Exams & Preparation

Find useful exam information and teaching ideas for your students.

On Raising the Excellence Bar Teaching C1 & C2

A paradigm of excellence

It requires approximately 700 – 800 learning hours to reach C1 and 1,000-1,200 learning hours to reach C2 level. Since the discussion is on humanities, language, in particular, issues of quality that are hard to quantify are taken into account.

CEFR provisions [the grid: Assessment grid - English (coe.int)] that a proficient user of English is a communicator who, in terms of language input, can understand (successfully) extended utterances, irrespective of the medium or the speed/rate adopted, and they can read every form of written discourse, even when it is minimally related to one’s field.

In terms of language production (the exquisite language challenge!), the CEFR guidelines summarize the following as the ideal proficiency communicator profile: in the interaction field, proficient users can express themselves fluently and spontaneously (effortlessly, in particular, for the C2 users).

Proficient users have developed the apparatus to recognize and retrieve miscommunication and communication breakdown instances. They are able, in terms of autonomous production, to generate clear and analytical descriptions of complex subjects with the adoption of the appropriate register for the C2 communicators. With respect to writing, proficient users can produce clear, well-structured, and extended utterances expressing viewpoints, adopting the appropriate register for the C2 Level.

Range, register, autonomy, and spontaneity (self-reliance) are the key terms reappearing in the grid for the C1/C2 stages. Transforming the grid into reality might be laborious, and sadly an (x) amount of the decision-makers will flee upon initial frictions and hardships. A bitter fact of life. Back to learning approaches in proficiency, the spontaneous output is expected to develop. It is indispensable to remember the “autonomy” factor and leave the learners to their own devices as often as appropriate. Of course, we are present to actively observe, redress, and rectify as and when needed.

The zone of proximal development defines those functions that have not yet matured but are in the process of maturation, functions that will mature tomorrow but are currently in an embryonic state. These functions could be termed the “buds” or “flowers” of development rather than the fruits of development. The actual developmental level characterizes mental development retrospectively, while the zone of proximal development characterizes mental development prospectively

Vygotsky, 1978.

The response is not always easy or obvious. Some learners seem ready to access the target only at a specific point, be it time or subject-relevant, sometimes, a combination. A pattern may be observed with specific structures and specific populations, whilst other structures are processed in roughly (surprisingly) similar ways by all students, irrespective of their mother tongue (s). Some notions in English are weirdly perceptualized similarly by foreign populations.  

Frankly, the excellence bar is raised by means of appropriate material and tasks. Desired difficulty and plenty of initiative, adaptation, creativity, and critical thinking are helpful in this direction. Any task requiring internalization and process of discourse, in other words, is indispensable for the proficiency preparation class. The more we expose them to monitored situations for unprepared, spontaneous output calling for reliance on their self-built mechanisms for retrieval and correction, the more we contribute to the success of the overall endeavor. As soon as exposure to settings that call for unrehearsed but effective discourse becomes a learning habit, we might rest more assured about our decisions. 

Amazing Transformations

Growing challenges to growing confidence: Learners should be always reminded, that on the other end of the challenge lies personal growth and well-deserved language development. The mental, cognitive labor that is exercised to reach the understanding and knowledge, is complementary to the obtaining of an unflinching sense of confidence: the kind of confidence that derives from the self and the personal achievements, rather than from external, provisional sources -appraisal and teacher validation (Siskos, 2020). 

At the beginning of the article, the reminder that language learning is categorized in the Humanities was not random. Humanities embrace all that touches upon the social, psychological, and mental dimensions of human beings. This factor is what constitutes language learning and communication. Consider that, alongside the obvious-the transformations on the level of language use, a host of other silent transformations -social and psychological happen underneath the surface. This might justify the necessity of time.

In Conclusion

Significant transformations happen imperceptibly. Struggling C1/C2 learners on the verge of self-flagellating are to be reminded so.  Language transformation entails transformations on many other tiers, and that might be the reason C1/C2 is notoriously challenging. The material that we choose is critical and the preparation of the lesson takes twice the effort. Proficiency courses are courses tailed for learners who need to become unhooked of the text-book reliance strategy. There is the valuable textbook, this is a sine qua non; but language applies to serve their own expectations, and needs, and express their own personality. Maybe it is a matter of balance.

Often, our polished plans will fail, only to give space to a more beautiful and unconceived, reality.



Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Siskou, M. (2020). Cultural Perspectives and Awareness in English Teaching. IATFEL Magazine. In Slovenia, Winter 2020, Issue 78. Winter-2020-78.pdf (arnes.si).