What is Language Proficiency?

Language proficiency refers to functional language ability – basically, what a speaker can do in a language

  • Proficiency depends not on knowing about various aspects of a language, but rather on the ability to use the language in real-life scenarios.
  • Memorizing tables of verb conjugations will not necessarily increase your proficiency, unless you are able to use the new verb forms to understand and communicate information.
  • For example: Can you introduce yourself to someone?  Can you schedule an appointment?  Can you return or exchange an item that you purchased?  Can you fill out a simple form or write an e-mail to a friend?

Rating Proficiency

There are different ways of measuring and describing proficiency:

  • At the Five College Center for the Study of World Languages, we talk about proficiency in terms of the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines.  ACTFL stands for the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.

ACTFL also publishes Can-Do Statements that students can use for self-assessment.  For more information, see Self-Assessment with Can-Do Statements or access the Can-Do Statements online.

Other scales that are based on proficiency include:

Depending on your career goals, you may find it helpful to become familiar with one of these scales.