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Practical measures of proficiency

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Daniel:
What are your favorite ways to measure proficiency that actually feel effective?
I often wonder whether, for example, I'm "good at" Spanish, and I don't feel like I have a good way to answer that. As a linguist I'm probably harder on myself than most, but I'm also realistic: I'm certainly no native speaker of Spanish and I do have trouble understanding sometimes (perhaps often).

Personally I don't see the value in labels like "intermediate" or "advanced" or even "fluent". (Maybe "beginner" is an exception.)

And official scales like "B2" don't seem to mean much unless you can compare yourself to others on exactly the same scale.


So what's a good solution?

Personally I like thinking about practical aspects:
--Can you give/get directions to the airport? [Also known as the "train station test"]
--Can you read a newspaper?

Of course different measures like that might have very different results (maybe you can read a newspaper but not ask for help, or the opposite), but that seems natural to me.

Based on these tests, I'd say:
I am comfortable living in Spanish.
I can read academic research in most (Germanic, Romance) European languages, at least with a dictionary.


Does that seem reasonable? Any better suggestions?
What's your favorite way of measuring proficiency?

Corybobory:
I think those are good measurements - for myself, I gauge in terms of being 'conversational' or not, if I can carry on a conversation with a stranger, and  if I can read academic texts with a dictionary or not.

It's hard to define, since language learning can improve in different areas at different rates - as in I'm conversational in Japanese and French (and Spanish at a push), but I struggle to read Japanese, and reading French or Spanish for academic works is fine (with a dictionary!).  I don't think 10 Japanese dictionaries could get me through an academic paper sadly...

Daniel:
I agree about "conversational"-- I'd describe myself as strongly conversational in Spanish. But sometimes I wonder if others might expect more of my Spanish than is realistic, because "conversational" is almost a technical term like "fluent" with no real definition.


--- Quote ---It's hard to define, since language learning can improve in different areas at different rates - as in I'm conversational in Japanese and French (and Spanish at a push), but I struggle to read Japanese, and reading French or Spanish for academic works is fine (with a dictionary!).
--- End quote ---
Absolutely. But it might be a good thing that a proficiency test/description would take that into account.


--- Quote --- I don't think 10 Japanese dictionaries could get me through an academic paper sadly...
--- End quote ---
I know what you mean. There's also a degree to which being "advanced" in Japanese and "advanced" in Spanish mean very different things. Somehow we want to almost separate the difficulty from the experience. It's hard feeling like we'll always be at the "beginner" level in some languages (like my Arabic, for example), even though that may be true (unless we find the time to go to the country for a while and really put in a lot of specific effort).

freknu:
This is not something I have thought about before, but being able to read a newspaper is something I would consider a very good indicator of proficiency.

Of course, this does not mean that you have an extensive knowledge slang, colloquialism, idioms, proverbs, academic or technical terminology, and so on. However, newspapers do seem to be a pretty good indicator of the standard language.

It's also important to remember that proficiency is not a "scalar":


* reading proficiency
* writing proficiency
* speaking proficiency
* listening proficiency
* general understanding
* morphology
... and so on.

Of course, it all depends on the newspaper you are reading. An economic (or otherwise academic or technical newspaper) is going to be more difficult.

Daniel:

--- Quote ---Of course, it all depends on the newspaper you are reading. An economic (or otherwise academic or technical newspaper) is going to be more difficult.
--- End quote ---
Not necessarily! I do relatively well reading Linguistics articles in languages I'd have no ability in otherwise (like Swedish, if I have some patience and a dictionary). [It's possible some of that is a cognate effect, I admit, but not all; context also helps and my specialization in the field and learning that specific jargon.]

As you said: it's not scalar at all. Definitely not. (But on the whole it does feel that way... perhaps we could somehow measure a "core" proficiency, in things like syntactic structures and phoneme contrasts??)

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