One of the most important aspects of the first meeting with a new student is understanding his or her level of English. This will determine a lot of things about how you proceed with your sessions.
When attempting to evaluate a student’s English level there are certain points that you should be thinking about as you are listening to and processing the information that the student is giving you. The four most common are: comprehension, fluency, pronunciation and accuracy.
Comprehension: How well does the student understand you?
Use body language and the student’s responses to check for comprehension.
Body Language– if the student is looking at you confused, not responding, or seems absolutely petrified, then you know to take a second and start from the top. These physical cues will give you an idea of what pace you should be speaking at and what kind of language you should use (simple, medium, advanced).
Appropriate Responses– If you ask the student about what kind of university he or she attended and then the response has to do with English goals, there is a clear misunderstanding.
BUT: Comprehension can be improved quickly- recommend some videos, TV shows, podcasts, or a radio station that the student can start following daily in order see improvements quickly.
HOW TO MANAGE: At the beginning, always presume that the student’s comprehension level will be low. Then as you start your introduction, their physical feedback will help you understand right away if he or she is understanding you or not. Adjust your pace accordingly.
Fluency: How easily does the student speak and participate?
Once the student starts his or her introduction you can evaluate fluency by listening for a few different things such as how comfortable the student is, how easily he or she is able to form sentences, ideas, and thoughts, and how quickly the student can change from talking about one topic to the next. If there are many long pauses or gaps where the student can’t complete a phrase, then your student probably has some issues with fluency.
BUT: Don’t form an opinion in the first 5 minutes- sometimes students need to warm up before they are able to reach their full fluency level.
HOW TO MANAGE: If the student is clearly struggling, try to help him or her by providing some vocabulary or modeling the proper grammar form. However, remember to continue giving both physical (head nods and smiles) and verbal (yes, exactly or good job) feedback to encourage the student to keep going.
Pronunciation: How well does your student pronounce English words and sounds?
Articulation– Listen for clearly articulated words and the appropriate pronunciation of strangely spelled words. These will help you understand which sounds the student might need to improve.
Intonation– Understand whether the student is using the right inflection for the types of sentences he or she is saying. Does it make a difference in the meaning of the sentence or how easily someone else would understand it? Make a note of these issues so that you can address them later on.
BUT: Bad pronunciation does not mean poor fluency, sometimes some of your more fluent students may have less than desirable pronunciation.
HOW TO MANAGE: Identify the specific sounds that the student continues to struggle with. When you notice a frequent error, ask the student to repeat the statement and then give him or her feedback on the proper pronunciation of the word or phrase. Pronunciation can be one of the hardest things to fix, so it is important to continually reinforce proper pronunciation.
Accuracy: How precise is the student’s English?
Some of your students might struggle with their fluency because they are concerned with making very few grammar and vocabulary mistakes, something that is often taught in standard English classrooms. You might notice that some of your students, while they speak very slowly and with caution, make very few mistakes. This indicates high accuracy.
BUT: High accuracy may be restricting students from achieving greater fluency because they are more concerned with being precise than speaking more naturally.
HOW TO MANAGE: Encourage students to make mistakes, take risks, and to not be ashamed of their English level. The more comfortable students feel, the more easily they can improve their fluency level. Also- talk about the student’s goals at the beginning of the session. If their goal is to focus more on fluency and being able to speak rather than not making mistakes, let them speak and wait until the end of the session to make corrections.
So, what about you? What do you usually do to assess your student’s level? Any suggestions? Share them with us!