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Moving from B2 to C2

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robarb
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 Message 137 of 177
24 February 2015 at 4:46am | IP Logged 
1e4e6 wrote:

Then there was the guy who kept saying, "taking a piss" instead of "taking the piss",
and more often than normal, trying to sound more idiomatic: "Come on guys, I am just
taking a piss"...


Here in the USA, we say "taking a piss." The guy must've just picked it up without realizing it was a regionalism.

I don't think (and I don't think s_allard is saying) that the key is to use idioms more or to know more idioms. The
idea is that using them correctly and when appropriate makes you seem like a significantly more skilled language
user.

As a caveat though, there are wide differences across languages and across speakers within a language in how
often they use idioms. You can definitely be a C2 speaker or a native speaker while usually preferring
straightforward expressions over their idiomatic synonyms when there's a choice.

Then there are of course other subtleties of language such as playing with connotations, humor, and using
differences in intonation to convey slight meaning differences. These things are all important in much the same
way idioms are: while not all native speakers use all of them all the time, you need to have some ability to use
them to be a true C2 (although in practice tests may not require them), and that ability mostly comes from
massive exposure to the relevant subtleties plus opportunities to put it in practice.

I do want to add that the argument about massive exposure does not claim that it is guaranteed to work. Many
people have enough exposure, yet persist in errors and so never reach C2. That isn't a strong argument against
massive input, since there is no known method to reliably get an adult learner to C2 regardless of talent and
motivation. All have a certain dropout/failure/plateau-at-basic-fluency rate.


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s_allard
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 Message 138 of 177
24 February 2015 at 8:13am | IP Logged 
I certainly don't want to start an argument over the use and abuse of idioms and clichés. I'm only
saying that high or native-like proficiency implies the ability to play with the language to some extent.
This is how native speakers use language.

The Oral Proficiency Interview from Language Testing International, probably the largest testing
organization, lasts 30-45 minutes. What we do know is that within a few minutes into the test, the
examiner probably has a good idea of the proficiency level of the examinee. The examiner will ask a
simple question like: What did you do last weekend? Let's try to imagine how a C2 speakers would
answer this question. This by the way is a great way to see how the speaker can handle past tenses.

What makes the examiner immediately say, "Wow, this speaker sounds like a C2." Obviously, great
pronunciation, fluency and good grammar are paramount. But what the examiner also notices is detail
and sophistication of description and narration. And the choice of words appropriate to the context.

Idiomatic expressions, as we all know, are simply two or more words with a meaning that is not easily
derived from the individual words. All languages are full of them. Idioms are not always tired old
clichés like "raining cats and dogs". In modern informal American speech, a common idiom is "what's
up?".

This, and the other details that robarb mentioned demonstrate control of the language. This is what
the examiner is looking for.

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mrwarper
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 Message 139 of 177
24 February 2015 at 10:22am | IP Logged 
s_allard wrote:
What we do know is that within a few minutes into the test, the examiner probably has a good idea of the proficiency level of the examinee. [...] In modern informal American speech, a common idiom is "what's up?".

This, and the other details that robarb mentioned demonstrate control of the language. This is what the examiner is looking for.

What, modern idioms that probably predate 1950? Just joking :)

Most of the time, I trust examiners to know their stuff, but how many idioms or when are they used is a somewhat risky measurement of proficiency...

First, it is automatic that 'C1' usually means 'considerably above B2 but not C2 yet' (so any CEFR level certification is more of a lower limit), but because C2 is the last level defined, it is the one that admits most variation:

The day my little brother and I sat our C2 test, we chatted with a lady during one of the breaks. She asked us how many times we had sat the test, because it was her third, which we found as disturbing as shocking, and which should be as revealing. During our conversation we noticed, as you can imagine, that the worst of us would run circles around that woman, but she passed too so officially we're all at the same level.

robarb wrote:
The idea is that using them [idioms] correctly and when appropriate makes you seem like a significantly more skilled language user.

As a caveat though, there are wide differences across languages and across speakers within a language in how often they use idioms. You can definitely be a C2 speaker or a native speaker while usually preferring straightforward expressions over their idiomatic synonyms when there's a choice.

Exactly, which is why being a native or a foreign speaker should mean nothing in that context: I know many natives who use idioms too much, clumsily, wrongly, or at inappropriate times, and who we can safely assume would pass a C2 test. I have the strong impression that foreign speakers would generally get considerably more bashing for the same mistakes, though.

Edited by mrwarper on 24 February 2015 at 10:39am

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patrickwilken
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 Message 140 of 177
24 February 2015 at 11:38am | IP Logged 
At least in English there are lots of very specific cultural idioms. Australians tend to use 'beautiful/awesome" a lot, which works fine if you use it with a certain segment of the population, but sounds totally false when used with anyone else.

In London my wife picked up the expression "that's absolutely bonkers" which she would use all the time, and always made me smile as it sounded so odd, and suddenly non-fluent to non-British ears (if she had said it with a full English accent it might have been OK).

I had another German friend here in Berlin who started using "it's not my cup of tea", which also sounded just wrong.

From my own experience there are lots of cases where people who use idioms slightly wrongly sound far less native, than if they just spoke normally without their use. In this way idioms emphasis that they aren't native speakers.

In my mind idioms are one of the few things you don't have to worry about as a language learner. You'll pick them up naturally just from continual language use, and if you force their use too soon, you will almost certainly miss use them, perhaps in meaning, but more likely in frequency or context.
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tarvos
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 Message 141 of 177
24 February 2015 at 2:06pm | IP Logged 
Serpent wrote:
True, but that's a whole continuum, or even a two-dimension system.
Different natives definitely vary in what is creative but acceptable to them and what
isn't.


They do, but that's only a small amount of the mistakes you can potentially make. Most of
the time it's just wrong.
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Serpent
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 Message 142 of 177
24 February 2015 at 4:25pm | IP Logged 
I meant deliberate creativity though, not trying to pass off the usual mistakes as that.
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s_allard
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 Message 143 of 177
24 February 2015 at 4:36pm | IP Logged 
On this question of idioms, maybe we should look at how important idiomatic language is modern
everyday speech. Collocations would probably qualify as idioms. Many uses of English phrasal verbs
are idiomatic. Most speakers of English know the expressions "a white elephant" or "an elephant in the
room". Every American television program is full of examples of idiomatic English. Just today in the
program The Good Wife, I heard the following lines:

- Every firm is going to come out of the woodwork trying to get their hooks into you.

- Eli, you are so counting your chickens.

Nearly every adult native speaker of American English understands these idioms but not everyone uses
them. That is what high proficiency means. Some idioms you use, some you don't but they are
pervasive in the language.



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robarb
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 Message 144 of 177
24 February 2015 at 5:29pm | IP Logged 
I see idioms going into four categories:

1. Obligatory collocations that can't be derived from the individual words: "on my way," "give up," "how are you?"
2. Idiomatic expressions that one is expected to know and use, but could avoid using without sounding wrong:
"counting on you," "all over the place," "draw the line."
3. Idiomatic expressions that a native speaker is likely to know, but almost certainly are outside the range of
what one would be expected to do in a C2 test: "give the heebie-jeebies," "for sh*ts and giggles," "cramp
someone's style."
4. Tired clichés everyone knows but no one says (your speech community may vary): "I'll eat my hat!" "It's raining
cats and dogs," "an apple a day keeps the doctor away."

(1) must be learned even for basic fluency. Using (2) appropriately will go a long way toward making the
transition to C2, although they are optional in any particular case. (3-4) are not necessary, although they'll
occasionally help with comprehension, and you can add a few of them to your active vocabulary as a stylistic
choice if you so wish.


Edited by robarb on 24 February 2015 at 5:30pm



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