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Levels of English: A brief guide for primary teachers

January 3rd 2020| Fiona Drever

Levels of English: A brief guide for primary teachers

When it comes to the level of English possessed by students in mainstream primary schools, there is huge range in pupil’s level of English language ability: From those who have recently arrived in the UK from their home country, to those who have been here for a number of years and who’s families are bilingual.

In this post I’d like to try and outline the key stages of learning English as an additional language, with the hope that teachers may be able to identitfy and take this into account when planning classroom activities.

So, what are the “Official” levels of English?

Ok…so basically, in Europe, student’s language ability is measured using something called the ‘Common European Framework of Reference’ (CEFR). This scale starts from A1 (Beginner), followed by A2, B1, B2, C1, and finally C2 ( very advanced). This video from Cambridge English gives a pretty good outline.

It’s worth noting however that, as these are descriptors of language level only, they do not take into account the age or maturity of students. (This is a whole other, very complex issue which I might talk about another time, in another post.)

Great, so how does this apply to the EAL kids in my class?

There’s been a lot of research done which looks into the factors that affect second language acquisition, but I don’t really want to bore you all by going into it too much just now (another time maybe!). So I’ve put together a list, solely based on my experience, of what primary age students are typically able to do at each of the levels mentioned above.

A1 – A2

  • Introduce themselves
  • Understand and respond to simple questions and instructions
  • Give basic descriptions of objects pictures and actions
  • Tell a simple story with the help of pictures
  • Understand short, simple texts, even if they do not know every word
  • Communicate with peers about familiar topics

B1 – B2

  • Understand the main points of texts written in simple language
  • Participate in conversations or produce simple, written texts relating to familiar topics
  • Interact with peers relatively fluently and spontaneously.
  • Talk or write about a range of subjects they have studied, giving some personal opinions

C1 – C2

  • Understand practically everything they hear or read and recognise implied meaning
  • Speak fluently and spontaneously without obvious hesitation
  • Correctly use language, both socially and academically.

If you’re unsure of a student’s English ability, this level test, specifically designed for young learners, might be worth checking out:

And finally…

I hope this has been at least somewhat useful. While students are not going to become fluent overnight, being immersed in an English speaking environment has been proven one of the best ways to learn. Even if English is not the language students speak at home with their families, I’m always amazed how quickly they pick things up!

Now, I’m off to enjoy my christmas holidays and forget about school for a few weeks!

Mulled wine, falling asleep in front of the TV and consuming excessive amounts of cheese…HERE I COME!!!

View all posts by: Fiona Drever
Categories: Classroom Environment, EAL
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