By Katherine Reilly, Author, Teacher Trainer
Originally Published in ELT NEWS Magazine.
Since its conception, the CEFR (Common European Framework) has offered a reference for languages as regards learning, teaching and assessment. This has established a solid, yet immense network of services comprised of educators, publications and of course exam evaluation leading to the eventual certification of competency as regards the target language and level. What baffled most, however, was the diversity of each language as the CEFR in some instances failed to properly represent the complexity of levels they had to offer. Students, parents, even educators are perplexed as to the existence of the B1+ level, some calling it Pre-Lower, Preliminary E’, Intermediate E’ – yes it gets even more confusing… bear with me. “Why not just skip it and start working on B2?” many have pondered this question.
I know what you’re thinking… Are they actually, right? Why did they add that ‘plus’ sign and fabricate a new level? “Oh! Schools and publishers just want to keep students active for as long as possible to make some extra cash!” is a misconception we hear more often than not. It’s a common secret in our line of work that parents and students alike actually speak their minds and request to surpass the level altogether. Are their claims valid? Of course not! B1+ is perhaps the quintessential level of English language studies and has existed long before the CEFR contrived the Language Learning Scale which we should religiously adhere to.
However, as I previously stated, the CEFR is by no means perfect. Something was left between the established levels of B1 and B2 with more meaning than one might suspect. Adding a new distinction to the CEFR was a bold move, but rebranding E class as B1+, was the proper way to go, as the level itself acts as the connecting link amongst the levels of learning and assessment. So, the question remains, “What does B1+ have to offer my students?”
There have been different interpretations as to the nature of B1+. In most cases, these claims have been proven solid as the level has three main goals that stand out. Practical Application, Revision, and Language Assessment at a demanding level.
The Culmination of materials delivered throughout the years have now overwhelmed students who may understand what they have learned but lack the capacity to effectively use them. B1+ acts as a catalyst to put students to the test – no pun intended – as they will repeatedly be called upon to put what they have learned to good use. Productive skills such as writing and speaking will incorporate both new and previous lexical ranges students wouldn’t even dream of applying due to fear of misuse. Verbal and written structures will integrate grammar phenomenon they deemed too difficult to implement at a B1 level.
Let’s be honest. No one loves revising for a test or going through coursebooks long disregarded from previous school years. It’s nearly impossible to motivate a student to do so as their hungry little minds are looking for new materials to keep them going. B1+ has cleverly assumed the role of including previous content in such a fashion that students will be pleasantly scratching their heads upon witnessing its reintroduction within the pages of their new books. “Present Simple and Present Continuous again!?” students may cry in class upon witnessing the content of the Unit before them. Publishers, however, know exactly what they are doing. This may be a revision but it is conducted in such a fashion that will put the students’ minds to the test. Have them try out an exercise and they will be pleasantly surprised at the uniqueness of the material as it further elaborates and assesses their ability in effectively answering the questions. Critical thinking plays a pivotal role at this level as the answers are not as straightforward as one might assume. There’s a difference between knowing a rule and how to follow it.
Besides grammar, the reading texts offer students a new scope of knowledge, broadening their horizons while at the same time having them practice vocabulary both new and old. Synonyms, antonyms, idioms, everything that came before is compared and expanded upon, helping the student reevaluate what he has learned and in how many different ways an individual can communicate and express his thoughts.
Although there are multiple levels which are assessed by the CEFR, most of which begin at the most basic of command, there is universal consensus that B1+ is the level most desired as the minimum prerequisite in this new global world. Be it at the workplace, travel, even entertainment, B1+ will most certainly prepare the student for his assessment in exam evaluation conducted by all major universities. Of course, there are levels before B1+ which are most popular with students, as they too serve their purpose not only in accustoming them to the most demanding of exams but also setting clear educational goals they should master. B1+ though shines in comparison to the aforementioned levels as it establishes the first of potential certificates to be acquired and will assist the students’ integration into the job market.
So, what’s the verdict?
All evidence rules in favor of embracing B1+ not because it exists, but due to the fact that it is the most essential of levels, linking knowledge of previous material, integrating it with new and expanding upon it in such a way, the student will realize that using a language is so much more than learning it.