptor of levels.

Take a look at this video introducing you to the Commom European Framework of reference. 

Now the new Cambridge scales are far more specific as of 2015. We have discussed the statement of results before. Now watch this video to understand what you can expect from your statement of results, mind you, not the Certificate.

Now, back to the title question, what is B2 level?
B2, as explained by the British Council , describes an independant, fluent user of the language in familiar and unfamiliar situations. Read the full description in that link. You can also explore how your level compares to others and how you score in an IELTs exam.

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