by Aggie Chapman
B1 is quite an interesting level. In a nutshell it could be summed up as the moment when we’re starting to be able to say more or less what we want to. Depending whether you tend to see the glass as half full or empty, it can be good news. On the one hand, this is where real communication starts to happen – holding a longer conversation on familiar topics or exchanging views is not a big problem anymore. Though we don’t always have the exact word or aren’t sure about the grammar we use, our vocabulary is visibly more varied, we can use some synonyms or antonyms, which help us when we don’t know or remember the exact word. We also know a few phrasal verbs.
Listening is not so much of a problem if the other person speaks fairly clearly. Watching a TED talk or an episode of a TV series is not such a big deal, especially with subtitles. While it’s a bit too early to expect that we’ll understand everything, our listening skills are definitely developed enough to follow the plot relatively easily. It might be the right moment to try watching without subtitles.
Discussing complex topics that we are not familiar with is rather a big challenge – this is when we’re likely to make most mistakes. We can talk about some abstract concepts and make predictions. We are usually comfortable with at least structure to talk about present, past and future. Yes, our mother tongue influence is still noticeable, but despite the errors we make, it’s pretty clear what want to say.
This is also the time to start reading real materials such as magazine articles, reviews and guide books –as long as they aren’t written in an overly complicated language, and the topics are not too complex. We are ready to understand poems and song lyrics, at least the ones that aren’t packed with slang and colloquialisms.
At the end of the level we can take the Preliminary exam, previously known as PET. If you’re not convinced that it is a serious level, just think that in some places, for instance in Italy, it is necessary to hold a B1 certificate in English in order to graduate from university. A great number of students at this level are those whose graduation has been put on hold due to the lack of a language certificate! I always encourage people to get certificates as they officially validate our language abilities and are recognised everywhere in the world.