Sunday, January 13, 2013

How ACTFL *labels* misinform us

Awhile ago, I met a Canadian who lives and works in China. He told me something like this:

"I did a proficiency interview over the phone. They told me that after being here for seven years, I'm 'Intermediate High'. I'm not yet 'Advanced' but at least I'm 'Intermediate High'. I feel pretty good about that."

"Intermediate High" and "Advanced" are labels for proficiency levels used by the American Council of Teachers of Foreign Languages and chosen for rating "learners" who have been learning a language in school or university classes in America, without living and working where the language is normally used. Those labels therefore don't apply to that guy in China, nor to you or me if we're living and working abroad in the country where the language is regularly used. For our situations, the corresponding labels would be "'Survival Proficiency' with some features of 'Limited Working Proficiency'" ( for "Intermdiate High") and "Limited Working Proficiency" (for "Advanced"). These are the US government labels designed to describe those who live and work where the language is regularly used, not people taking language classes in schools and universities in the US.

So now, let's translate that guy's report from the misleading ACTFL labels to the appropriate US government (FSI/ILR) labels:

"I did a proficiency interview over the phone. They told me that after being here for seven years, I have 'Survival Proficiency' with some features of 'Limited Working Proficncy'. I'm not yet at the level of  'Limted Working Proficiency' but at least I'm at 'Survival proficiency' with some features of 'Limited Working Proficiency'. I feel pretty good about that."

After 7 years, would he really feel good to hear this? We need to use the right labels in the right contexts, or we are telling innocent people something other than the truth!