What English level is needed for the Exchange Program?

Let’s see what are the real requirements for your English level and figure out how to meet those.

What language skills are necessary?

“I’ve only taken English at school!” All of us have used this as an excuse for our language skills being “not good enough”. There were probably plenty of times you have been afraid to talk to a native speaker, order coffee at the mall from a person, not a machine, and go for a vacay to some international summer camp. That fear was caused by the lack of confidence in your language skills. You also probably worry that you never turn off the subtitles to the movies you watch in English, and then would not be able to go to the US and live your everyday life in an English-speaking environment, with no subtitles, of course.
Although it is okay to worry about things like that and to want to improve your skills, it should not stop you from taking great opportunities that come your way. Exchange Program is one of them. Subtitles are okay, and you definitely do not need to be super-fluent to qualify for Exchange Program. What is required is your English level to be Intermediate (B1 on CEFR scale) or higher, and you to be open to the new and willing to learn.

Why is “taking English at school only” so popular as an excuse?

English is the language spoken in the USA and many other countries officially, and the language learnt at schools all over the world as the second one. Some people start learning it in first grade, some take it in middle school, and some only realize they need it for their college application, already being Juniors at high school. Those who start at a younger age, usually struggle less with learning tons of grammar rules, complicated vocabulary and various time tenses. However, some still have problems with memorizing things, or understanding certain rules. At this point, the school system usually makes it all go wrong: it makes kids, or teenagers, feel bad for making mistakes and stops them from trying to speak at all before they are flawless at following rules and building sentences absolutely correctly. Such an approach may motivate some individuals but for most of children it would be the moment they start to be afraid of making mistakes. And this is exactly what stops them from speaking and practicing.
It is important to realize that although school gives you the basic knowledge, getting good grades from your English teacher does not guarantee you being fluent, and what is more important it does not help you reach out to people easier and not be embarrassed to repeat things if your accent did not let them comprehend you at first. Just as having “not the best” grade does not mean you would be the one to keep silent and not find friends. If you feel like your language skills are not quite enough for you to speak English 24/7, just revise some basic rules, create associations for the most tricky vocabulary, and get ready for the most exciting experience of Exchange Year. Your motivation and determination are what matters the most.

Why is the grade not that important?

First of all, at your school you are taught English as a foreign language which means the approach you take is more scientific. That means you are likely to prioritize rules and time tenses instead of day to day vocabulary and communication skills. In the US, your approach will change as you will start using the language as a tool for socialization, studying, and entertainment. Considering this, the grade you got for tests and grammar skills does not correlate with how well you would adjust to the English speaking environment.
As soon as your whole life is translated to English and you are surrounded by people speaking this language, your skills shift and adjust to the new conditions much faster than you could expect. When grammar and vocabulary you need are used by everybody around you, the part of learning and memorizing happens subconsciously. This way you do not even notice the moment you start freely using the language, including things you struggled to understand before. What is also very helpful is that you do not need any complicated academic language to socialize and feel comfortable in day to day life.

What is studying Maths in English like?

Having classes in English is a point of concern for many teenagers considering taking part in Exchange Program. For sure, it can be stressful when understanding a foreign language is added to the learning process, especially if the subject is already challenging like Maths, Chemistry, or History. It can feel like you are always having two classes at once: the subject you are actually attending and English.
Good news is the adjustment happens really soon. After just a couple of weeks at school you start feeling essential about all the classes being in English, and it does not add any more challenge from that moment on. Also, there is no bad news, because the adjustment process you go through with your language skills is an extremely enriching experience.

How to prepare for the Program

If your English level is not as high as Intermediate (B1) yet but taking part in Exchange Program is what you really want, you can make your dream come true by studying hard for a while and bringing your language level up to Intermediate (B1). It is not as hard as it might seem, the more you learn, the easier it gets. Throughout the learning process, do not forget that being able to speak freely, even with some mistakes, is just as important as having grammar rules memorized.
If your English level is already Intermediate (B1) or higher but you want to be 100% confident that you are ready to enter the English speaking environment, here are a couple of useful clues for you:
  • Think about the classes you are going to take and make a list of essential terms translated
For example, Maths is an obligatory subject – you have to take it no matter what. To feel more confident from the very first time in class, you can make a cheat-sheet with the most frequently used terms translated to English. It would be always there for you to use in case you forget any of the terms and to add the new ones.
  • Try using the American system of measurement
It might not seem related to the language, however, converting units of measurement is just as challenging as translating unknown words at first. In the USA, people do not use kilometers, grams, or litres – there are miles, pounds, and ounces instead. As soon as you cross the border, you are going to use those as well. To give yourself a sense of what does it feel like, try spending a day, or a weekend, using American units only. Not only is it a good demo of what to expect but also a fun game for you and maybe your family.
  • Do not be afraid to make mistakes, communicate, open up to people
Whatever you do to prepare for everything and minimize the unexpected staff, you can never prevent all the accidents as they are a part of your way. Going to the US for your Exchange Year is a big decision, and it is okay that it comes along with a lot of emotions and change. The most important thing is for you to stay positive, motivated and realize you have all the resources to get through the challenging times and enjoy the good ones.
Do not be afraid of mistakes you make, do not stress about your accent, and remember: the more you socialize, the easier it gets to both speak and understand. Do not be shy to communicate, and the language barrier will be left behind really soon.

Choose a program:

The program provides an opportunity for high school students to live in the USA for an academic year, staying with host families and studying at public schools
Canada is an excellent choice for education and personal growth, thanks to its high-quality secondary schools, supportive and safe family environments, and comprehensive housing options
Support in obtaining scholarships to study in public or private schools in the United States, with a high school diploma upon successful completion
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