How Can I Tell What Book Level a Non-English Speaking Student Is At?

by Chris
(PEI, Canada)

I have a Chinese student who has very limited English as do his parents. He started with me after having studied some piano in China. Any suggestions for how to assess his level and how to determine which books to use with him?


Hi, Chris,

If this were my studio, I would ask him and his parents to bring any piano books he currently has with him to his first lesson. That will tell you a lot.

My first request, though, would be for him to play something for you that he knows "by heart." Keeping the Suzuki approach in the back of your mind (lots of playing by ear for a long time), don't assume that what he is playing is what he is able to READ.

Then, I would have a little stack of your own preferred method books of all levels for him to demonstrate his sight-reading ability.

Get a bit of staff paper, and draw single notes on a grand staff, asking him to locate the notes on the piano.

Contrariwise, select a piano key and have him draw it on the staff paper.

Then, see if he can copy you when you play, for example, some chords and scales.

With rhythm, hand him a couple of pencils for "drumsticks," close the piano lid, and beat together a few simple rhythms from Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3 books.

It may take a few weeks to get a solid feeling for where he truly is, and I would continue to quiz him every lesson in some way, to know if he is really reading what you are showing him.

Don't be afraid to "promote" him if the work is too easy, or to put him back into an easier level if he seems to be struggling. The work that you are able to accomplish at each lesson will show you what he is capable of (hopefully).

Good luck!

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