View Full Version : How would you test a persons language ability?

08-06-2007, 10:26 PM
I just took four hours worth of language testing- over the phone for a federal agency. One 2 hour exam was in my target or secondary language and the other was in my native language (English). Despite knowing that the latter exam had to be given in the interest of fairness to all applicants, I found it a very humorous experience. So I offered to be tested in a southern drawl with as many idiomatic expressions as possible. And the feds laughed ( I probably failed the test by making them laugh) But the point of this thread is that the "test" was simply a two topic conversational and thus didn't seem very coordinated to really test for levels of proficiency with a variety of tenses, syntax and yes idiomatic expressions. I find that communication is interrupted as a result when people who have learned English as a second language lack some of these skills. When it comes to public service- I believe the language skills need to be absolutely thorough. Has anyone had a similar experience?

08-07-2007, 12:00 AM
My first thought was it is odd to do this over the telephone, but then it occurred to me testing communication without benefit of non-verbal cues probably is a good idea.

08-10-2007, 04:23 AM
When I took the Goethe Institute test for German as a foreign language, it was a 4 part test. One section of listening at a computer and answering questions about what I heard. One section on grammar that was kinda like the ACT/SAT sections on English, one section on writing (I had 1 hour to write a letter to someone on the topic they chose), and one 15-20 minute oral exam session, with 3 native German speaking judges. I felt that it was very thorough.

08-10-2007, 04:54 AM
I haven't run into anything along the lines of the test you took, but this (http://harcourtassessment.com/haiweb/Cultures/en-US/Harcourt/Community/PostSecondary/Products/Versant/VersantHome.htm) might be interesting to look at. They have a spoken-language test over the phone, completely automated -- there's a sample call under the FAQs.

08-11-2007, 12:32 AM
Over the telephone tests are standard now. I have taken a few. I was addressing the context of this particular exam. I would have made changes in tense and added a few comprehension hurdles. Interpreting for people on the witness stand I hear anything but the expected statements.

08-11-2007, 02:15 AM
Are computerized telephone tests standard, too? I don't know; I don't have a lot of exposure to that area.

I can see how a test like the one you ran into would be frustrating.

08-31-2007, 02:12 AM
I've heard that the over the phone tests which are computerized are still being run and those tests that I took years ago were timed. The key challenge to interpreting is comprehension and terminology - and you gain speed through experience, so I don't think the tests should be unilaterally timed. This in person over the phone test was not timed. I just found out I passed, both Spanish and English. I do know that the work I will be doing will not be reflective at all of the test I took. But I am ready for it.

08-31-2007, 06:11 PM
I got my undergrad degree from one university in the Midwest that did not do any testing of a TA or Professor with regard to their ability or proficiency in English. The math department was notorious for having people with virtually no ability with the language. In calculus, the whole class was failing becuase it took us three weeks just to figure out what textbook the guy wanted. Everyone who could transfer out did. He simply wrote equations on the board and could only say, "deez guy go heeah." His TA was even worse. When I first met with her, trying to figure out what the professor was saying, all that came out was gibberish, to which I said I could not understand her. She then replied very slowly, "Aha Nah Ah speck vah guh inkish."
I then asked her to write the name of the textbook, and of course her writing was illegible too.

I got my first graduate degree from a different University where the English proficiency exam had to be passed by everyone who would be expected to talk to students, American or Foreign, and was administered by tape recorder and written exam, graded by the honors students. They did not suffer the language barrier there.