Posts Tagged ‘proficiency’

How do we design an effective oral interview for assessing foreign language competence? The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) offers an extensive set of guidelines in its Oral Proficiency Interview Tester Training Manual. There is also the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) to offer some guidance as well.

In the DCAL workshop on February 20, 2011, a diverse community of 18 faculty members representing all of Dartmouth’s foreign language departments gathered to hear a presentation by Prof. Elizabeth Polli, Spanish Language Program Director, and Mario Ruiz Legido, Director of the Instituto Cervantes-Boston University, on these two sets of guidelines.

Mario Ruiz Legido began by discussing the Instituto Cervantes approach to Oral Assessment for the Spanish International Diploma (DELE), based on the CEFR. The CEFR was developed as a common base to guide and inform textbooks, curricula, exams, certification systems and other programs. The CEFR offers both coherence and transparency to foreign language programs throughout European countries. At its core, the CEFR is used to evaluates learners along a continuum of six steps, from basic users to proficient users. A series of “can do…” statements helps to define the expectations of the six steps.

The oral exam is a component of the global DELE exam, and takes between 10 and 20 minutes depending on the exam level undertaken. The candidate is examined by two examiners, one who is doing a holistic analysis and the other who is doing an analytics assessment. The goal is to confirm what the candidate CAN DO for his/her level. The process may include a personal monologue (2 min), a topical dialogue (2-3 min), a conversation with interviewer (3-4 min) and a role-play (2-3 min) at lower levels and additional types of tasks as levels increase. The exam is scored from 0-3, with 2-3 as passing scores.

In comparison, the ACTFL guidelines are quite different. The OPI is the only nationally recognized instrument for measuring communicative competence in the U.S. It does not measure what the student has learned in the classroom, but does attempt to measure what a student can do in a particular language. The OPI is generally a 20-30 min 1-on-1 recorded session. It looks at the individual’s ability to use language in real life situations. It measures ability against the specific tasks, not against other learners. It is a series of evolving questions throughout the interview, rather than a set of specific tasks or questions. It relies on having a very highly skilled interviewer, and the training process for interviewers alone can be 3-4 days long.

While knowledge of both the OPI and CEFR is certainly beneficial for classroom instructors, the goal, though, is not to teach to the exam. The challenge for instructors is to consider the ways in which they can design classroom activities that will encourage the kind of proficiency that is measured by these assessment tools.

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yeah, it's long -- I didn't have time to make it shorter

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