Sunday, November 18, 2012

Taking ACTFL's OPIc language test

After speaking Spanish for almost twenty years (I guess I am giving you a clue to my age) and speaking Spanish at home with my husband, I was curious to see what I would score on a proficiency test.

How does a teacher go about finding out his/her level of proficiency? Well, the Massachusetts Test  for Educator Licensure (MTEL) just tells you if you pass the exam or not based on the overall score which they have set at 240. It does not indicate what oral proficiency level the teacher needs to have since the oral section is only scored on a 1-4 point scale. It is hard to really assess the teacher's ability with only one oral sample. Interestingly enough, Pearson Education, Inc. makes the exam. I guess they are the ones who correct it, too? Not sure.

However, there are two internationally well known exams that you can take. The first test is called OPIc which stands for Oral Proficiency Interview - Computer. It is a test administered and correct by ACTFL, America's leading foreign language institution. Salem State University where I did my teacher educator program does tell its candidates what level they expect in order to be granted a degree (Advanced-Low), and the school is an ACTFL testing site as well.  (Click here for a link to the descriptions of the various proficiency levels set by ACTFL.)

There is another test that also determines proficiency levels. It's called the Diploma de Espanol como Lengua Extranjera, or the DELE. ( The Instituto Cervantes administers it, the University of Salamanca creates and corrects it, and the Spanish Ministry of Education, Culture, and Sport supports it. For the highest level C2, there are three different exams - (1) the use of language, and reading/listening comprehension (2) integrated skills: listening and reading comprehension, and written expression and interaction (3) integrated skills, reading comprehension, and oral expression and interaction. It definitely looks challenging.

Ultimately, it was much more convenient for me to take the OPIc at Salem State because it's not as expensive  ($65 vs $161) or as long (40 minutes vs 90 minutes) as the DELE. I got to the language lab at Salem State, and logged in. I had to fill out a background questionnaire in which I identified what level I thought I was at, what job I currently have, and some of my interests. I felt as if I could handle a variety of situations, both formal and informal, concrete and abstract - especially since I have worked and studied in Spanish for many years now so I checked the highest level. Then, I chose education for my job. The last section I was told was really the most important. The key is to pick topics that you know that you can speak the most about. I chose cooking, dancing, music, and travelling internationally for pleasure. Even though I do participate in sports and other recreational activities, I felt as if I did not have sufficient vocabulary to be able to carry on a conversation so I clicked that I do not participate in anything.

After a warm-up question about the weather, the test began. The avatar, Ana, asked me several questions about my family and what my responsibilities were in the household. The questions grammatically got harder, and it was a matter of trying to recognize what they are testing. Also, the length that I was expected to speak got longer and longer with the longest being 2 minutes. The next group of questions concerned food. Since I am the principal cook in the house and familiar with Colombian cuisine, I really felt confident in those sections. I was asked what I like to cook (Colombian food!!), when was the last time I cooked and what, and when was the last time that a meal didn't go as well as I had hoped. The next section then got more serious as I had to start talking about the economy. I mentioned the crisis in Spain for that one. There was also a question about what role the government should take in managing the economy. Since this was right before the presidential election, it was not hard for me to think of something to say. Finally, I was asked to talk about issues inside of our own borders. I talked about the issues regarding immigration. I felt confident overall except one question where I spaced out halfway through forgetting what the question was. I just kept talking about the topic instead of leaving dead air. Overall, there were 17 questions. My results will come back in about two weeks or so. I look forward to seeing what they are.

After taking the exam, I had a new understanding of exactly what it must be like for an student to take the AP Spanish exam. Especially the new exam that they are putting out in 2014. I think it's a good idea for all Spanish teachers to take it so we know what exactly is expected of us and as well as our students. With better insight, we can better prepare our students to pass the AP Exam with high scores and to obtain high levels of proficiency that will serve them well in college, the workplace, and the world.