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Language Proficiency Level:
How We Developed our Scale

How would you rate your language proficiency level? For years the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) language proficiency scale was the primary test of oral language achievement. Its five-point scale ranked speakers from level 0 (no functional ability) to level 5 (equal to an educated native speaker). The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) and the Educational Testing Service (ETS) have modified the FSI scale to better classify beginning learners (FSI 0-2).

Both scales present a hierarchy of language skills. Though designed to test your speaking proficiency, such scales suggest goals as well as set standards by which to measure achievement. However, the widely used FSI and ACTFL/ETS scales tend to view language ability from the instructor's perspective rather than the learner's. We have revised them to meet the needs of learners wishing to monitor their own progress. We have also added cultural skills, on the basis that behaving appropriately within the culture is an important part of your language proficiency.

The long and short of it is that these are great self-rating checklists that will help you set goals and measure your progress.

    Note: My dad wrote all this boring stuff about the “pedigree” for our checklist. (Pedigree? I couldn’t even get him to change that word.) He has a PhD from Cornell, so that is why there are so many big words in it. Most of the time, he is more fun than this. We included this background on our checklist to show we are not making this up.

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