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?
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.
- We focus especially on the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines for Speaking. You can find all of the guidelines for speaking, writing, listening, and reading on ACTFL’s website.
Other scales that are based on proficiency include:
- The Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR) Scale used by the U.S. government.
Depending on your career goals, you may find it helpful to become familiar with one of these scales.