Tuesday, 28 April 2009

What is advanced English?

Does being advanced mean being able to pass a formal examination like the Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency in English (CPE) or the the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) with a high score? Or does being advanced perhaps mean sounding like a native speaker? Maybe.
But I can tell you what advanced language for learners of English is not: It isn´t what native speakers usuallly consider advanced. When Americans, for example, study "advanced" vocabulary in the United States, they learn words such as firmament, errant and replete - words which for their relation to Latin origins are relatively easy to Brazilians. Or we learn "advanced" terms like callow, prevaricate and abeyance, which may not seem familiar to Brazilians, but, for that matter, aren´t very familiar to the majority of native speakers either.
Instead, what seems to be advanced to a high-level Brazilian learner of English would probably seem simple and common to most native speakers. To reiterate a term cited above, a Brazilian would know the meaning of replete with, but would most likely be unfamiliar with the terms packed with or chock full of . The former maybe useful in certain written or formal contexts, but it the latter terms which are most familiar and used by the majority of fluent speakers of English.
(Selected from "Como dizer tudo em inglês avançado" by Ron Martinez, 2006)


  1. That is really true!

  2. well, I reckon that specifying what advanced English means is sth really difficult. For my part, advanced English consists of being able to use idiomatic expressions fluently in a conversation. It is also crucial to come up with phrasal verbs and also high-level vocab to be able to sound like a native.
    Larissa-CPE PREP

  3. @larissa_gontijo:
    You hit the nail on the head! Idioms and phrasal verbs are a huge part of what advanced English is all about.
    Keep your comments coming.

    Chris Dupont

  4. I think being "advanced" involves having control of the language in such a way one can express his or her ideas and feelings as accurately as possible. The language is the human attempt to turn abstract things - such as thoughts and feelings - into images, messages that can touch other people. Being "advanced" means to get closer to the "right colours to paint the picture intended."

  5. @Alba
    A very interesting, perceptive comment. As a follow-up, I'd like to draw your attention to how accurate a measure of one's level of
    English, Cambridge exams are.
    As a simple experiment, pose a simple question (for instance, "Why are you studying English?") to KET, PET, FCE, CAE and CPE candidates and compare the accuracy and precision in the different answers.

  6. Dear bloggers,

    Soooooooooo true! On the same note, we say that someone passed away because s/he had a massive heart attack but what do we say in Portuguese?! Um infarto fulminante... we can't say *a fulminating heart attack* in English nor "um ataque massivo" in Portuguese withoug calling attention to ourselves and our discourse, right?! As I said before, a very interesting subject!

  7. If only we could translate things straight into English. But then again that´s what collocation is all about. In Portuguese does anybody say I went to Maracanã and saw the "Flu-Fla"? Of course not. We all say "Fla-Flu". Why is that? Just because it is. It´s the right collocation. The first one sounds so wrong, doesn´t it?

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  9. After all, it's not only language, it's also about social conventions and culture itself, isn't it? That's why knowing grammar rules isn't enough to speak fluently another language.

  10. @Alba
    Too right you are. Grammar IS important but there's a lot more to speaking fluent Englsh than a set of rules. I'm convinced that "lexis" is the buzz word.
    What do you think?

  11. I'm 100% with you!! It's not a matter of keeping the "knowledge" on your mind... It has to be "running in your veins",so that it comes naturally when the occasion requires. I think we need to learn by experience, to be exposed as much as we can, and...practice all the time! As a student I've always been afraid of taking risks with the language, I've always been very shy and eager to do things right, but now I realise that one has to take some chances in order to improve - not only as a mere student, but as a person trying to learn how to live in this world.

  12. @Alba
    I'm a firm believer in exposing myself to English. Actually, I'm surrounded by English both at home and at Cultura Inglesa. Newsweek magazine, cable TV, books, DVD's in English, you name it. It's become a way of life...

  13. I think that english nowadays it is obligatory to put someone in a big company,or being sucessfully in your job.
    Thanks Cultura for learn me english so funny and easly.

    please correct if I made a mistake.

    see ya

  14. @João,

    I am glad Cultura is teaching you English; you´re right about English being able to open doors for you to get a nice job in the future. I liked to hear that you´re having fun and it´s easy

  15. Last but not least, here I am. =)

    Great topic for a kick off. I do agree with what Alba has said. Being advanced does not mean knowing endless grammar rules by heart. If only I could give it a definition, "say what you mean, in the widest range of real -life situations as possible" would be it.

    An advanced speaker has to be able to communicate effectively in elevator small talk as well as before an academic audience. Not an easy task at all, is it ?

  16. @Nelson
    Hi Nelson,
    When I was a teenager (a hundred years ago) I turned to my English teacher (great, great teacher)and said, "I don't want to study literature and all those big words. All I want is to be able to speak simple everyday English naturally." His answer haunted me for years, "You want the hardest thing of all, Chris."

    Go figure...

    Chris Dupont

  17. In my humble opinion, I would be proficient if I´m capable of express, in any means of communication, my thoughts and feelings and of course, understand precisely what a poet, a writer, a newscaster or the guy on the corner wants to tell me.
    In my understanding, no exam can, and never will be able to, certify that you´re a 100% proficient.
    One of my teachers correctly pointed out that knowing a language is not knowing grammar or vocab. A ´corpus´ inside your head will
    not make you a native speaker: you need to follow the flow, If you know what I mean.
    Someone once said that if you give a typewriter to a million monkeys and give them enough time, they will, some day, come up with a masterpice. I couldn´t agree with that - it´s just not words and grammar, it goes far beyond that.

    I Love the blog and the comments, congrats.