What is Assessment?
The stated goal of the Language Flagship is to graduate students who are able to function in Hindi/Urdu at a “professional” level. In order to ensure that students achieve professional proficiency, they are required to undergo periodic language assessments to monitor their progress. Language assessment is a measure of a student’s language ability, known as proficiency.
Language Proficiency is the sum of what speakers are able to understand and produce in a language, i.e. the tasks they are able to accomplish in the language in all modalities: speaking, reading, writing, and listening. These skills are considered within the realm of intercultural communication competence, or the ability to use language, interact with others, and generally comport oneself in a culturally appropriate way. Proficiency is not necessarily equivalent to academic achievement, or grades earned in a language class. Grades are a measure of academic performance in the classroom, as measured against the content of a specific syllabus, whereas proficiency is a measure of the on-the-ground effectiveness of language skills in real-world situations.
Proficiency is assessed through two types of standardized testing: written tests that evaluate reading, writing, and listening skills, and an oral interview that evaluates speaking skills. In a reading test, a student will be given a passage in Hindi/Urdu and will be asked to answer questions on this passage. Likewise, in a listening exam, students are asked to answer comprehension questions on a recorded passage. In a writing test, students will be given a written prompt to which they must respond in Hindi/Urdu. Speaking proficiency is assessed through an oral proficiency interview, or an OPI. This is a structured interview that takes the form of a conversation in the target language, in which a certified tester poses various questions and scenarios to which the student responds. (A video recording of an OPI in English is available here.) The duration of both written tests and OPIs depends on the student’s proficiency level; testing takes longer at advanced levels than at earlier levels.
There are several established methods to measure language proficiency, two of which tend to be the most common: the American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages scales (ACTFL) is the preferred method in academia, and the Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR) scale is preferred in U.S. government agencies. Because HUF is federally funded, students are assessed using the ILR scales. This scale is divided into different levels ranging from 0 (complete beginner) to 5 (articulate native speaker). All Language Flagship programs aim to graduate their students at Level 3.
The distinguishing characteristics of each level may not seem clear-cut, as the gradations between the levels are determined by a combination of subtle factors. A final assessment score is a holistic summary of many subtle factors considered together; certified testers have the appropriate training to assign scores based on these factors. Below is a list of tasks and abilities characteristic to a speaker at levels 1, 2, and 3. It is important to keep in mind that these are general guidelines; detailed descriptions of each level are available on the ILR website.
ILR Level 1-Elementary Proficiency
- Engage in common greetings and politeness routines with ease
- Introduce oneself and give autobiographical information
- Read and understand a newspaper headline on a familiar current event
- Read and write short, simple sentences on familiar topics
- Order a simple meal in a restaurant
- Ask for and follow simple street directions
- Is more reliant on nonlinguistic cues such as gestures, facial expressions, and background knowledge to understand meaning
- May need to ask native speakers to speak more slowly or repeat themselves
- Speak with a marked foreign accent but can generally be understood by native speakers
- May inadvertently act in a culturally inappropriate way due to limited knowledge or understanding (e.g. forget to use the proper honorific)
ILR Level 2-Limited Working Proficiency
- Understand the main idea and some of the details of a newspaper article on a familiar topic
- Guess some unknown vocabulary using context clues
- Fully comprehend a brief bulletin, advertisement, or newspaper headline
- Hold an extended and coherent conversation on familiar topics
- Narrate a story or relate a personal experience that occurred in the past
- Possess a firm grasp of multiple tenses (past/present/future) and can use these in speaking with some mistakes
- Understand native speech on a familiar topic at a natural pace, but may miss some of the details
- Speak with an apparent foreign accent, but can be understood
- Generally conform to cultural norms and etiquette, but may make occasional gaffes when faced with unfamiliar situations (e.g. uncertain how to properly decline an unwanted social invitation)
ILR Level 3-Professional Working Proficiency
- Read and comprehend the details of a complex text on a familiar subject
- Hold an extended, coherent conversation on a complex subject of interest
- Express and defend an opinion on a political issue
- Write an essay with a hypothesis and an argument
- Guess meanings of most unknown vocabulary through context clues
- Adjust the formality of their speech to the social context
- Persuade and made a valid argument
- Speak at length about their professional/academic specialty using technical vocabulary
- Understand native speech at a natural pace; seldom needs to ask for repetition
- Speak with a foreign accent but is easily understood by native speakers
- Has a thorough understanding of cultural norms and taboos and is able to act accordingly; seldom makes breaches of cultural etiquette
Testing Schedule in HUF
Most university-level language programs bring students to an ILR level 1+. HUF seeks to bring students to a 3 in Hindi and Urdu by the end of the overseas year. In order to ensure that students are progressing towards this goal, they are tested at three specific points in the program, as shown below. The assessments will allow HUF to monitor student progress and determine eligibility for the Year in India and for Flagship Certification. Written tests in both Hindi and Urdu are administered on a Saturday each April, and OPI’s are scheduled separately. Since assessment scores reflect overall language ability acquired over time, there is no specific curriculum to be studied to prepare for these exams.
First Year Students-All First Year students are tested in the spring semester of the First Year. This assessment allows us to make sure students are progressing appropriately, as there is not an assessment test in the Foundation year
Second Year Students-In the spring semester previous to the overseas year, all Second Year students undergo assessment. This assessment will determine students’ readiness to go abroad. In order to qualify for the overseas year, all students are required to score a minimum of ILR level 2 in Hindi or Urdu.
Third Year (Year in India) Students-Students undergo a final assessment at the conclusion of the overseas year. Students must score a minimum of 3 in at least one language.
Students should keep in mind that it is normal to score higher in certain modalities than in others; for example a student may excel at speaking but obtain a lower score in formal writing. For Flagship Certification, current regulations require a Level 3 in speaking and at least one other modality.
Benefits of Assessment
Assessment of language proficiency has a direct benefit to students’ job prospects and professional goals. While “fluency” in a language is a subjective term that cannot be proven, an ILR assessment score provides a concrete and legitimate representation of a student’s language ability. It is more impressive for a student to state on a resume that they are able to function at an ILR 3 level of proficiency than to say that they are “fluent.” Therefore it is very much in students’ interests that their assessment scores be monitored throughout their career in HUF as they work on enhancing their proficiency.