How to track and measure language proficiency
Proficiency lives right at the heart of language training.
Whether you’re leveling up your customer service team‘s ability to provide better support for new Spanish-speaking customers, or you simply want to offer language training as a cool, new benefit to help attract and retain new employees—learning a new language is all about speaking confidence.
Proficiency over fluency.
When it comes to learning a new language, it’s easy to confuse proficiency for fluency and vice versa.
Each has distinct characteristics that could impact how your employees learn. The subtle difference is a matter of speaking naturally and speaking well.
By definition, fluency is a matter of having the same language skill level as a native speaker. Fluent speakers treat their new language like second nature in how they pronounce specific words, phrases, and colloquialisms.
Proficiency is simply a matter of skill. In other words, proficient speakers may not speak perfectly all the time, but they speak confidently and well.
While fluency is a perfectly admirable goal, proficiency is easier to define, measure, and scale across your entire business. Fluency vs. proficiency is a matter of speaking perfectly vs. speaking well.
Now let’s talk about some tried and true ways organizations measure language proficiency.
Understanding the CEFR Scale.
The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) is arguably the most widely used standard for understanding a learner’s language proficiency.
Generally speaking, the CEFR scale operates on a 6-point grading system—ranging from A1 for beginners all the way to C2 for learners who have achieved a level of speaking and listening mastery.
Here’s a quick breakdown of the scale:
A1-level speakers can use very basic expressions to satisfy basic needs (Ex: May I use your restroom? or Is there a coffee shop nearby?), they may also be able to introduce themselves and ask others basic questions about their personal details.
A2 learners can understand frequently used expressions and colloquialisms (i.e. shopping, family, employment, etc), and complete daily tasks and describe daily matters that are a little more urgent.
Intermediate-level speakers are generally better equipped for handling more complex travel conversations. For instance, speakers at the B1 level can understand specific points related to someone’s family, career, or education. This means they can also be a little more conversational by speaking to personal experiences, life events, ambitions, or even opinions.
B2 (Upper Intermediate)
B2 learners can truly start to engage in business conversations in a new language. Upper-intermediate speakers can talk freely about complex topics in their field of expertise and spontaneously interact with a stranger without much anxiety.
Advanced speakers can begin to engage in conversation for long periods of time and engage with more demanding topics, and express ideas without too much searching or lag in the conversation. This often translates to being able to communicate clearly in social, academic, and/or professional encounters, which can prove helpful when presenting complex business topics in a new language.
Finally, C2 or proficient speakers are able to communicate a wide range of ideas and concepts in both casual and formal conversations in almost any situation with relative ease. have casual and formal conversations with relative ease.
The Canadian Language Benchmark
This proficiency measurement standard is almost exactly what it sounds like—a national standard used in Canada to measure and understand English-language proficiency in immigrants and/or individuals planning to immigrate to Canada.
This scale is similar to CEFR in that it measures language proficiency on a scale from beginner to proficient—ranging from CLB 1 to CLB 12. Each proficiency grade is comprised of four elements: speaking, listening, reading, and writing. Each language element is scored on a scale of 0 to 9.
For instance, a proficiency score of CLB 9 has a listening score of 8.0 and a reading, writing, and speaking score of 7.0. In CEFR score terms, this would make you an advanced English speaker.
The Foreign Service Institute model for language proficiency
The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) serves as a training resource for State Department employees in the US for more than 70 years. As such, they put out a guide that demonstrates how long it takes to become fluent in a new language. This is largely based on language difficulty.
For instance, according to the FSI language-learning guide, it takes 24 to 30 weeks to master languages like Spanish, French, Dutch, Romanian, and Italian.
More complex languages—Japanese, Chinese, Malaysian, German, and everything in between—can take anywhere from 36 to 88 weeks to master, according to the same guide.
Keep in mind that these timelines are long because US Diplomats are required to have complex conversations with foreign leaders where the nuances of culture, colloquialisms, and regional dialects are critical to successful conversations abroad. While this reality isn’t a far stretch from what’s required for businesses operating on a global level, this level of mastery may not be necessary for your business needs.
Equip your team for language proficiency
The hard truth about any business metric is that if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it. This is the philosophy at the heart of any proficiency measurement system you may use. With Rosetta Stone for Business, you can focus on language proficiency from the moment your employees start learning a new language.