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English Language Proficiency Levels

Language Level Descriptors

As English language learners acquire English as a second language, they progress through five language proficiency levels: beginning, early intermediate, intermediate, early advanced, and advanced. The rate of progression through each English proficiency level varies according to the individual characteristics of each English language learner. The research base on second language acquisition demonstrates that high levels of proficiency in English can be achieved typically within four to seven years, provided that effective English language development occurs on a consistent basis. 

Beginning English Proficiency Level

Students at the beginning language proficiency level may begin in a "silent stage" where they are unable to understand or produce English independently. English language learners at the beginning English proficiency level typically comprehend much more than they are able to demonstrate in speaking and writing. Initially English language learners tend to communicate by pointing, gesturing, repeating words and phrases, pantomiming, and drawing or sketching. As they progress through the beginning language level, they begin to understand, read, write, and speak basic words. English language learners progress from basic words to producing basic phrases (that may not be grammatically correct) as well as simple, patterned sentences. English language learners at the beginning language level require sufficient assistance from the teacher in order to independently produce language.

Early Intermediate English Proficiency Level

Students at the early intermediate language proficiency level are able to communicate basic and familiar ideas with simple sentences. English language learners at the early intermediate English proficiency level can understand and are able to engage in simple discussions of lesson content. They can read and write short paragraphs on familiar topics containing previously taught vocabulary and sentence structures. English language learners at the early intermediate language level commonly make errors in word usage, pronunciation, and grammar. At the early intermediate English proficiency level, students greatly benefit from explicit teaching and modeling of high frequency words, grammatical structures, and sentence/paragraph frames. 

Intermediate English Proficiency Level

Students at the intermediate language level are able to understand and communicate academic content with more sophisticated academic vocabulary and varied verb tenses. English language learners at the intermediate language proficiency level can write increasingly developed paragraphs on academic topics using complex vocabulary and compound sentences. They tend to use consistent grammar in speaking and writing while making occasional errors. At the intermediate language level, English language learners greatly benefit from the explicit teaching and modeling of basic figurative language, common idioms, irregular verb tenses and the writing process.

Early Advanced English Proficiency Level

Students at the early advanced language level are able to understand and communicate academic content in more cognitively complex ways. English language learners at the early advanced language proficiency level can read and comprehend grade level text. They are able to write with increasing length, complexity and abstraction using academic vocabulary and consistent grammatical structures. At the early advanced language level, English language learners greatly benefit from the explicit teaching and modeling of advanced figurative language, sophisticated idioms and idiomatic expressions, and advanced grammatical structures. English language learners at the early advanced language proficiency level may be ready to be reclassified to fluent English proficient.

Advanced English Proficiency Level

Students at the advanced language level are able to communicate and write with native-like proficiency. English language learners at the advanced language proficiency level are able to read and comprehend grade level text independently. They are able to write well-organized paragraphs at a level that approximates native English-speaking students who are meeting grade level standards. English language learners at the advanced language level may be ready to be reclassified to fluent English proficient.


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Why are language levels important?
It's important that teachers identify the language leavel of English language learners when teaching English as a second language. Identifying the accurate language proficiency level will enable teachers to provide appropriate scaffolding and instructional support for students at various proficieny levels during whole and small group group instruction. In addition, teachers should expect differentiated oral and written responses from students depending on their language proficiency level. English language learners at each proficiency level require instruction that is targeted to their particular language level in order to promote optimal second language development. 

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