The Commitment Scale in English Language Learning

Do you know what your English level is? Are you a beginner, an intermediate or an advanced English speaker?

If you have any interest in the language you probably have an idea of which category you fall into, and that’s what you tell yourself and other people, right?

 

level

 

What you see above is a proficiency level chart with the corresponding scores from International tests. We need it because we absolutely love classifying stuff in our brains. That’s how we classify our own and other people’s competence in the language.

But, there’s also another way we can classify ourselves as English learners that is a whole lot more significant and that gives us a clearer and deeper perspective into our learning journey.

I call it the commitment scale.

But before we get into it…

 

What’s the proficiency level chart for?

Classifying people’s English levels as “beginner,” “intermediate,” and “advanced” has some practical purposes:

  • You want to know where you’re at in your learning process.
  • English schools and teachers use these different classifications to organize their teaching material.
  • It’s used to sell! Editorials and internet companies like Duolingo or English live will sell you a different book or course for each individual level.
  • It’s used as an official document to prove someone’s level of command in the language. American universities will take in foreign students if they have a certification by International tests like IELTS or TOELF. In this case it’s a score, but you get my point.

 

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The Commitment scale

While the proficiency level chart says how good our skills are in the language, the commitment scale describes our attitude, dedication and determination to improve.

As it name suggests, the commitment scale tells us how committed a learner is to improving his or her skills in English. Are you really into English or is it just a thing?

Think of the commitment scale as a spectrum, in which the lowest end represents indifference and the upper end represents the utmost interest in the language.

 

 

If you sit in the lower end of the spectrum in the commitment scale, you can’t expect much improvement beyond the “beginner” level. If you are in the middle section, you may be able to achieve a low intermediate level. But, if you’re a determined, driven learner with a lot of enthusiasm you’re the type of learner who’s in the upper end of the spectrum, and who will become an advanced English speaker really fast.

 

The 4 Types of Learners

In the same way the proficiency level chart breaks down students’ levels into beginner, intermediate and advanced (and all the other subdivisions), the commitment scale broadly distinguishes four types of learners:

  • Type 1 Learner: the casual learner
  • Type 2 Learner: the student.
  • Type 3 Learner: the professional.
  • Type 4 Learner: the master English speaker.

According to the type of learner you are in the commitment scale, you will have a different level of drive, energy, and motivation to learn English, and this will naturally have a lot to do to the level of success you’ll reap in the future.

 

From Beginner’s Town to Advanced Town

Look at it in this way: Say classifications like “low intermediate,” “intermediate,” and “advanced” are the “locations” where your English resides at a specific point in time.

Of course, the “beginner” location is closer than the “advanced” location. When you learn English, you move forward and want to go as far as you can possible go. After some time, you will visit “the beginner’s town,” and if you keep moving forward, you’ll bump into the “intermediate town,” and so on.

The type of learner you are dictates how fast you’re going to become fluent in the language. To put things into perspective, the “advanced town” would take the casual type learner more than a lifetime to get to. But, the professional type gets there in a matter of months or maybe a little over a year.

Let’s break down below each type of learner according to the commitment scale.

 

The Casual Learner

People who learn English with a casual attitude, obviously don’t get too far. If they maintain this predisposition for long enough, they may be able to accumulate some vocabulary to express some very basic ideas in the language, but they will never reach fluency or even good proficiency to do anything significant with their English. Casual learners will most likely never form meaningful relationships through English, definitely won’t land a job where English is spoken all the time, and won’t be able to confidently get by in English when they travel.

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Having said that, this is a lot of times the starting line for a lot of people who then go on to become fluent in the language.

The thing is, not everybody falls in love with English overnight. There’s usually always a period of time where you warm up to the idea of learning English before you go all in. Being a casual type is the bridge between being totally indifferent and becoming fluent.

This is exactly what happened to me. Before getting serious about becoming fluent in English, I was a casual learner. I would pay attention to song lyrics, I would look up some words up Wordreferece, I would try to learn some grammar and pronunciation, but that was about it.

There was some proactiveness, but not enough to make any breakthroughs with my English.

I was a casual learner 7 years ago. If I had maintained that disposition, would have I become as fluent as I am now? Not at all. I wouldn’t have even come close.

It’s only natural to be casual in the beginning, but if the learner never levels up, fluency becomes a far-fetched dream.

If someone tells me he or she has been learning English for 10 years, but never become fluent, this is the first thing that comes to mind:

10 years of not real commitment.

Not everybody is that persistent though. A lot of casual learners go back to being indifferent, and many with the same old excuses, like: “I’m just not good for languages,” “I don’t have money,” “I don’t have time.” What they’re really saying is “I didn’t want it badly enough.

Let’s look at this as a numbers game for a moment.

I don’t have any hard numbers, but let’s make a ballpark estimate (I am a very analytical observer anyway). I would say that out of 10 casual learners 8 go back to being indifferent; 1 settles in as a casual learner forever and 1 makes the cut to move on to the next stage in the commitment scale.

One out of ten casual learners, eventually. advances to the student stage.

 

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The Student

When you’re a casual learner and are determined to become more proactive, you become a student of the language. This doesn’t necessarily mean being a school student, but someone who takes interest in the language. Some common activities students do are:

  • Watching teaching videos on YouTube
  • Setting Facebook, your cellphone, etc. in English
  • Watching movies with subtitles in English
  • Reading in English
  • Writing more in English: in Facebook groups and on the internet in general

At this stage, a pattern becomes noticeable. People know that they love English and that they have a strong desire to speak it fluently, but they’re not so clear where to begin. That’s when the English school comes into play.

But, alternatively, I’ve also seen learners follow other more creative learning strategies, like a mix between note-taking and watching TV shows in English, creating a strategies and methods to learn through music, reading books for English learners, etc.

Whatever the path they decide to follow, the idea is the same. You become a student, and in doing so you move further up the commitment scale.

Going from casual to student is a big deal.

It shows you’re willing to make English a concrete part of your life.

Now, of course, just like many get stuck in the casual stage, many get stuck here, in the student stage. Those who have chosen to take English classes encounter the following problem:

English has a learning curve, and it requires that you build strong habits if you want to achieve true results.

learningcurve2

A lot of people get frustrated because they feel that at some point along the way it stopped being fun. We’ve said that fresh out of the casual type you’re now more motivated take it to the next level. However, at English schools sometimes you feel you’re being choked on theory. Plus, it might start to feel too much like a responsibility because now you have to take exams and on top of that they’re mostly on grammar.

With that said, I still believe English schools can be good place to learn English at this stage because it will force you to go through the growing pains faster. I’ve seen many people when they studying on their own they’re more likely to put off the more difficult aspects of the language (this is where many self-taught learners get stuck at).

Procrastination grows stronger when you don’t have people to hold you accountable for your learning.

Let’s draw an analogy with an activity that I’ve picked up fairly recently: cycling. I have been cycling for almost a year now. But, exactly 50 days after I got into cycling, I decided to compete in a race. I know it’d been less than 2 months since I had started, but I had already gained considerable endurance from commuting to work and riding long distances from time to time. However, when I put myself next to more experienced riders, I realized I didn’t belong with them. They were so much faster, stronger and seemed to have lung capacity for days!

I was a casual rider. If I wanted to be able to hang with those riders, I had to get more serious about my training. Clearly, commuting wasn’t enough, so I started training more consciously. I got a more into cycling because I was motivated to ride faster. This made me a student.

Some key activities that show you’re a student is not only how well you perform on the bike as a result of more training, but just taking more interest in general, which gets reflected in things like following a dozen cycling pages on Facebook, watching videos on Youtube, reading about bicycles on the internet, etc. The same applies for the English learner. Not only do you know more English, you also become a fan of it.

889I’m not a casual type cyclist anymore, and to prove it I’m going to show you this video I got featured on. This video is from the most popular mountain bike channel on YouTube.

If I was a casual type cyclist, I doubt it I would’ve been following that channel in the first place. Let alone, having myself taped while riding that difficult terrain.
The student stage is critical because it’s here most of the heavy lifting happens. If fluency is what you’re after, it can’t be all fun and games all the time. Achieving fluency is achieving excellence, and unless you’ve lived in an English speaking country for quite some time (which is not a guarantee you’ll become fluent if you’re casual about it), becoming fluent means breaking out some sweat and really making an effort.

Hard Work

Hard Work

When you’re on the student stage, you’re midway between people who don’t speak English at all, and people who are fluent. You’ve come a long way already, but there’s still a lot of ground you need to cover to get to the next level.

If you don’t get frustrated, give in to resistance and quit because the race is harder than you thought, you will be on course to fluency.

I would say the same numbers from the casual type repeat itself here. 8 out of 10 people settle with what they’ve learned so far, and go back to being casual learners. 1 stays as a student forever, and 1 moves on to the next stage: the professional.

 

The professional learner

554The professional learner doesn’t have anything to do with making a “profession” out of English or making money. As defined by Steven Pressfield in “The War of Art” the professional is someone who shows up everyday and is committing over the long haul. A professional dedicates himself to mastering the technique because he wants to be in possession of the full arsenal of skills.

While for the student type the biggest benefit of attending an English school is surrounding himself of an English environment that helps him be held accountable for his learning, the professional doesn’t need accountability anymore become English is just another part of his everyday life. Long are the days when you studied the language, now as a professional, you live it.

When you’re a casual or student type, you’re still an amateur. But, when you turn pro, you really set yourself apart from others, and that shows in your skills. As a casual or student learner you fantasize with fluency because you know you’re still not giving it your all.

When you’re a professional you don’t think about it anymore because you know English is already a part of your life and fluency cannot not come.

I have met a lot of professional type learners, and I’ve had conversations with all of them. One of the biggest obstacles to fluency is the classic “I don’t have anyone to speak in English with.” This is a sign the learner is not yet in the professional stage because the professional doesn’t just stop there, he creates his opportunities and goes out of his way to make sure he’s speaking the language. After all, that’s the whole point of learning English, and he knows it.

Back when I was a translation student, I realized I wasn’t getting enough exposure to the language in class. So, I took the initiative to form a conversation group with fellow university students. We would meet up every Saturday at 10 am and speak English for 2 hours nonstop. To drive home the previous statement I made about the student needing schools to insert himself into an English environment, by being this proactive creating opportunities to speak English the professional in and of himself is the English environment. So are all the professional type students.

The Master English Speaker

As I pointed out before, professionals know fluency cannot not come, so they stop daydreaming about it. It actually comes pretty quick, because with a professional predisposition results come incredibly fast.

The Master English speaker has achieved excellence. He has absorbed so much English that it just becomes indistinguishable from his native language. There’s little to no limitation a Master English speaker can face with his English.

“He’s a Confident, Successful and Unstoppable English speaker.”

From this point on, it’s all about perfecting your skills. As said before, the Master English speaker lives the language everyday so he doesn’t need to actively work on his skills. At this point, he becomes better with time as he becomes more and more experienced with the language.

 

English is like any learning discipline

If you’re really into it, you’ll look to set high expectations for yourself. When I played basketball, I wanted to be as good as an NBA player. Even though I knew I wasn’t going to be able to get that good, just from shooting for that level I was setting the bar really high, and that pushed me to make the most out of every opportunity to get better.

The same goes for English learners. Setting the bar high in this case is aspiring to be as proficient as a native English speaker, even if that’s ultimately not possible.

Needless to say, Master English speakers (and professionals to some degree) don’t attend English schools anymore because they now can see the limitations and the disassociation with the real world their study programs have. While schools can often be really helpful for the student type, a professional or fluent learner has no business taking English classes. He’s taken responsibility for his own learning.

 

Let’s Recap Some of the Big Ideas

When you’re casual, you’re yet not fully committed to learning. When you finally are, you become a student, which is the stage where the majority of the heavy lifting happens. Once you’re over that hump and make English an indistinguishable part of your life, you become a professional learner.

As a professional learner you’ve found your stride (your rhythm) as an English learner. You learn faster because you already know a lot, so it easier to build on your existing knowledge than to acquire completely new information. This learning is concentrated on improving the skills that makes an all-around good English speaker.

The professional soon gives way to the Master English speaker. There’s little to no limitation a Master English speaker can face with his English.

 

What type of student from the commitment scale are you?

About the Author Max

I'm the content creator and founder of Max English and the Master English Fluency Academy. As a professional ESL educator my mission is to help learners achieve their full potential by teaching them the skills they need to become a confident, successful and unstoppable English speaker.

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  • Gustavo Paiva

    Pretty good article brother. It showed me that what I’m doing isn’t vain . You’re a model to be followed . Cheers bro.

    • Max English

      Hey, Gustavo! Exactly, none of what you’re doing is for nothing. You’re a role model learner.

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  • Wow. A new approach is always great. I like the new classification as the terms casual, professional, and master really reflect energy rather than a mere beginner, intermeduate, or advanced. The former terms sound more energetic and enthusiastic or optimistic; whereas the latter (the older) terms sound pessimistic. If this new classification is to be embraced by the world, more elaboration needs to be developed. (Agus, Semarang).

    • Max Ahumada

      That’s exactly how I see it. Thank you for your comment 🙂

  • Josh MacPherson

    Excellent article Max. I love the new perspective on language learners.

    • Max Ahumada

      Thank you Josh. I’m glad you liked it.