B2 by 2020!

– Real talks with J.T. –

Students of foreign language are often advised to have a clear idea of what their learning goals are. So of course knowing me I had to write a long, complex blog post declaring my current objectives and strategies, something more than just saying “yeah, I want to be fluent”. Recently I forced myself to start thinking about where I wanted my Russian skills to be in the near future and how I could synthesize my FL goals with my career goals of analyst/translator. The following post is the result of my thought process, and it lays out my plan for the next 4 years.

I want to earn a B2 in Russian by 2020.

What is the B2?

B2 is the 4th level of foreign language competency according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFRL). The CEFRL is a guideline put together by the Council of Europe to describe achievements of learners of foreign languages across Europe and, increasingly, in other countries. It divides learners into three broad divisions (A/Basic User; B/Independent User; C/Proficient User) that can be divided into six levels (A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, and C2).

The B2 is also called the Vantage or Upper Intermediate level. According to the framework, a person ranked B2 in a foreign language can…

  • understand the main ideas of complex texts on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in their field of specialization,
  • interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party,
  • produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue, giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options.

The B2 equals a score of ≈2 on the Test of Russian as a Foreign Language. Theoretically, to score a B2 on a CEFRL exam, one needs 500-600 hours of language instruction under their belt.

It’s important to note that one’s placement on the CEFRL scale depends on the score of one’s weakest skill (either reading, writing, speaking or listening). That is to say if you score a C1 in reading and writing, a B2 in listening, and a B1 in speaking, your overall placement will be B1.

Why B2? And why by 2020?

  • I feel it’s a challenging enough goal without being too lofty. It’s smack-dab between A2 (which my skills already exceed) and C1 (my endgoal, from which my skills are a far cry). Given that I’m currently enrolled in a Russian program and have extensive resources at my disposal, 4 years should be enough time to get there.
  • Many Russian universities’ programs require matriculating foreign students to have prior knowledge of Russian, and B2/TORFL-2 appears to be the standard. I haven’t ruled out the possibility of seeking further education at a Russian university after I leave the keyed virus unit, and when that time comes (not long after 2020), I want to be ready.
  • Obvious professional benefits of holding a RUS-B2 or higher [and its corresponding knowledge]: it makes communication in Russian easier (obviously), broadens the range of internships/positions I’m eligible for once I leave the unit, and allows me to work more closely with Russian-language documents and books.
  • Lastly, scoring that B2 in 4 years would be personally significant, a sort of confirmation that I can and am making progress in Russian. And boy do I need such confirmation.

What I’m Going to Do to Get There

  • Speaking: Continue my intensive Russian classes. Up the amount of speaking practice from ~6 hours to 8 hours per week. Study abroad or participate in a summer language intensive (bureaucracy allowing). Chat with native speakers.
  • Reading: Increase vocab using Anki and Memrise. Biweekly translation. Stop staring at all those intriguing Russian books at P.— Library and actually check one out. Alternate between reading Russian nonfiction and fiction to pick up new vocab and grammatical structures. Give up my practice of “book polygamy” to focus on one book at a time. Start reading Коммерсантъ again.
  • Writing: Practice writing short letters. Practice writing short, 1-page passages on books I’ve read. Write Russian-language comics and journal entries.
  • Listening: At least 30 minutes of free listening daily. Watch Russian TV, serials, documentaries, and movies (without subtitles). Transcribe podcasts.
  • Motivation: Though I don’t know where the road may lead, on both my journey to Russian proficiency and the greater trajectory of US-Russian relations, I must keep the flame of Language Lust alive and resist the urge to swat the Russia Bug (oh god, right now it’s staring at me with those creepy soulless Vladimir Putin eyes).

There’s no looking back. It’s onwards and upwards – to the B2 by 2020.

And beyond…

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