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  • Three young people sat outside holding binders with notes and examining them
    • Study prep

    Acing the Pearson English International Certificate: 10 essential revision strategies

    By Amy Malloy

    Every student and teacher knows how important revision is ahead of exams. It’s not only about how much students revise and practice – it’s also about how they do it.

    So, if you or your students are preparing for the Pearson English International Certificate (PEIC), here are ten top revision strategies to help. All of the advice below can be applied to all six levels from A1 to Level 5.

    Know what to expect

    You can download detailed 'Functions and Notions' guides for all levels. These will give you a very clear idea of the language we expect students to produce at each level. You can download the test guides for each level as well as practice tests and other important documents.

    Work on synonyms and paraphrasing

    Often in the reading and listening tasks, the answers will be synonyms or paraphrased versions of the question. Working with synonyms and paraphrasing in class or at home is a great way to expand vocabulary and help be better prepared for the test. In the A1 test students are expected to show only “a very basic repertoire of words and simple phrases”, but as they progress through the levels, more range is expected in vocabulary and grammar.

    Focus on sentence structure

    As well as helping to improve grammatical control, taking a close look at sentence structure will really benefit you or your learners, especially in the dictation task (section 2). Identifying the tense of a verb or whether they need to use this or these, for example, will help you avoid losing points unnecessarily. It’s also important that they check sentences are complete and correct in the gap-fill tasks at higher levels (Sections 3 and 7), so always tell them/make sure to re-read the whole sentence for every question.

    Create a list of errors

    We all know that learners often make the same mistakes, so a good idea is for them to create a personalized errors list.

    Teacher: Each time you do a writing task, dictation, or gap fill, have them write down the typical mistakes they make. Then, next time, tell them to check their work with their list before you correct it.

    Self-learner: Make sure to take note of the mistakes you make and put them into a list, taking care to avoid them in the future. 

    Use a highlighter

    Get yourself or your students into the habit of highlighting or underlining keywords in questions every time you do a task. This helps learners focus on the information they need to listen or look for and also encourages them to subconsciously start thinking about vocabulary related to the topic. This could be practiced by downloading a sample exam and practicing underlining the keywords.

    Say more

    For the spoken test, train your students to expand their answers and make sure they feel comfortable talking about themselves. At higher levels, give your learners language so they can support their point of view. Remind them that the topics may be more complex, but they still need to be able to give an opinion about them.

    Listen to as much as possible

    In the listening sections, learners will hear a variety of different accents from people of different ages, so it’s important to expose them/yourself to lots of different voices in preparation for the test. That might be a parent talking to a child or an elderly person in a shop, so the more experience someone has listening to different dialogues, the better. As well as the listening activities in coursebooks, encourage students to listen to podcasts or watch videos on YouTube in their free time.

    Be (in)formal

    In the writing and role play, it’s important for learners to know what level of formality is required for each task. They should have lots of practice in written and spoken structures to deal with different types of people, such as a friend, a shop assistant or a bank manager. Also remind them to make the most of the 15 seconds they have to prepare the role play in the spoken test and think about the type of structures and vocabulary they’ll need.

    Keep to the word limit

    For each of the writing tasks, there is a ‘tolerated word limit’ which allows students to be a few words over or under. However, you should train learners to keep an eye on how much they are writing so they become familiar with the required task length. Students can save time calculating exactly how many words they’ve written by choosing an average line from their writing, counting the number of words on that line and then multiplying it by the total number of full lines.

    It’s also essential students practice writing under exam conditions so they get used to completing the tasks quickly. Be sure to include some exam practice in class or as a self-learner, try to practice with a past exam paper in a quiet place, replicating exam conditions as closely as you can.

    Check the answers again

    While our final tip isn’t really a revision strategy, it’s certainly very helpful for students to bear in mind when applying all of the other revision strategies. It is essential that students leave themselves time at the end of the test to check through their paper: Have they filled in every question? Are the sentences complete in the gap fill tasks? Have they checked their writing and remembered their frequent mistakes? Are all the answers clear and easy to read? One final check-through could make all the difference!

    With these top tips, you or your students will be more than ready for the test. Good luck!

  • A group of young people sat together smiling
    • Linguistics and culture
    • Language teaching

    How long does it take to learn English?

    By Pearson Languages

    “How long will it take me to learn English?” This is a question we often hear, especially with summer intensive courses just around the corner. Students all over the world want to know how much time and effort it will take them to master a new language.

    Teachers know the answer isn’t as simple as it seems. It depends on many things, such as; how different the second language is from their mother tongue, how old they are, whether they can speak other languages, how much time they will have to study outside the classroom, their motivation and ability to practice.

    The truth is, it takes A LOT of work to become proficient in a new language – and students need to be aware that they need to study independently if they want to progress rapidly.

    Explaining student responsibility

    Becoming truly proficient in a language can take many years. In a study carried out by Pearson they found that even for fast learners, it can take as much as 760 hours to enter the B2 CEFR level from <A1.

    Also, most year-round courses are around 100-120 hours per level, (not including homework). So the reality is that it should take approximately 1000 hours to go from A1 to C2.

    However, one of the biggest misconceptions students have is that there is a “fixed route” to language learning and that this is linear – and that time spent studying in class is all that’s required to make the progress they expect. This mistakenly puts the onus on the teacher, rather than the student, which means they may not take responsibility for their own learning.

    While most language learners need great course materials, instruction, correction, and mentorship from their teachers, it’s key that they are motivated to become independent learners. Progress and success comes down to regular practice, feedback and the confidence to make and learn from mistakes. Students must understand this from the outset – so make sure this is a conversation you have with your classes from the very first day.

    Understanding language goals

    It’s also extremely important to understand your students’ language learning goals right away. Some, for example, will want to learn a language for travel purposes and may be happy to reach an elementary or pre-intermediate level of English. Others will want to learn it for work or study purposes and will need to reach a more advanced level. By definition, “learning a new language” will be very different for those two groups of students – and this will affect how you design and deliver your course.

    Therefore, it’s key that you discuss individual learning objectives and then form a plan of how students will meet them. You should also explain that not everyone progresses at the same rate, but that is normal and should not be a cause for frustration.

    In private language schools (PLSs), which offer English for specific purposes (ESP), business English, CLIL, English for Academic Purposes, intensive summer classes, and a range of other courses, it’s even more important to do this well. Correctly managed expectations, well-selected materials, and tailored courses will keep students motivated and help the business thrive.

    Setting and meeting targets

    At an institutional level, schools, PLS’s and even government agencies also need to be aware of the pitfalls of rigid target setting.

    Not only can mishandled targets directly affect learner motivation when they are held back or moved up too quickly, but they also can force educators to “teach to the test”, rather than planning classes and designing courses that meet their students’ needs.

    On the other hand, standardized testing systems help place learners at the right level, set benchmarks and show student progression. Examinations also give students firm objectives to work towards.

    So, at the very least, management and governing authorities should consult with educators before setting broad targets.

    Handling feedback and adapting to individual needs

    Honesty is essential when talking to individual students about their progress (good or bad). It’s hard telling someone that they haven’t achieved the grades they need to move on to the next level, but it’s the right thing to do. Putting a person in a higher level to save their feelings only leads to frustration, demotivation, and self-doubt. Likewise, when a student has done well, praise is good, but you should still be honest about the areas in which they need to improve.

    This is what happens at a successful PLS in Japan who run 1000-hour year-round intensive courses. They get results because they consult their learners in order to understand their goals and focus their courses on developing key communicative skills for professionals. At the same time, they track motivation levels and adjust their courses to ensure the student’s progress is on track to meet their expectations. Of course, this is quite a unique setting, with a very intensive, highly personalized approach, and the school has the advantage of tailor-making courses.

    Using tools to help

    They also used the Global Scale of English (GSE) to help design their curriculum and use the ‘can do’ descriptors to set goals. They then selected Versant assessments (which are mapped to scoring against the GSE) to measure student progress on a monthly basis.

    Educators can emulate their approach. By using tools like these, as well as others, such as the GSE Teacher Toolkit, you can design syllabi, plan classes, place students at the right level and measure individual progress, helping you meet your institution’s targets while supporting your learners to achieve their goals.

    An additional benefit from using the GSE, is that this granular framework breaks down what needs to be learned within a CEFR level. Our courseware, Placement, Progress and high-stakes assessments, like PTE Academic, are already aligned to the GSE. To help accelerate the learner journey, our courseware now features three new levels – A2+, B1+ and B2+. By moving to eight-level courses, it ensures students are able to master the content at a more achievable rate.

  • A couple sat on a sofa one with a laptop the other with a book; they are both laughing
    • Linguistics and culture

    How English conversation works

    By Pearson Languages

    English language teachers everywhere spend time and energy helping students practice their conversation skills. Some may ask whether conversation in English can actually be taught. And – if it can – what the rules might be.

    To explore these questions, we spoke to world-renowned linguist David Crystal. He is an Honorary Professor of Linguistics at the University of Bangor and has written more than 120 books on the subject.

    What makes a good conversation?

    “It’s very important that we put this everyday use of language under the microscope,” he says. He highlights three critical facets of conservation that we should bring into focus:

    • Fluency
    • Intelligibility
    • Appropriateness

    But all in all, he says that people should walk away from a conversation feeling like they’ve had a good chat.

    “For the most part, people want that kind of mutual respect, mutual opportunity, and have some sort of shared topic about which they feel comfortable – and these are the basics I think.”

    The rules of conversation

    There are plenty of ways you can teach learners to engage in a successful conversation – including how to speak informally, use intonation, and provide feedback. So let’s take a look at some of the key areas to focus on:

    1) Appropriateness

    Fluency and intelligibility are commonly covered in English language classes. But appropriateness can be more complicated to teach. When preparing to teach conversational appropriateness, we can look at it through two different lenses: subject matter and style:

    2) Subject matter

    “What subject matter is appropriate to use to get a conversation off the ground? There are cultural differences here,” he says. The weather is often a good icebreaker, since everyone is affected by it. The key is to find a common topic that all participants can understand and engage with.

    3) Style

    Teachers can also teach students about conversational style, focusing on how to make conversations more relaxed in English.

    There are “several areas of vocabulary and grammar – and pronunciation too, intonation for example – as well as body language, in which the informality of a conversation is expressed through quite traditional means,” says David. One example he offers is teaching students how to use contracted verb forms.

    4) Simultaneous feedback

    This is what makes a conversation tick. When we talk with someone, we let them know we’re listening by giving them feedback. We say things like “really” or “huh” and use body language like facial expressions and gestures.

    Of course, these feedback noises and expressions can be taught. But they won’t necessarily be new to students. English learners do the same when speaking their own language, anyway.

    Keep in mind though, that when it comes to speaking online on video conferencing platforms, it’s not easy to give this type of simultaneous feedback. People’s microphones might be on mute or there might be a delay, which makes reacting in conversations awkward. So, says David, this means online conversations become much more like monologues.

    5) Uptalk and accents

    Uptalk is when a person declares something in a sentence, but raises their intonation at the end. For English learners, it might sound like someone is asking a question.

    Here’s an example:

    • “I live in Holyhead” said in a flat tone – this is a statement.
    • “I live in Holyhead” said using uptalk – you are stating you live here, but recognize that someone else might not know where it is.

    Now, should teachers teach uptalk? David says yes. For one, it’s fashionable to speak this way – and it can be confusing for English learners if they don’t understand why it’s being used in a conversation.

    “The other thing is that we are dealing here with a genuine change in the language. One of the biggest problems for all language teachers is to keep up to date with language changes. And language change can be very fast and is at the moment,” he says.

    When it comes to accents, David is a fan. “It’s like being in a garden of flowers. Enjoy all the linguistic flowers,” he says, “That’s the beauty of language, its diversity”.

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