Preparing for an OPI - Level I

When a student does an Oral Proficiency Interview, a rating is assigned based on the ACTFL Guidelines for Speaking.

At the Five College Center for World Languages, we expect that for most languages students in Level I will perform at the Novice level.  At this level, students are expected to do only very basic things with the language using simple expressions and sentences.  (NOTE:  We expect that students in Cantonese for Mandarin Speakers I will perform at the Intermediate level.  See Preparing for an OPI - Level II and Up.) 

OPI Review Activities/Topics

Here are some activities and scenarios appropriate to Level I, that you can practice in your conversation sessions and in your independent study time to get ready for your OPI:

  • Can you greet the interviewer appropriately, ask him/her how s/he is, and respond appropriately when the interviewer asks you?  Practice variations on this.
  • Can you tell the interviewer about yourself and respond to questions about yourself?  If the interviewer asks you to tell about yourself, what all can you say?  Things you may have learned and may be able to tell about or answer questions about are:

              - where do you live?  where are you from?  what is your nationality?

              - where do you study?  what do you study?  what language(s) do you speak?

              - do you have siblings/brothers or sisters?  where do they live?  what do they do?

              - who is in your family?  what simple things can you say about each family member?

              - what you or others look like (I am short.  I have black hair.)

  • Can you tell the interviewer about things you do every day?  Practice giving descriptions of typical days for you or for other people you know. For example:

              - what time do you get up?  what time do you go to bed?

              - what time do you eat your meals?

              - what other things can you say you do?

  • Can you say which subjects you study and which subjects you like or do not like?  Can you say what subjects your siblings or friends study and what they like or do not like?
  • Can you respond to questions asking you to list or describe things?  Such as:

              - what is in the room?

              - what is in your bag?

              - where is Amherst?  where is Northampton?  (ANSWER: Massachusetts, United States)

              - indicate the size or height of something/someone - big, small, tall, short

              - indicate the color of something (The chair is red.)

  • Can you respond to yes/no questions?

              - do you like coffee?

              - did you get up at 7 this morning?

              - do you have a pencil?

  • Can you list things when asked?  For example:

              - what foods do you like?

              - what do you like to do?

              - what would you like to buy?

  • Can you count and give someone your phone number?
  • Can you use expressions with the interviewer that help you get another chance to understand what s/he said? For example:

              - I don't understand.

              - Would you repeat what you said?

              - What does [insert word] mean?

This is a general list.  What you can do may vary depending on the material covered in your course.  Because an OPI follows a conversational format and is not based on a particular textbook or syllabus, there is no way to predict exactly what questions or topics will come up

The interviewer will typically ask open-ended questions to see how you respond and then use your responses as the basis for asking follow-up questions.  Keep working on the types of basic skills listed above.  These are the same skills you need to use the language in everyday life.

Difficult Questions

You should be aware that the interviewer will ask some questions you cannot answer.  This is perfectly normal and does not mean that the OPI is not going well.  The interviewer needs to find both the “floor” (what you can do with the language) and the “ceiling” (what you can’t do yet).  So there will be some difficult questions when the interviewer is looking for the “ceiling,” but you don’t need to worry that you are doing poorly just because you can’t answer every question.

More Information

If you would like more information about what is expected at the Novice level, you can read descriptions of Novice speakers and see videos of Novice speakers in English on the ACTFL website.

Another helpful resource from ACTFL is their Can-Do Statements for Interpersonal Communication.  These are written in terms of simple “I can…” statements and give specific examples of what speakers can do at each level.  You can use them to help you better understand the proficiency levels. You can also assess what level you think you are at now, and then think about what skills you should work on in order to move up to the next level.

You may also want to read the articles under Strategies for Conversations.

Key points:

  • Expect conversation and possibly a role play or two.  Practice basic conversational skills in your conversation sessions.
  • Make sure you can greet the interviewer appropriately (practice formal language if appropriate).
  • Practice saying that you don’t understand or asking the interviewer to repeat.
  • Say as much as you can to demonstrate more of what you know.
  • Don’t panic if you can’t answer every question fully!  Hard questions don’t mean you’re not doing well; it’s just part of how an OPI works.

Preparing for an OPI - Level I - Video