Professional Development

Keeping it simple: Make learning manageable at lower levels

Alastair Horne

How can we make learning more manageable, especially at lower levels, so learners can acquire language more efficiently and maintain motivation? We were joined last week by Cambridge English Empower author Adrian Doff for a webinar exploring some resources such to help in selecting language items that correspond to the students’ level of English.

What makes a word useful to learn at the elementary level? Key factors include its frequency, its range and use in collocations, its cultural and personal importance, and its international usage. It’s also worth keeping in mind Krashen’s i+1 theory, which suggests that acquisition is most effective when the language we are acquiring is just above the language we know already.

One objective way to establish a word’s usefulness at a particular level is the English Profile, which draws on an extensive language database to give us information on how words are used. Using this free resource can help validate our own instinctive sense of which words learners are ready for, making learning more effective.

Adrian also offered some ways of making reading and listening more manageable for elementary learners. With reading texts, it’s important also to keep the amount of unfamiliar language in a text to a manageable level – with two much unfamiliar language, reading strategies are less effective as a means of helping learners to work around words they don’t understand, and they can soon feel discouraged.

One way to support the learning of new vocabulary in listening activities is to use images alongside the recording to provide important clues about the language involved, and to make it easier for learners to predict the vocabulary that will appear. Video is even better, not only increasing interest and motivation but also more accurately reflecting real life by offering non-verbal information such as a conversation’s context, and the speakers’ body language.

To hear all of Adrian’s advice for making learning more manageable at lower levels, click the play button on the video below.

Make sure you check out Cambridge English Empower online, it’s a general English course for adult and young adult learners!


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