Our Syllabus


Our syllabus is drawn from three sources. The first and most important is CEF (the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages). This system is a guideline used to describe the achievements of learners – what learners ‘can do’. Its main aim is to provide a method of learning, teaching and assessing which applies to all languages in Europe.

We find this system very helpful and we use it here at IH Belfast. It is a very practical and useful way to assess our students’ current level. It helps us and you to keep an eye on your progress as you improve your English in our classes.

The levels are described like this: A1 (Beginner), A2 (Elementary and Pre-Intermediate), B1 (Intermediate), B2 (Upper Intermediate), C1 (Advanced), C2 (Proficient).

For every level, the CEF provides a syllabus (a course content) which influences what we teach you. You will notice that this course content is very practical and focuses on what learners ‘can do’ at each level. The focus is not on theoretical knowledge but on your ability to use the language effectively.

The ‘can do’ statements are based on ability in language, and how you function in all four skills. For example, can you ask for all the information you need to make travel arrangements in Northern Ireland? Can you understand a lecture within your field of interest? There is a lot of vocabulary and grammar knowledge you need for each one, and your teachers will help you with this, but all language must have a purpose or a context.

Below are Here are some ‘can do’ statements for B1.

Speaking (Interaction and production)

  • I can give detailed accounts of experiences, describing feelings and reactions.
  • I can paraphrase short written passages orally in a simple fashion, using the original text wording and ordering.
  • I can deal with most situations likely to arise when making travel arrangements through an agent or when actually travelling.
  • I can ask for and follow detailed directions.
  • I can express and respond to feelings such as surprise, happiness, sadness, interest and indifference.
  • I can agree and disagree politely.
  • I can narrate a story.
  • I can describe dreams, hopes and ambitions.

The ‘can do’ statements are very practical, but of course you will need language knowledge in order to be able to do them. Often a very simple ‘can do’ statement requires many grammatical structures and lots of vocabulary. At IH Belfast we teach you the precise grammar and vocabulary you need in order to be able to do these very useful things! Below is an example from B1 level of some of the language that you will need to be able to “describe dreams hopes and ambitions”.


  • Future forms with will (future perfect, future continuous etc.)
  • Going to (for intentions)
  • Modals for probability (It could be, I might etc.)


  • I hope to/I wish to/It has always been my dream to…
  • to push yourself
  • to be determined
  • ultimate goal (collocations)
  • pipe dream
  • be the making of sb (idiom)
  • hit the ground running
  • a thing worth doing
  • to come into your own
  • to live up to sth


  • I will have finished
  • He’ll no doubt be successful
  • I’ve always wanted to
  • I can explain and give reasons for my plans, intentions and actions.
  • I can relate the plot of a book or film and describe my reactions.
  • I can start, maintain and close simple face to face conversation on topics that are familiar or of personal interest.
  • I can maintain a conversation or discussion but may sometimes have difficulty trying to say exactly what I would like to.
  • I can give or seek personal views and opinions in an informal discussion with friends.


  • I can generally follow the main points of extended discussion around me, provided speech is clearly articulated in standard dialect.
  • I can listen to a short narrative and form hypotheses about what will happen next.
  • I can understand simple technical information, such as operating instructions for everyday equipment.
  • I can follow clearly articulated speech directed at me in everyday conversation, though I sometimes have to ask for repetition of particular words or phrases.
  • I can understand the main points of radio news bulletins and simpler recorded material on topics of personal interest delivered relatively slowly and clearly.
  • I can catch the main points in TV programmes on familiar topics when the delivery is relatively slow and clear.


  • I can understand the main points in short newspaper articles about current and familiar topics.
  • I can skim short texts (e.g. news summaries) and find what relevant facts and information (e.g. who has done what and where).
  • I can understand the most important information in short simple everyday information brochures.
  • I can understand simple messages and standard letters (e.g. from businesses, clubs or authorities).
  • I can read columns or interviews in newspapers and magazines in which someone takes a stand on a current topic or event and understand the overall meaning of the text.
  • I can guess the meaning of single unknown words from the context thus deducing the meaning of expressions if the topic is familiar.
  • In private letters I can understand those parts dealing with events, feelings and wishes well enough to correspond regularly with a pen friend.
  • I can understand the plot of a clearly structured story and recognize what the most important episodes and events are and what is significant about them.


  • I can write simple connected texts on a range of topics within my field of interest and can express personal views and opinions.
  • I can write simple texts about experiences or events, for example about a trip, for a school newspaper or a club newsletter.
  • I can reply in written form to advertisements and ask for more complete or more specific information about products (e.g a car or an academic course).
  • I can convey – via fax, email or a circular – short simple factual information to friends or colleagues or ask for information in such a way.
  • I can write my CV in summary form.
  • I can write personal letters to friends or acquaintances asking for or giving them news and narrating events.
  • I can describe in a personal letter the plot of a film or a book or give an account of a concert.
  • In a letter I can express feelings such as grief, happiness, interest, regret and sympathy.


  • I can repeat back part of what someone has said to confirm that we understand each other.
  • I can ask someone to clarify or elaborate what they have just said.
  • When I can’t think of a word I want, I can use a simple word meaning something similar

Language Quality

  • I can keep a conversation going comprehensibly, but have to pause to plan and correct what I am saying – especially when I talk freely for longer periods.
  • I can convey simple information of immediate relevance, getting across which point I feel is most important.
  • I have sufficient vocabulary to express myself with some circumlocutions on most topics pertinent to my everyday life such as family, hobbies and interests, work, travel, and current events.
  • I can express myself reasonably accurately in familiar, predictable situations.

Every student has different priorities and so it’s important for you to communicate with your teacher and discuss what areas you want to focus on. You can use this table to help you focus on what you want to cover in class. Complete the table and give it to your teacher at the end of each week. Be active and participate in your learning!

Weekly Needs Analysis

Speaking Listening Reading Writing
Because I need to/ want to
(Example: Open a bank account). (Example: Make a phone call). (Example: Read the local news). (Example: Write a letter of complaint).
This student would need functions to make requests and maybe some bank vocabulary. This student would need review of telephone language, phrases we use that are specific to English, i.e ‘this is’ instead of ‘I am…’. This student probably needs some skills on how to deduce meaning from context. Maybe analysis of word forms etc. Functions to complain using formal language. Maybe how to outline and structure a formal letter, what goes in paragraph one for example.
The most difficult thing for me about this is
(Example: asking people to repeat because I don’t understand) (Example: understanding people when I can’t see them) (Example: finding an article I will enjoy and learn from) (Example:being polite but firm)
this person probably needs better clarification ideas, functions like “do you mean that…”” or “so you’re saying…”. Review of typical phone phrases and functions, and some clarification expressions “could you say that again?” “the line is very bad”. Skimming, reading for gist, getting the overall meaning from the layout of the text. All the superficial parts of a reading. Functional language and formal versus informal language.

Here’s what you can do

  • We will give you a study folder for all of your material. You will need to keep this up to date. This is your “course book”.
  • File your material per week. This way you can see how all of your activities connect to achieve your weekly aims. You will receive a weekly review sheet for every week that you study with us – Download a sample of a completed weekly review sheet.
  • Talk to your teachers! Be active! Negotiate, ask questions and make suggestions. Our whole system is based on negotiation and planning for your needs. It is very important you communicate with your teachers so they can plan your lessons for you. The more information you give us the easier it is for us to meet your needs. However, remember there is a difference between what you want and what you need and this is why we recommend you become familiar with the can do statements.

As your teachers get to know you better they adapt their lessons accordingly. Remember there is a difference between what you want to study and what you need to study. We try to balance both.

Here’s what we do

We plan for you: We do not use course books in our school. The teachers have a library of books and they choose what material is best for you. Your teachers will give you copies of material they use. They also use a lot of material from the internet, from newspapers, from news websites so you have the opportunity to practise with authentic English. We give you a folder to keep all this together.

We monitor your progress: The average time for a student to move up a level is ten weeks (200 hours study). But this is not true for every student. We will give you an end of level test if we think you are ready. Maybe you are in your level because you need to build confidence in speaking but your grammar knowledge is very high. In this case, your teachers may decide to move you very quickly. Maybe you are in your level because you are ready to begin at this level. In this case, you will probably stay in this level for longer. The teachers have a weekly meeting to discuss your progress.