by: Casey-Anne Williams,  Laura Zarzuela, and Daria Moiseeva, University of Huelva (Spain)

Have you ever gone to the country of the language that you studied and decided that you wanted to visit all of the touristic sites there? You’re confident in your knowledge of the language because you’ve managed to pass all the tests required, so you should have no problem understanding the language of the locals, right? WRONG! As the tour guides begin to speak, you realize you don’t understand them. You try to ask other native language speakers what they are saying but have problems with certain words you’re trying to say. You realize that your language proficiency may not be the A2/B1 level you expected.



You begin to sink in your seat wishing, “CAN SOMEONE PLEASE JUST SUBTITLE MY LIFE RIGHT NOW!?” So what can you do? Who is to blame? Are there any tips, methods, and ways which could have helped you better prepare for confronting real-life situations? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered! In this post we will give you tips that could better prepare you for “living like a local” as you listen and speak.

The Common European Framework of Reference for Language (CEFR) is one of the main initiatives made by the Council of Europe in the field of languages. Its aim is to promote better international understanding, improving at the same time the quality and practicality of language education in schools, as this is supposed to be a right of all citizens. The CEFR presents reference levels (A1-C2) of proficiency in a second language, which serve to organize language learning. It has been suggested that students may achieve the threshold level (B1) in the language once they have finished the second level of secondary education. So I bet now you might be thinking, “But if according to the CEFR, I should be at B1 level, what is the problem?” The CEFR points out that “It is unlikely that all users who are globally ‘B1’ are capable of doing exactly what is defined at B1 on all CEFR descriptor scales, no more and no less”. It may depend on their age, experience, etc; and there is no doubt that not everyone has the same cognitive competences.

Nevertheless, according to the CEFR, B1 students can “understand the main points of what is said in a straightforward monologue like a guided tour, provided the delivery is clear and relatively slow”. Here it is important to keep in mind Krashen’s monitor model, in which his Acquisition-Learning hypothesis establishes a difference between learning and acquiring a second language. Acquisition means that students subconsciously receive knowledge and all the information is stored in the brain through the use of communication. On the other hand, those who have only learned the language will have to constantly think about what they are saying or listening to without any kind of fluency. That alone may be the reason why in the example above the student was unable to follow the comments of the tour guides. The teacher should have prepared activities in which real communication is present. She or he also should have created situations in which the language is used for specific, real purposes. In addition, the CEFR mentions that, from a pedagogic point of view, it could be beneficial if students work in small group interaction activities. “So what are some tips that can help me with my speaking and listening?” Here are some suggestions.

Listening.   Language aptitude includes auditory, linguistic, and memory abilities. It is said that successful language learners have a great auditory ability. The auditory ability includes sound discrimination and phonetic coding skills and students need to have sufficient possibilities to develop them. In schools, teachers evaluate students’ listening comprehension based on the correctness of their responses and then proceed to the next activity. Implicit here is the focus on the result, the product of listening in the form of correct answers. I believe that in the classroom other types of listening activities could be useful to develop students’ auditory ability.

  • Classroom meetings. It is a great opportunity to model and practice listening skills. The class sits together in a circle and students take turns sharing their thoughts and feelings on the topic being discussed.
  • The Storytelling Game. In this game, you start a story with an opening sentence, and then each student adds one sentence to the story. Students must be active participants and follow the story closely so that when their turn comes to add a sentence, the story will make sense.

Speaking. As mentioned previously, the good language learner has a good linguistic ability. The Linguistic ability includes grammatical sensitivity, word function, and inductive language analytic ability which can be useful for speaking. There are many different strategies that can be used to work with speaking in the classroom.

  • Cooperative activities can encourage negotiation of language being used. Role playing activities are activities where students are asked to pretend to be in various social contexts and with various social roles.
  • Storytelling pods. Students are divided into groups of three. In these “pods,” they are to play the storytelling game, only in successive story events, rather than just a sentence. For example, the first student starts with an event such as “The rabbit found a carrot in the garden.” Then the second student adds an event that happens afterward in the story, such as “The carrot was too big to carry.” The third student adds, “So the rabbit put it in a wagon to pull it to his burrow.” After time is given for the pods to come up with their three-event stories, instruct the students to move to a new pod. In those groups, they must retell their stories with accuracy to their new pod members.
  • Creative tasks resemble real-life tasks as students develop their fluency best if they are engaged in tasks where they focus on meaning, rather than just on the language itself. In addition, when designing activities for teaching speaking there are some principles to consider. Firstly, speaking activities need to maximize the production of the language to provide the best conditions for autonomous language use. Secondly, the activities should be done interactively in situations where students can show interest, understanding, and ask questions or make comments, and they may include a competitive element where students work together to achieve certain purposes.

Listening and speaking are important factors when working to reach the B1 threshold. Listening allows the language learner to comprehend input and distinguish sounds through speech. Speaking allows the language learners to retrieve the input and structure sentences they want to say. With these tips, we hope that students might be better prepared if they take a tour in a foreign country and don’t feel the need to say, “Can you subtitle my life, PLEASE!?”