What is Proficfiency?
...and why does it matter?
Language proficiency refers to a person’s ability to use a language for a variety of real-world purposes.
Proficiency is commonly measured using the guidelines developed by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL).
The ACTFL proficiency scale includes:
The above ranges are further divided into the sub categories of "low", "mid", and "high".
A student who begins learning a language in kindergarten and continues through high school, can possibly have a fluency rating in the advanced range by the 12th grade. Students who begin learning a language in 7th grade, and continue for five or six years, can have a fluency rating in the intermediate-mid to intermediate-high range.
The graphic below shows what students can do with the language and at what levels. The inverted pyramid is used to illustrate that a novice speaker's range of conversation topics is very limited--it's all about "ME" at this stage.
As the pyramid widens and the student's vocabulary and breadth of knowledge grows, it takes longer for an increase in proficiency to show.
This is similar to filling an aquarium with water--one cup at a time versus filling
a hot tub with water--one cup at a time. In both cases progress is being made,
but it is not as obvious when filling the bigger receptacle. For a beginning student
every little bit of progress shows. For an intermediate or advanced student,
noticable progress is not as obvious.
Understanding how proficiency works helps parents, students and teachers remember that language learning is an on-going process. Have you ever heard someone say, "I took two years of French in high school and I can't do anything with!" Of course he can't! After two years, in even an excellent program, a student would still be in the novice range--speaking with mostly memorized phrases. To acquire enough language to be able to use it in every day situations, you need to start early and stick with it!