INTERAGENCY LANGUAGE ROUNDTABLE

LANGUAGE SKILL LEVEL DESCRIPTIONS


SPEAKING



Preface

The following proficiency level descriptions characterize spoken language
use. Each of the six "base levels" (coded 00, 10, 20, 30, 40, and 50)
implies control of any previous "base level's" functions and accuracy. The
"plus level" designation (coded 06, 16, 26, etc.) will be assigned when
proficiency substantially exceeds one base skill level and does not fully
meet the criteria for the next "base level." The "plus level" descriptions
are therefore supplementary to the "base level" descriptions.

A skill level is assigned to a person through an authorized language
examination. Examiners assign a level on a variety of performance criteria
exemplified in the descriptive statements. Therefore, the examples given
here illustrate, but do not exhaustively describe, either the skills a
person may possess or situations in which he/she may function effectively.

Statements describing accuracy refer to typical stages in the development of
competence in the most commonly taught languages in formal training
programs. In other languages, emerging competence parallels these
characterizations, but often with different details.

Unless otherwise specified, the term "native speaker" refers to native
speakers of a standard dialect.

"Well-educated," in the context of these proficiency descriptions, does not
necessarily imply formal higher education. However, in cultures where
formal higher education is common, the language-use abilities of persons who
have had such education is considered the standard. That is, such a person
meets contemporary expectations for the formal, careful style of the
language, as well as a range of less formal varieties of the language.

Speaking 0 (No Proficiency)

Unable to function in the spoken language. Oral production is limited to
occasional isolated words. Has essentially no communicative ability. (Has
been coded S-0 in some nonautomated applications.)

Speaking 0+ (Memorized Proficiency)

Able to satisfy immediate needs using rehearsed utterances. Shows little
real autonomy of expression, flexibility, or spontaneity. Can ask questions
or make statements with reasonable accuracy only with memorized utterances
or formulae. Attempts at creating speech are usually unsuccessful.

Examples: The individual's vocabulary is usually limited to areas of
immediate survival needs. Most utterances are telegraphic; that is,
functors (linking words, markers, and the like) are omitted, confused, or
distorted. An individual can usually differentiate most significant sounds
when produced in isolation, but, when combined in words or groups of words,
errors may be frequent. Even with repetition, communication is severely
limited even with people used to dealing with foreigners. Stress,
intonation, tone, etc. are usually quite faulty. (Has been coded S-0+ in
some nonautomated applications.)

Speaking 1 (Elementary Proficiency)

Able to satisfy minimum courtesy requirements and maintain very simple
face-to-face conversations on familiar topics. A native speaker must often
use slowed speech, repetition, paraphrase, or a combination of these to be
understood by this individual. Similarly, the native speaker must strain
and employ real-world knowledge to understand even simple
statements/questions from this individual. This speaker has a functional,
but limited proficiency. Misunderstandings are frequent, but the individual
is able to ask for help and to verify comprehension of native speech in
face-to-face interaction. The individual is unable to produce continuous
discourse except with rehearsed material.

Examples: Structural accuracy is likely to be random or severely limited.
Time concepts are vague. Vocabulary is inaccurate, and its range is very
narrow. The individual often speaks with great difficulty. By repeating,
such speakers can make themselves understood to native speakers who are in
regular contact with foreigners, but there is little precision in the
information conveyed. Needs, experience, or training may vary greatly from
individual to individual; for example, speakers at this level may have
encountered quite different vocabulary areas. However, the individual can
typically satisfy predictable, simple, personal, and accommodation needs;
can generally meet courtesy, introduction, and identification requirements;
exchange greetings; elicit and provide, for example, predictable and
skeletal biographical information. He/she might give information about
business hours, explain routine procedures in a limited way, and state in a
simple manner what actions will be taken. He/she is able to formulate some
questions even in languages with complicated question constructions. Almost
every utterance may be characterized by structural errors and errors in
basic grammatical relations. Vocabulary is extremely limited and
characteristically does not include modifiers. Pronunciation, stress, and
intonation are generally poor, often heavily influenced by another language.
Use of structure and vocabulary is highly imprecise. (Has been coded S-1
in some nonautomated applications.)

Speaking 1+ (Elementary Proficiency, Plus)

Can initiate and maintain predictable face-to-face conversations and satisfy
limited social demands. He/she may, however, have little understanding of
the social conventions of conversation. The interlocutor is generally
required to strain and employ real-world knowledge to understand even some
simple speech. The speaker at this level may hesitate and may have to
change subjects due to lack of language resources. Range and control of the
language are limited. Speech largely consists of a series of short,
discrete utterances.

Examples: The individual is able to satisfy most travel and accommodation
needs and a limited range of social demands beyond exchange of skeletal
biographic information. Speaking ability may extend beyond immediate
survival needs. Accuracy in basic grammatical relations is evident,
although not consistent. May exhibit the more common forms of verb tenses,
for example, but may make frequent errors in formation and selection. While
some structures are established, errors occur in more complex patterns. The
individual typically cannot sustain coherent structures in longer utterances
or unfamiliar situations. Ability to describe and give precise information
is limited. Person, space, and time references are often used incorrectly.
Pronunciation is understandable to natives used to dealing with foreigners.
Can combine most significant sounds with reasonable comprehensibility, but
has difficulty in producing certain sounds in certain positions or in
certain combinations. Speech will usually be labored. Frequently has to
repeat utterances to be understood by the general public. (Has been coded
S-1+ in some nonautomated applications.)

Speaking 2 (Limited Working Proficiency)

Able to satisfy routine social demands and limited work requirements. Can
handle routine work-related interactions that are limited in scope. In more
complex and sophisticated work-related tasks, language usage generally
disturbs the native speaker. Can handle with confidence, but not with
facility, most normal, high-frequency social conversational situations
including extensive, but casual conversations about current events, as well
as work, family, and autobiographical information. The individual can get
the gist of most everyday conversations but has some difficulty
understanding native speakers in situations that require specialized or
sophisticated knowledge. The individual's utterances are minimally
cohesive. Linguistic structure is usually not very elaborate and not
thoroughly controlled; errors are frequent. Vocabulary use is appropriate
for high-frequency utterances, but unusual or imprecise elsewhere.

Examples: While these interactions will vary widely from individual to
individual, the individual can typically ask and answer predictable
questions in the workplace and give straightforward instructions to
subordinates. Additionally, the individual can participate in personal and
accommodation-type interactions with elaboration and facility; that is, can
give and understand complicated, detailed, and extensive directions and make
non-routine changes in travel and accommodation arrangements. Simple
structures and basic grammatical relations are typically controlled;
however, there are areas of weakness. In the commonly taught languages,
these may be simple markings such as plurals, articles, linking words, and
negatives or more complex structures such as tense/aspect usage, case
morphology, passive constructions, word order, and embedding. (Has been
coded S-2 in some nonautomated applications.)

Speaking 2+ (Limited Working Proficiency, Plus)

Able to satisfy most work requirements with language usage that is often,
but not always, acceptable and effective. The individual shows considerable
ability to communicate effectively on topics relating to particular
interests and special fields of competence. Often shows a high degree of
fluency and ease of speech, yet when under tension or pressure, the ability
to use the language effectively may deteriorate. Comprehension of normal
native speech is typically nearly complete. The individual may miss
cultural and local references and may require a native speaker to adjust to
his/her limitations in some ways. Native speakers often perceive the
individual's speech to contain awkward or inaccurate phrasing of ideas,
mistaken time, space, and person references, or to be in some way
inappropriate, if not strictly incorrect.

Examples: Typically the individual can participate in most social, formal,
and informal interactions; but limitations either in range of contexts,
types of tasks, or level of accuracy hinder effectiveness. The individual
may be ill at ease with the use of the language either in social interaction
or in speaking at length in professional contexts. He/she is generally
strong in either structural precision or vocabulary, but not in both.
Weakness or unevenness in one of the foregoing, or in pronunciation,
occasionally results in miscommunication. Normally controls, but cannot
always easily produce, general vocabulary. Discourse is often incohesive.
(Has been coded S-2+ in some nonautomated applications.)

Speaking 3 (General Professional Proficiency)

Able to speak the language with sufficient structural accuracy and
vocabulary to participate effectively in most formal and informal
conversations on practical, social, and professional topics. Nevertheless,
the individual's limitations generally restrict the professional contexts of
language use to matters of shared knowledge and/or international convention.
Discourse is cohesive. The individual uses the language acceptably, but
with some noticeable imperfections; yet, errors virtually never interfere
with understanding and rarely disturb the native speaker. The individual
can effectively combine structure and vocabulary to convey his/her meaning
accurately. The individual speaks readily and fills pauses suitably. In
face-to-face conversation with natives speaking the standard dialect at a
normal rate of speech, comprehension is quite complete. Although cultural
references, proverbs, and the implications of nuances and idiom may not be
fully understood, the individual can easily repair the conversation.
Pronunciation may be obviously foreign. Individual sounds are accurate;
but stress, intonation, and pitch control may be faulty.

Examples: Can typically discuss particular interests and special fields of
competence with reasonable ease. Can use the language as part of normal
professional duties such as answering objections, clarifying points,
justifying decisions, understanding the essence of challenges, stating and
defending policy, conducting meetings, delivering briefings, or other
extended and elaborate informative monologues. Can reliably elicit
information and informed opinion from native speakers. Structural
inaccuracy is rarely the major cause of misunderstanding. Use of structural
devices is flexible and elaborate. Without searching for words or phrases,
the individual uses the language clearly and relatively naturally to
elaborate concepts freely and make ideas easily understandable to native
speakers. Errors occur in low-frequency and highly complex structures.
(Has been coded S-3 in some nonautomated applications.)

Speaking 3+ (General Professional Proficiency, Plus)

Is often able to use the language to satisfy professional needs in a wide
range of sophisticated and demanding tasks.

Examples: Despite obvious strengths, may exhibit some hesitancy,
uncertainty, effort, or errors which limit range of language-use tasks that
can be reliably performed. Typically there is particular strength in
fluency and one or more, but not all, of the following: breadth of lexicon,
including low- and medium-frequency items, especially
socio-linguistic/cultural references and nuances of close synonyms;
structural precision, with sophisticated features that are readily,
accurately, and appropriately controlled (such as complex modification and
embedding in Indo-European languages); discourse competence in a wide range
of contexts and tasks, often matching a native speaker's strategic and
organizational abilities and expectations. Occasional patterned errors
occur in low- frequency and highly complex structures. (Has been coded S-3+
in some nonautomated applications.)

Speaking 4 (Advanced Professional Proficiency)

Able to use the language fluently and accurately on all levels normally
pertinent to professional needs. The individual's language usage and
ability to function are fully successful. Organizes discourse well, using
appropriate rhetorical speech devices, native cultural references, and
understanding. Language ability only rarely hinders him/her in performing
any task requiring language; yet, the individual would seldom be perceived
as a native. Speaks effortlessly and smoothly and is able to use the
language with a high degree of effectiveness, reliability, and precision for
all representational purposes within the range of personal and professional
experience and scope of responsibilities. Can serve as an informal
interpreter in a range of unpredictable circumstances. Can perform
extensive, sophisticated language tasks, encompassing most matters of
interest to well-educated native speakers, including tasks which do not bear
directly on a professional specialty.

Examples: Can discuss in detail concepts which are fundamentally different
from those of the target culture and make those concepts clear and
accessible to the native speaker. Similarly, the individual can understand
the details and ramifications of concepts that are culturally or
conceptually different from his/her own. Can set the tone of interpersonal
official, semi-official, and non-professional verbal exchanges with a
representative range of native speakers (in a range of varied audiences,
purposes, tasks, and settings). Can play an effective role among native
speakers in such contexts as conferences, lectures, and debates on matters
of disagreement. Can advocate a position at length, both formally and in
chance encounters, using sophisticated verbal strategies. Understands and
reliably produces shifts of both subject matter and tone. Can understand
native speakers of the standard and other major dialects in essentially any
face-to-face interaction. (Has been coded S-4 in some nonautomated
applications.)

Speaking 4+ (Advanced Professional Proficiency, Plus)

Speaking proficiency is regularly superior in all respects, usually
equivalent to that of a well-educated, highly articulate native speaker.
Language ability does not impede the performance of any language-use task.
However, the individual would not necessarily be perceived as culturally
native.

Examples: The individual organizes discourse well, employing functional
rhetorical speech devices, native cultural references, and understanding.
Effectively applies a native speaker's social and circumstantial knowledge.
However, cannot sustain that performance under all circumstances. While
the individual has a wide range and control of structure, an occasional
non-native slip may occur. The individual has a sophisticated control of
vocabulary and phrasing that is rarely imprecise, yet there are occasional
weaknesses in idioms, colloquialisms, pronunciation, cultural reference, or
there may be an occasional failure to interact in a totally native manner.
(Has been coded S-4+ in some nonautomated applications.)

Speaking 5 (Functionally Native Proficiency)

Speaking proficiency is functionally equivalent to that of a highly
articulate well-educated native speaker and reflects the cultural standards
of the country where the language is natively spoken. The individual uses
the language with complete flexibility and intuition, so that speech on all
levels is fully accepted by well-educated native speakers in all of its
features, including breadth of vocabulary and idiom, colloquialisms, and
pertinent cultural references. Pronunciation is typically consistent with
that of well-educated native speakers of a non-stigmatized dialect. (Has
been coded S-5 in some nonautomated applications.)