© 1986, 1999 The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, All Rights Reserved
The 1986 proficiency guidelines represent a hierarchy of global characterizations of integrated performance in speaking, listening, reading and writing. Each description is a representative, not an exhaustive, sample of a particular range of ability, and each level subsumes all previous levels, moving from simple to complex in an "all-before-and-more" fashion.
Because these guidelines identify stages of proficiency, as opposed to achievement, they are not intended to measure what an individual has achieved through specific classroom instruction but rather to allow assessment of what an individual can and cannot do, regardless of where, when, or how the language has been learned or acquired; thus, the words "learned" and "acquired" are used in the broadest sense. These guidelines are not based on a particular linguistic theory or pedagogical method, since the guidelines are proficiency-based, as opposed to achievement-based, and are intended to be used for global assessment.
The 1986 guidelines should not be considered the definitive version, since the construction and utilization of language proficiency guidelines is a dynamic, interactive process. The academic sector, like the government sector, will continue to refine and update the criteria periodically to reflect the needs of the users and the advances of the profession. In this vein, ACTFL owes a continuing debt to the creators of the 1982 provisional proficiency guidelines and, of course, to the members of the Interagency Language Roundtable Testing Committee, the creators of the government's Language Skill Level Descriptions.
ACTFL would like to thank the following individuals for their contributions on this current guidelines project: Heidi Byrnes, James Child, Nina Levinson, Pardee Lowe, Jr., Selichi Makino, Irene Thompson, A. Ronald Walton
These proficiency guidelines are the product of grants from the U.S. Department of Education and are provided here in their entirety.
Speakers at the Superior level are able to communicate in the language with accuracy and fluency in order to participate fully and effectively in conversations on a variety of topics in formal and informal settings from both concrete and abstract perspectives.
They discuss their interests and special fields of competence, explain complex matters in detail, and provide lengthy and coherent narrations, all with ease, fluency, and accuracy. They explain their opinions on a number of topics of importance to them, such as social and political issues, and provide structured argument to support their opinions. They are able to construct and develop hypotheses to explore alternative possibilities. When appropriate, they use extended discourse without unnaturally lengthy hesitation to make their point, even when engaged in abstract elaborations. Such discourse, while coherent, may still be influenced by the Superior speakers' own language patterns, rather than those of the target language.
Superior speakers command a variety of interactive and discourse strategies, such as turn-taking and separating main ideas from supporting information through the use of syntactic and lexical devices, as well as intonational features such as pitch, stress and tone. They demonstrate virtually no pattern of error in the use of basic structures. However, they may make sporadic errors, particularly in low-frequency structures and in some complex high-frequency structures more common to formal speech and writing. Such errors, if they do occur, do not distract the native interlocutor or interfere with communication.
Speakers at the Advanced-High level perform all Advanced-level tasks with linguistic ease, confidence and competence. They are able to consistently explain in detail and narrate fully and accurately in all time frames. In addition, Advanced-High speakers handle the tasks pertaining to the Superior level but cannot sustain performance at that level across a variety of topics. They can provide a structured argument to support their opinions, and they may construct hypotheses, but patterns of error appear. They can discuss some topics abstractly, especially those relating to their particular interests and special fields of expertise, but in general, they are more comfortable discussing a variety of topics concretely.
Advanced-High speakers may demonstrate a well-developed ability to compensate for an imperfect grasp of some forms or for limitations in vocabulary by the confident use of communicative strategies, such as paraphrasing, circumlocution, and illustration. They use precise vocabulary and intonation to express meaning and often show great fluency and ease of speech. However, when called on to perform the complex tasks associated with the Superior level over a variety of topics, their language will at times break down or prove inadequate, or they may avoid the task altogether, for example, by resorting to simplification through the use of description or narration in place of argument or hypothesis.
Speakers at the Advanced-Mid level are able to handle with ease and confidence a large number of communicative tasks. They participate actively in most informal and some formal exchanges on a variety of concrete topics relating to work, school, home, and leisure activities, as well as to events of current, public, and personal interest or individual relevance.
Advanced-Mid speakers demonstrate the ability to narrate and describe in all major time frames (past, present, and future) by providing a full account, with good control of aspect, as they adapt flexibly to the demands of the conversation. Narration and description tend to be combined and interwoven to relate relevant and supporting facts in connected, paragraph-length discourse.
Advanced-Mid speakers can handle successfully and with relative ease the linguistic challenges presented by a complication or unexpected turn of events that occurs within the context of a routine situation or communicative task with which they are otherwise familiar. Communicative strategies such as circumlocution or rephrasing are often employed for this purpose. The speech of Advanced-Mid speakers performing Advanced-level tasks is marked by substantial flow. Their vocabulary is fairly extensive although primarily generic in nature, except in the case of a particular area of specialization or interest. Dominant language discourse structures tend to recede, although discourse may still reflect the oral paragraph structure of their own language rather than that of the target language.
Advanced-Mid speakers contribute to conversations on a variety of familiar topics, dealt with concretely, with much accuracy, clarity and precision, and they convey their intended message without misrepresentation or confusion. They are readily understood by native speakers unaccustomed to dealing with non-natives. When called on to perform functions or handle topics associated with the Superior level, the quality and/or quantity of their speech will generally decline.
Advanced-Mid speakers are often able to state an opinion or cite conditions; however, they lack the ability to consistently provide a structured argument in extended discourse. Advanced-Mid speakers may use a number of delaying strategies, resort to narration, description, explanation or anecdote, or simply attempt to avoid the linguistic demands of Superior-level tasks.
Speakers at the Advanced-Low level are able to handle a variety of communicative tasks, although somewhat haltingly at times. They participate actively in most informal and a limited number of formal conversations on activities related to school, home, and leisure activities and, to a lesser degree, those related to events of work, current, public, and personal interest or individual relevance.
Advanced-Low speakers demonstrate the ability to narrate and describe in all major time frames (past, present and future) in paragraph length discourse, but control of aspect may be lacking at times. They can handle appropriately the linguistic challenges presented by a complication or unexpected turn of events that occurs within the context of a routine situation or communicative task with which they are otherwise familiar, though at times their discourse may be minimal for the level and strained. Communicative strategies such as rephrasing and circumlocution may be employed in such instances. In their narrations and descriptions, they combine and link sentences into connected discourse of paragraph length. When pressed for a fuller account, they tend to grope and rely on minimal discourse. Their utterances are typically not longer than a single paragraph. Structure of the dominant language is still evident in the use of false cognates, literal translations, or the oral paragraph structure of the speaker's own language rather than that of the target language.
While the language of Advanced-Low speakers may be marked by substantial, albeit irregular flow, it is typically somewhat strained and tentative, with noticeable self-correction and a certain 'grammatical roughness'. The vocabulary of Advanced-Low speakers is primarily generic in nature.
Advanced-Low speakers contribute to the conversation with sufficient accuracy, clarity, and precision to convey their intended message without misrepresentation or confusion, and it can be understood by native speakers unaccustomed to dealing with non-natives, even though this may be achieved through repetition and restatement. When attempting to perform functions or handle topics associated with the Superior level, the linguistic quality and quantity of their speech will deteriorate significantly.
Intermediate-High speakers are able to converse with ease and confidence when dealing with most routine tasks and social situations of the Intermediate level. They are able to handle successfully many uncomplicated tasks and social situations requiring an exchange of basic information related to work, school, recreation, particular interests and areas of competence, though hesitation and errors may be evident.
Intermediate-High speakers handle the tasks pertaining to the Advanced level, but they are unable to sustain performance at that level over a variety of topics. With some consistency, speakers at the Intermediate High level narrate and describe in major time frames using connected discourse of paragraph length. However, their performance of these Advanced-level tasks will exhibit one or more features of breakdown, such as the failure to maintain the narration or description semantically or syntactically in the appropriate major time frame, the disintegration of connected discourse, the misuse of cohesive devises, a reduction in breadth and appropriateness of vocabulary, the failure to successfully circumlocute, or a significant amount of hesitation.
Intermediate-High speakers can generally be understood by native speakers unaccustomed to dealing with non-natives, although the dominant language is still evident (e.g. use of code-switching, false cognates, literal translations, etc.), and gaps in communication may occur.
Speakers at the Intermediate-Mid level are able to handle successfully a variety of uncomplicated communicative tasks in straightforward social situations. Conversation is generally limited to those predictable and concrete exchanges necessary for survival in the target culture; these include personal information covering self, family, home, daily activities, interests and personal preferences, as well as physical and social needs, such as food, shopping, travel and lodging.
Intermediate-Mid speakers tend to function reactively, for example, by responding to direct questions or requests for information. However, they are capable of asking a variety of questions when necessary to obtain simple information to satisfy basic needs, such as directions, prices and services. When called on to perform functions or handle topics at the Advanced level, they provide some information but have difficulty linking ideas, manipulating time and aspect, and using communicative strategies, such as circumlocution.
Intermediate-Mid speakers are able to express personal meaning by creating with the language, in part by combining and recombining known elements and conversational input to make utterances of sentence length and some strings of sentences. Their speech may contain pauses, reformulations and self-corrections as they search for adequate vocabulary and appropriate language forms to express themselves. Because of inaccuracies in their vocabulary and/or pronunciation and/or grammar and/or syntax, misunderstandings can occur, but Intermediate-Mid speakers are generally understood by sympathetic interlocutors accustomed to dealing with non-natives.
Speakers at the Intermediate-Low level are able to handle successfully a limited number of uncomplicated communicative tasks by creating with the language in straightforward social situations. Conversation is restricted to some of the concrete exchanges and predictable topics necessary for survival in the target language culture. These topics relate to basic personal information covering, for example, self and family, some daily activities and personal preferences, as well as to some immediate needs, such as ordering food and making simple purchases. At the Intermediate-Low level, speakers are primarily reactive and struggle to answer direct questions or requests for information, but they are also able to ask a few appropriate questions.
Intermediate-Low speakers express personal meaning by combining and recombining into short statements what they know and what they hear from their interlocutors. Their utterances are often filled with hesitancy and inaccuracies as they search for appropriate linguistic forms and vocabulary while attempting to give form to the message. Their speech is characterized by frequent pauses, ineffective reformulations and self-corrections. Their pronunciation, vocabulary and syntax are strongly influenced by their first language but, in spite of frequent misunderstandings that require repetition or rephrasing, Intermediate-Low speakers can generally be understood by sympathetic interlocutors, particularly by those accustomed to dealing with non-natives.
Speakers at the Novice-High level are able to handle a variety of tasks pertaining to the Intermediate level, but are unable to sustain performance at that level. They are able to manage successfully a number of uncomplicated communicative tasks in straightforward social situations. Conversation is restricted to a few of the predictable topics necessary for survival in the target language culture, such as basic personal information, basic objects and a limited number of activities, preferences and immediate needs. Novice-High speakers respond to simple, direct questions or requests for information; they are able to ask only a very few formulaic questions when asked to do so.
Novice-High speakers are able to express personal meaning by relying heavily on learned phrases or recombinations of these and what they hear from their interlocutor. Their utterances, which consist mostly of short and sometimes complete sentences in the present, may be hesitant or inaccurate. On the other hand, since these utterances are frequently only expansions of learned material and stock phrases, they may sometimes appear surprisingly fluent and accurate. These speakers' first language may strongly influence their pronunciation, as well as their vocabulary and syntax when they attempt to personalize their utterances. Frequent misunderstandings may arise but, with repetition or rephrasing, Novice-High speakers can generally be understood by sympathetic interlocutors used to non-natives. When called on to handle simply a variety of topics and perform functions pertaining to the Intermediate level, a Novice-High speaker can sometimes respond in intelligible sentences, but will not be able to sustain sentence level discourse.
Speakers at the Novice-Mid level communicate minimally and with difficulty by using a number of isolated words and memorized phrases limited by the particular context in which the language has been learned. When responding to direct questions, they may utter only two or three words at a time or an occasional stock answer. They pause frequently as they search for simple vocabulary or attempt to recycle their own and their interlocutor’s words. Because of hesitations, lack of vocabulary, inaccuracy, or failure to respond appropriately, Novice-Mid speakers may be understood with great difficulty even by sympathetic interlocutors accustomed to dealing with non-natives. When called on to handle topics by performing functions associated with the Intermediate level, they frequently resort to repetition, words from their native language, or silence.
Speakers at the Novice-Low level have no real functional ability and, because of their pronunciation, they may be unintelligible. Given adequate time and familiar cues, they may be able to exchange greetings, give their identity, and name a number of familiar objects from their immediate environment. They are unable to perform functions or handle topics pertaining to the Intermediate level, and cannot therefore participate in a true conversational exchange.
These guidelines assume that all listening tasks take place in an authentic environment at a normal rate of speech using standard or near-standard norms.
Understanding is limited to occasional isolated words, such as cognates, borrowed words, and high-frequency social conventions. Essentially no ability to comprehend even short utterances.
Able to understand some short, learned utterances, particularly where context strongly supports understanding and speech is clearly audible. Comprehends some words and phrases from simple questions, statements, high-frequency commands and courtesy formulae about topics that refer to basic personal information or the immediate physical setting. The listener requires long pauses for assimilation and periodically requests repetition and/or a slower rate of speech.
Able to understand short, learned utterances and some sentence-length utterances, particularly where context strongly supports understanding and speech is clearly audible. Comprehends words and phrases from simple questions, statements, high frequency commands and courtesy formulae. May require repetition, rephrasing and/or a slowed rate of speech for comprehension.
Able to understand sentence-length utterances which consist of recombinations of learned elements in a limited number of content areas, particularly if strongly supported by the situational context. Content refers to basic personal background and needs, social conventions and routine tasks, such as getting meals and receiving simple instructions and directions. Listening tasks pertain primarily to spontaneous face-to-face conversations. Understanding is often uneven; repetition and rewording may be necessary. Misunderstandings in both main ideas and details arise frequently.
Able to understand sentence-length utterances which consist of recombinations of learned utterances on a variety of topics. Content continues to refer primarily to basic personal background and needs, social conventions and somewhat more complex tasks, such as lodging, transportation, and shopping. Additional content areas include some personal interests and activities, and a greater diversity of instructions and directions. Listening tasks not only pertain to spontaneous face-to-face conversations but also to short routine telephone conversations and some deliberate speech, such as simple announcements and reports over the media. Understanding continues to be uneven.
Able to sustain understanding over longer stretches of connected discourse on a number of topics pertaining to different times and places; however, understanding is inconsistent due to failure to grasp main ideas and/or details. Thus, while topics do not differ significantly from those of an Advanced level listener, comprehension is less in quantity and poorer in quality.
Able to understand main ideas and most details of connected discourse on a variety of topics beyond the immediacy of the situation. Comprehension may be uneven due to a variety of linguistic and extralinguistic factors, among which topic familiarity is very prominent. These texts frequently involve description and narration in different time frames or aspects, such as present, nonpast, habitual, or imperfective. Texts may include interviews, short lectures on familiar topics and news items and reports primarily dealing with factual information. Listener is aware of cohesive devices but may not be able to use them to follow the sequence of thought in an oral text.
Able to understand the main ideas of most speech in a standard dialect; however, the listener may not be able to sustain comprehension in extended discourse which is propositionally and linguistically complex. Listener shows an emerging awareness of culturally implied meanings beyond the surface meanings of the text but may fail to grasp sociocultural nuances of the message.
Able to understand the main ideas of all speech in a standard dialect, including technical discussion in a field of specialization. Can follow the essentials of extended discourse which is propositionally and linguistically complex, as in academic/professional settings, in lectures, speeches, and reports. Listener shows some appreciation of aesthetic norms of target language, of idioms, colloquialisms and register shifting. Able to make inferences within the cultural framework of the target language. Understanding is aided by an awareness of the underlying organizational for its social and cultural references and its affective overtones. Rarely misunderstands but may not understand excessively rapid, highly colloquial speech or speech that has strong cultural references.
These guidelines assume all reading texts to be authentic and legible.
Able occasionally to identify isolated words and/or major phrases when strongly supported by context.
Able to recognize the symbols of an alphabetic and/or syllabic writing system and/or a limited number of characters in a system that uses characters. The reader can identify an increasing number of highly contextualized words and/or phrases including cognates and borrowed words, where appropriate. Material understood rarely exceeds a single phrase at a time, and rereading may be required.
Has sufficient control of the writing system to interpret written language in areas of practical need. Where vocabulary has been learned, can read for instructional and directional purposes standardized messages, phrases or expressions, such as some items on menus, schedules, timetables, maps, and signs. At times, but not on a consistent basis, the Novice-High level reader may be able to derive meaning from material at a slightly higher level where context and/or extralinguistic background knowledge are supportive.
Able to understand main ideas and/or some facts from the simplest connected texts dealing with basic personal and social needs. Such texts are linguistically noncomplex and have a clear underlying internal structure, for example chronological sequencing. They impart basic information about which the reader has to make only minimal suppositions or to which the reader brings personal interest and/or knowledge. Examples include messages with social purposes or information for- the widest possible audience, such as public announcements and short, straightforward instructions dealing with public life. Some misunderstandings will occur.
Able to read consistently with increased understanding simple connected texts dealing with a variety of basic and social needs. Such texts are still linguistically noncomplex and have a clear underlying internal structure. They impart basic information about which the reader has to make minimal suppositions and to which the reader brings personal interest and/or knowledge. Examples may include short, straightforward descriptions of persons, places, and things written for a wide audience.
Able to read consistently with full understanding simple connected texts dealing with basic personal and social needs about which the reader has personal interest and/or knowledge. Can get some main ideas and information from texts at the next higher level featuring description and narration. Structural complexity may interfere with comprehension; for example, basic grammatical relations may be misinterpreted and temporal references may rely primarily on lexical items. Has some difficulty with the cohesive factors in discourse, such as matching pronouns with referents. While texts do not differ significantly from those at the Advanced level, comprehension is less consistent. May have to read material several times for understanding.
Able to read somewhat longer prose of several paragraphs in length, particularly if presented with a clear underlying structure. The prose is predominantly in familiar sentence patterns. Reader gets the main ideas and facts and misses some details. Comprehension derives not only from situational and subject matter knowledge but from increasing control of the language. Texts at this level include descriptions and narrations such as simple short stories, news items, bibliographical information, social notices, personal correspondence, routinized business letters and simple technical material written for the general reader.
Able to follow essential points of written discourse at the Superior level in areas of special interest or knowledge. Able to understand parts of texts which are conceptually abstract and linguistically complex, and/or texts which treat unfamiliar topics and situations, as well as some texts which involve aspects of target-language culture. Able to comprehend the facts to make appropriate inferences.
An emerging awareness of the aesthetic properties of language and of its literary styles permit comprehension of a wider variety of texts, including literary. Misunderstandings may occur.
Able to read with almost complete comprehension and at normal speed expository prose on unfamiliar subjects and a variety of literary texts. Reading ability is not dependent on subject matter knowledge, although the reader is not expected to comprehend thoroughly texts which are highly dependent on knowledge of the target culture. Reads easily for pleasure. Superior-level texts feature hypotheses, argumentation and supported opinions and include grammatical patterns and vocabulary ordinarily encountered in academic/professional reading.
At this level, due to the control of general vocabulary and structure, the reader is almost always able to match the meanings derived from extralinguistic knowledge with meanings derived from the knowledge of the language, allowing for smooth and efficient reading of diverse texts. Occasional misunderstandings may still occur; for example, the reader may experience some difficulty with unusually complex structures and low-frequency idioms. At the Superior level the reader can match strategies, top-down or bottom-up, which are most appropriate to the text. (Top-down strategies rely on real-world knowledge and prediction based on genre and organizational scheme of the text. Bottom-up strategies rely on actual linguistic knowledge.) Material at this level will include a variety of literary texts, editorials, correspondence, general reports and technical material in professional fields. Rereading is rarely necessary, and misreading is rare.
Writers at the Superior level are able to produce most kinds of formal and informal correspondence, complex summaries, precis, reports, and research papers on a variety of practical, social, academic, or professional topics treated both abstractly and concretely. They use a variety of sentence structures, syntax, and vocabulary to direct their writing to specific audiences, and they demonstrate an ability to alter style, tone, and format according to the specific requirements of the discourse. These writers demonstrate a strong awareness of writing for the other and not for the self.
Writers at the Superior level demonstrate the ability to explain complex matters, provide detailed narrations in all time frames and aspects, present and support opinions by developing cogent arguments and hypotheses. They can organize and prioritize ideas and maintain the thrust of a topic through convincing structure and lexicon and skillful use of writing protocols, especially those that differ from oral protocols, to convey to the reader what is significant. Their writing is characterized by smooth transitions between subtopics and clear distinctions made between principal and secondary ideas. The relationship among ideas is consistently clear, evidencing organizational and developmental principles such as cause and effect, comparison, chronology, or other orderings appropriate to the target language culture. These writers are capable of extended treatment of a topic which typically requires at least a series of paragraphs but can encompass a number of pages.
Writers at the Superior level demonstrate a high degree of control of grammar and syntax, both general and specialized/professional vocabulary, spelling or symbol production, cohesive devices, and punctuation. Their vocabulary is precise and varied with textured use of synonyms, instead of mere repetition of key words and phrases. Their writing expresses subtlety and nuance and is at times provocative. Their fluency eases the reader's task.
Writers at the baseline of the Superior level will not demonstrate the full range of the functional abilities of educated native writers. For example, their writing may not totally reflect target language cultural, organizational, syntactic, or stylistic patterns. At the baseline Superior level, occasional errors may occur, particularly in low-frequency structures, but there is no pattern. Errors do not interfere with comprehension and they rarely distract the native reader.
Writers at the Advanced-High level are able to write about a variety of topics with significant precision and detail. They can handle most social and informal correspondence according to appropriate conventions. They can write summaries, reports, precis, and research papers. They can also write extensively about topics relating to particular interests and special areas of competence, but tend to emphasize the concrete aspects of such topics.
Advanced-High writers can describe and narrate in all major time frames, with good control of aspect. In addition, they are able to demonstrate some ability to incorporate the functions and other criteria of the Superior level, showing some ability to develop arguments and construct hypotheses. They cannot, however, sustain those abilities and may have difficulty dealing with a variety of topics in abstract, global, and/or impersonal terms. They often show remarkable ease of expression when writing at the Advanced level, but under the demands of Superior-level writing tasks, patterns of error appear. Although they have good control of a full range of grammatical structures and a fairly wide general vocabulary, they may not use these comfortably and accurately in all cases.
Weaknesses in grammar, syntax, vocabulary, spelling or symbol production, cohesive devices, or punctuation may occasionally distract the native reader from the message. Writers at the Advanced-High level do not consistently demonstrate flexibility to vary their style according to different tasks and readers. Their writing production often reads successfully but may fail to convey the subtlety and nuance of the Superior level.
Writers at the Advanced-Mid level are able to meet a range of work and/or academic writing needs with good organization and cohesiveness that may reflect the principles of their first language. They are able to write straightforward summaries and write about familiar topics relating to interests and events of current, public, and personal relevance by means of narratives and descriptions of a factual nature. Advanced-Mid writers demonstrate the ability to narrate and describe with detail in all major time frames. Their writing is characterized by a range of general vocabulary that expresses thoughts clearly, at times supported by some paraphrasing or elaboration.
Writing at the Advanced-Mid level exhibits some variety of cohesive devices in texts of several paragraphs in length. There is good control of the most frequently used target language syntactic structures, e.g., common word order patterns, coordination, subordination. There may be errors in complex sentences, as well as in punctuation, spelling, or the formation of non-alphabetic symbols and character production. While features of the written style of the target language may be present, Advanced-Mid writing may at times resemble oral discourse or the writing style of the first language. Advanced-Mid writing incorporates organizational features both of the target language or the writer's first language.
While Advanced-Mid writers are generally aware of writing for the other, with all the attendant tailoring required to accommodate the reader, they tend to be inconsistent in their aims and focus from time to time on the demands of production of the written text rather than on the needs of reception. When called on to perform functions or to treat topics at the Superior level, Advanced-Mid writers will generally manifest a decline in the quality and/or quantity of their writing, demonstrating a lack of the rhetorical structure, the accuracy, and the fullness of elaboration and detail that would be characteristic of the Superior level. Writing at the Advanced-Mid level is understood readily by natives not used to the writing of non-natives.
Writers at the Advanced-Low level are able to meet basic work and/or academic writing needs, produce routine social correspondence, write about familiar topics by means of narratives and descriptions of a factual nature, and write simple summaries. Advanced-Low writers demonstrate the ability to narrate and describe in major time frames with some control of aspect. Advanced-Low writers are able to combine and link sentences into texts of paragraph length and structure. Their writings, while adequate to satisfy the criteria of the Advanced level, may not be substantive.
Writers at the Advanced-Low level demonstrate an ability to incorporate a limited number of cohesive devices but may resort to much redundancy, and awkward repetition. Subordination in the expression of ideas is present and structurally coherent, but generally relies on native patterns of oral discourse or the writing style of the writer=s first language. Advanced-Low writers demonstrate sustained control of simple target-language sentence structures and partial control of more complex structures. When attempting to perform functions at the Superior level, their writing will deteriorate significantly. Writing at the Advanced-Low level is understood by natives not used to the writing of non-natives although some additional effort may be required in the reading of the text.
Writers at the Intermediate-High level are able to meet all practical writing needs such as taking notes on familiar topics, writing uncomplicated letters, simple summaries, and compositions related to work, school experiences, and topics of current and general interest. Intermediate-High writers connect sentences into paragraphs using a limited number of cohesive devices that tend to be repeated, and with some breakdown in one or more features of the Advanced level. They can write simple descriptions and narrations of paragraph length on everyday events and situations in different time frames, although with some inaccuracies and inconsistencies. For example, they may be unsuccessful in their use of paraphrase and elaboration and/or inconsistent in the use of appropriate major time markers, resulting in a loss in clarity.
In those languages that use verbal markers to indicate tense and aspect, forms are not consistently accurate. The vocabulary, grammar, and style of Intermediate-High writers essentially correspond to those of the spoken language. The writing of an Intermediate-High writer, even with numerous and perhaps significant errors, is generally comprehensible to natives not used to the writing of non-natives, but gaps in comprehension may occur.
Writers at the Intermediate-Mid level are able to meet a number of practical writing needs. They can write short, simple communications, compositions, descriptions, and requests for information in loosely connected texts that are based on personal preferences, daily routines, common events, and other topics related to personal experiences and immediate surroundings. Most writing is framed in present time, with inconsistent references to other time frames. The writing style closely resembles the grammar and lexicon of oral discourse.
Writers at the Intermediate-Mid level show evidence of control of syntax in non-complex sentences and in basic verb forms, and they may demonstrate some ability to use grammatical and stylistic cohesive elements. This writing is best defined as a collection of discrete sentences and/or questions loosely strung together; there is little evidence of deliberate organization. Writers at the Intermediate-Mid level pay only sporadic attention to the reader of their texts; they focus their energies on the production of the writing rather than on the reception the text will receive. When Intermediate-Mid writers attempt Advanced-level writing tasks, the quality and/or quantity of their writing declines and the message may be unclear. Intermediate-Mid writers can be understood readily by natives used to the writing of non-natives.
Writers at the Intermediate-Low level are able to meet some limited practical writing needs. They can create statements and formulate questions based on familiar material. Most sentences are recombinations of learned vocabulary and structures. These are short and simple conversational-style sentences with basic subject-verb-object word order. They are written mostly in present time with occasional and often incorrect use of past or future time. Writing tends to be a few simple sentences, often with repetitive structure. Vocabulary is limited to common objects and routine activities, adequate to express elementary needs. Writing is somewhat mechanistic and topics are limited to highly predictable content areas and personal information tied to limited language experience. There may be basic errors in grammar, word choice, punctuation, spelling, and in the formation and use of non-alphabetic symbols.
When Intermediate-Low writers attempt to perform writing tasks at the Advanced level, their writing will deteriorate significantly and their message may be left incomplete. Their writing is understood by natives used to the writing of non-natives, although additional effort may be required.
Writers at the Novice-High level are able to meet limited basic practical writing needs using lists, short messages, postcards, and simple notes, and to express themselves within the context in which the language was learned, relying mainly on practiced material. The writing is generally writer-centered and is focused on common, discrete elements of daily life.
Novice-High writers are able to recombine learned vocabulary and structures to create simple sentences on very familiar topics, but the language they produce may only partially communicate what is intended. Control of features of the Intermediate level is not sustained due to inadequate vocabulary and/or grammar. Novice-High writing is often comprehensible to natives used to the writing of non-natives, but gaps in comprehension may occur.
Writers at the Novice-Mid level are able to copy or transcribe familiar words or phrases, and reproduce from memory a modest number of isolated words and phrases in context. They can supply limited information on simple forms and documents, and other basic biographical information, such as names, numbers, and nationality.
Novice-Mid writers exhibit a high degree of accuracy when writing on well-practiced, familiar topics using limited formulaic language. With less familiar topics, there is a marked decrease in accuracy. Errors in spelling or in the representation of symbols may be frequent. There is little evidence of functional writing skills. At this level, the writing may be difficult to understand even by those accustomed to reading the texts of non-natives.
Writers at the Novice-Low level are able to form letters in an alphabetic system and can copy and produce isolated, basic strokes in languages that use syllabaries or characters. Given adequate time and familiar cues, they can reproduce from memory a very limited number of isolated words or familiar phrases, but errors are to be expected.
|Superior-level writers are characterized by the ability to:||Advanced-level writers are characterized by the ability to:||Intermediate-level writers are characterized by the ability to:||Novice-level writers are characterized by the ability to:|
Express themselves effectively in most informal and formal writing on practical, social, and professional topics, treated both abstractly as well as concretely;
Write routine informal and some formal correspondence, narratives, descriptions, and summaries of a factual nature;
Meet practical writing needs - e.g., simple messages and letters, requests for information, notes - and ask and respond to questions;
Produce lists and notes and limited formulaic information on simple foms and documents;
Present well developed ideas, opinions, arguments, and hypotheses through extended discourse;
Narrate and describe in major time frames, using paraphrase and eloboration to provide clarity, in connected discourse of paragraph length;
Create with the language and communicate simple facts and ideas in a loosely connected series of sentences on topics of personal interest and social needs, primarily in the present;
Recombine practiced material supplying isolated words or phrases to convey simple messages, transcribe familiar words or phrases, copy letters of the alphabet or syllables of a syllabary, or reproduce basic characters with some accuracy;
Control structures, both general and specialized/ professional vocabulary, spelling or symbol production, punctuation, diacritical marks, cohesive devices, and other aspects of written form and organization with no pattern of error to distract the reader.
Express meaning that is comprehensible to those unaccustomed to the writing of non-natives, primarily through generic vocabulary, with good control the the most frequently used structures.
Express meaning through vocabulary and basic structures that is comprehensible to those accustomed to the writing of non-natives.
Communicate basic information.
argument: a type of discourse that is intended to persuade or convince; because of the polemic nature of argument, one can expect to find a significant number and variety of connectors that facilitate elaboration, detailing, and the incorporation of examples, for a cogent and cohesive organization of ideas.
aspect: a verbal category that refers to some characteristic of the activity or state of a verb; indicates if an action or state is viewed as completed or in progress ( I went / I was going), instantaneous or enduring ( The sun came out / The sun was shining), momentary or habitual (They vacationed at the shore / They used to vacation at the shore ). Aspect is often indicated by prefixes, suffixes, infixes, phonetic changes in the root verb, use of auxiliaries.
circumlocution: an indirect or roundabout compensation strategy to express a thought or meaning when appropriate lexical items are unknown.
cohesive devices: language components that link ideas for seamless flow within and among sentences and paragraphs, such as relative pronouns, pronoun substitutions [subject and object], coordinating and subordinating conjunctions, adverbs of time, subordinate clauses.
distract the native reader : errors (misspelling, incorrect grammar, incorrect lexical items, faulty structure) appearing in writing samples that focus the attention of the native language user on the form rather than on the meaning.
elaboration: adding more detail and specificity in the exposition of a particular idea.
fluency: a flow in the written language as perceived by the reader, made possible by clarity of expression, the acceptable ordering of ideas, use of vocabulary and syntax appropriate to the context, with words, phrases, and idiomatic expressions that go together by common lexical convention.
formal/informal writing: features of writing (format, punctuation, choice of vocabulary) that reflect different audiences and purposes for the communication. For example, in informal writing, the use of contractions and colloquialisms, direct discourse, generic vocabulary; in formal writing, the use of honorifics, indirect discourse, specific and thematically appropriate vocabulary. See also tailoring of writing.
functions: also called task universals or global tasks, this latter particularly referring to communicative tasks (descriptive, informative, narrative, persuasive, and/or hypothetical writing) that have been identified as the key criteria for a given level of proficiency.
functional writing skills: what an individual is able to do with written language, for example, those writing capabilities that are appropriate to satisfy communication needs for specific writing purposes (personal, practical, academic, professional, creative writing, etc.)
generic vocabulary: those words and expressions that serve equally well in a variety of categories and contexts. Such vocabulary is readily intelligible to the general public, but does not normally deepen meaning. (See also specialized vocabulary).
low-frequency structures: complex language constructions that are seldom utilized or required in a given language in its less formal expression, but often necessary in the most formal types of writing geared to high-level communicative tasks such as persuading and hypothesizing. Examples of such constructions are some compound tenses (She would have thought), the sequencing of tenses (If they had considered the implications, they would have opted for another solution), and compounded subordination (Given the clear and present danger, and in view of the significant loss already suffered by the villagers, the council decided to ...).
non-alphabetic symbols: those elements of meaning that appear in both Roman and non-Roman languages that indicate stress, punctuation, syllabification; including ideographs and pictograms Un hombre muy tímido entró; The first- and second-year students are here.
oral discourse: a style of language that contains the characteristics of informal spoken language, i.e., redundancy, repetition, fragments, contractions, simple sentences.
paragraph: a specific unit of thought that reflects a structural and thematic chronology (beginning, middle, end), usually organized through a group of related sentences that encompass a sense of unity and completeness. Often, and especially in academic formats, the paragraph contains a topic sentence (a clear statement of the principal idea or thesis), and the sentences that follow help explain or contribute to the elaboration of the topic sentence.
paraphrase: stating the contents of a passage or text in similar language without quoting the original text or using the language verbatim.
redundancy: linguistic and structural components that serve the same purpose within the communication; also superfluous words (a verbatim quotation), repetition (This is my father. I work for my father.), or unnecessary verbiage (Two years ago in 1999, .... ).
reflective writing: written material that is planned and organized through rereading, revising, editing, and rewriting. The writer has time to plan and organize the written material, to be fully involved in the entire writing process. This type of writing is generally necessary to produce texts at high proficiency levels. Writers and most decidedly high-level writers will generally produce higher-level written texts through reflective writing than through spontaneous writing.
specialized vocabulary: words, expressions, technical terms, etc., that are meaningful to members of a specific group or field of study or endeavor, but not to the general public. While sometimes referred to as jargon, a specialized vocabulary channels meaning and makes the information more precise, more focused, and at times more profound. (See also generic vocabulary)
spontaneous writing:: writing that is produced when preparation and production need to occur at the same time; it does not allow sufficient opportunity for revision, rewriting, or editing.
symbol production: the production of ideographs or pictograms (as in Chinese, Japanese), or non-alphabetic elements of a given language.
time frames: general periods in time: past, present, or future, but not necessarily tenses that indicate those specific times. For example, future time can be indicated by use of the future tense, but also by the present tense: I am going to the movies this afternoon. Likewise, past time can be indicated by use of the present tense: Elle vient de partir; Ella acaba de salir [She has just left].
tailoring of writing: selecting language, information, and ideas, and ordering these components, to create a particular effect in the reader, whether to convince or persuade, to incite or anger, to comfort, or to summon support or action, etc. Such tailoring also includes the use of appropriate variables in register, i.e., in expository writing vs. information writing.
verbal markers: those morphological, phonological and/or semantic elements that indicate differences in tense [ran / run / have run;hablo / habló (I speak / he spoke)]; person - (I eat / He eats); auxiliaries [Elle est sortie hier soir (She went out last night) / Elle a sorti la poubelle (She took the trash can out)]; and aspects of verbs [They ran / They were running].