ERIC Identifier: ED347852
Publication Date: 1992-09-00
Author: Stansfield, Charles W.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics Washington DC.
ACTFL Speaking Proficiency Guidelines. ERIC Digest.
In l952, Secretary of State Dean Acheson wrote a memo to the Dean of the Language School of the Foreign Service Institute (FSI), calling for the creation of criteria that could be used to identify the foreign language proficiency of U.S. Government Employees. According to the memo, the criteria should be able to differentiate testable levels between "no knowledge" of the foreign language and "total mastery." A committee, consisting of representatives of government agencies concerned with foreign languages, was established by the Civil Service Commission to develop definitions for each of these testable levels of proficiency and to create an inventory of employees with foreign language proficiency in the various agencies. The result of this effort was a scale, numbered 0-5, with a brief definition of the proficiency associated with each point. These l952 definitions were field tested and substantially revised in l956. That same year, the FSI established a policy of rating the language proficiency of all foreign service officers according to these definitions. Although they have subsequently undergone a number of revisions, the definitions of the different levels of speaking proficiency, which consist of one- or two-paragraph descriptions, have remained essentially the same. This system of categorizing language proficiency was then adopted by all U.S. Government agencies, from the Peace Corps to the Defense Department (Sollenberger, 1978; Wilds, l975). Today the government scale is known as the Federal Interagency Language Roundtable (FILR) Skill Level Definitions and is available in Higgs (l984) and Duran et al. (l985).
ACTFL PROVISIONAL PROFICIENCY GUIDELINES
SPEAKING PROFICIENCY GUIDELINES
* Novice-The Novice level is characterized by the ability to communicate minimally in highly predictable common daily situations with previously learned words and phrases. The Novice level speaker has difficulty communicating with even those accustomed to interacting with nonnative speakers.
* Intermediate-The Intermediate level is characterized by the ability to combine learned elements of language creatively, though primarily in a reactive mode. The Intermediate level speaker can initiate, minimally sustain, and close basic communicative tasks. The speaker can ask and answer questions and can speak in discrete sentences and strings of sentences on topics that are either autobiographical or related primarily to his or her immediate environment.
* Advanced-The Advanced level is characterized by the ability to converse fluently and in a clearly participatory fashion. The speaker can accomplish a wide variety of communicative tasks and can describe and narrate events in the present, past, and future, organizing thoughts, when appropriate, into paragraph-like discourse. At this level, the speaker can discuss concrete and factual topic s of personal and public interest in most informal and formal conversations and can be easily understood by listeners unaccustomed to nonnative speakers.
* Superior-The Superior level is characterized by the ability to participate effectively in most formal and informal conversations on practical, social, professional, and abstract topics. Using extended discourse, the speaker can explain in detail, hypothesize on concrete and abstract topics, and support or defend opinions on controversial matters.
"High Levels." When a learner fulfills most but not all of the basic characteristics of a given level, he or she is assigned a rating immediately below the level in question, but with the designation "High." Thus, a person who fulfills most but not all the requirements of the Superior level is rated as Advanced High. Similarly, a person who exhibits most but not all of the basic characteristics of the Advanced level may be rated as Intermediate High, and a person who exhibits most but not all of the characteristics of the Intermediate level may be rated Novice High. The Government scale refers to these levels as "Plus" levels, and, by analogy, the l986 ACTFL Guidelines listed an Advanced Plus level. However, in l989, the name of this level was changed to Advanced High in order to be consistent with the High designation that can be obtained at the Novice and Intermediate levels.
THE ORAL PROFICIENCY INTERVIEW
The OPI progresses through four stages. It begins with a Warm-up, which is designed to put the interviewee at ease and to the interviewer in making a very tentative estimate of the speaker's level of proficiency. During phase two, the Level Checks, the interviewer guides the conversation through a number of topics. The purpose of the Level Check is to verify the tentative estimate arrived at during the Warm-up, and to permit the speaker to demonstrate the level of language that can be handled with confidence a and accuracy. During phase three, the Probes, the interviewer raises the level of the conversation to determine the limitations in t he speaker's proficiency or to demonstrate that the speaker can communicate effectively at a higher level of language. Interviews alternate several times between the Level Checks and Probes. The purpose of the final phase, the Wind-Down, is to put the speaker at ease by returning to a level of conversation that the speaker can handle comfortably.
HOW TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE GUIDELINES AND THE OPI
ACTFL. (l987b). ACTFL Japanese Proficiency Guidelines. "Foreign Language Annals, 20," 589-603.
ACTFL. (l988). ACTFL Russian Proficiency Guidelines. "Foreign Language Annals, 21," 177-197.
ACTFL. (l989). ACTFL Arabic Proficiency Guidelines. "Foreign Language Annals, 22," 373-392.
ACTFL. (l990). ACTFL Hindi Proficiency Guidelines. "Foreign Language Annals, 23,"3, 235-252.
Byrnes, H., Child, J., Levinson, N., Lowe, Jr., P., Makino, S., Thompson, I., Walton, A.R. (1986). ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines. In H. Byrnes & M. Canale (Eds.), "Defining and developing proficiency: Guidelines, implementations, and concepts."
Duran, R.P., Canale, M., Penfield, J., Stansfield, C.W., & Liskin-Gasparro, J.E. (l985). "TOEFL from a communicative view point on language proficiency: A working paper." TOEFL Research Report 17. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service.
Higgs, T.V. (Ed.). (l984). "Teaching for proficiency, the organizing principal." Lincolnwood, IL: National Textbook Co.
Liskin-Gasparro, J.E. (l987). "Testing and teaching for oral proficiency." Boston, MA: Heinle and Heinle.
Sollenberger, H.E. (l978). Development and current use of the FSI Oral Interview test. In J.L.D. Clark, "Direct testing of speaking proficiency: Theory and application" (pp.1-12). Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service.
Thompson, I., Thompson, R.T., & Hiple, D. (1988). Issues concerning the less commonly taught languages. In P. Lowe, Jr. C.W. Stansfield (Eds.), "Second language proficiency assessment: Current issues," pp83-124). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall Regents/Center for Applied Linguistics.
Wilds, C.P. (l975). The oral interview test. In R.L. Jones & B. Spolsky, (Eds.). "Testing language proficiency" (pp. 2 9-44). Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics.