How Do I Figure out My Spanish Level?
The last time he took Spanish proficiency exam, I was shocked to find out that I was already a C2 level. If you’re not familiar with C2, that basically means you’re a native Spanish speaker. Which was very, very far from the truth.
I’ve always been a really good test taker. Naturally, I scored very high on the reading/writing/listening because of that. I just always scored really well, especially with multiple choice exams. Therefore, those results didn’t give me much confidence in the DELE exam (which is used in Spain to measure Spanish levels). Not that it matters, since Americans are not rushing over the pond to take it.
Differences in USA, Europe, and Private Levels Measures
This is why figuring out someone's level is so complicated. There are many different ways to ¨score¨ students.
USA: Public schools use Common Core State Standards for ELLs.
USA: For world languages, some rely on ACTFL proficiency standards, which focus on performance-based objectives.
USA: University objectives vary from school to school.
Europe: Common European framework reference (CEFR) consists of 6 levels, from A1 to C2.
Worldwide Companies (i.e. Rosetta Stone): Often use their own scales with 10-12 levels.
IELTS Exam: Scores on bands of 0-9 in each domain.
TOEFL Exam: Has a top score of 120. *These last two are English exams.
Confused yet? On top of this, many students have different abilities in the 4 language domains. It is more common for students to have higher reading/writing levels, and lower speaking/listening ones.
If you are going to ask which model is the best, or the correct one, there really isn't one that is going to work for everyone. It will depend on your language goals. If you need to take an official exam like the TOEFL, then you need to get a 100 -120 in academic topics. On the other hand, if conversational fluency is your goal, the ACTFL standards would be better.
Most Employers Will not Ask for Official Language Exams
One exception is bilingual teachers, and ones who are teaching foreign languages. It my experience working as a bilingual employee in the United States, nobody cares what your Spanish level is. The second they find out you can speak it, you will be asked to do every favor in the entire world, at your place of work. They are content to throw their hands up and let you take the reigns. No wonder so many of my adult students never tell anyone they are taking classes.
Even when I was just starting out learning, and I knew I was making a lot of mistakes, Spanish-speaking people are so sweet and gracious. When it comes to appreciating your effort, they do. They don't interrupt you to point out your poor grammar or pronunciation. If that were the case, I would have never made it through assisting during a doctor's visit.
One time, when I worked in maternal-fetal medicine research, a doctor asked me to tell a pregnant patient that her unborn child had a tumor. And on diabetes day, I was literally the worst patient educator. I remember not knowing the word for integral when trying to explain whole wheat bread. But I am grateful that they allowed me to help, because I did get better. I never did go on to take another exam however.
Not that I Would Have Found One Online....
I was looking for a Spanish language proficiency exam for a student who enjoys grammar more than most. I was shocked to find that there really wasn’t anything available. How could that be? And a very little bit that was available to test your Spanish level was all from Spain. Just FYI, I never learned vosotros and I got 100 on every single question. It was just process of elimination with the verb ending.
But, You Should Check Your Level Anyway
It might be a shock to you to find out that I do encourage people to get proficiency checks. I just don’t think that standardize exams are the way to go. Like everything in language learning, it is personal. The results will depend on a lot of factors that don't fit into a multiple choice test. Some of the benefits of taking a level test include:
Placing into the correct class, with students who will challenge you
Not being placed into a beginner class, which is too easy and boring
Choosing the duration and intensity of a program
Making an action plan to improve grammar and vocabulary
Determining if you have basic, conversational, or professional proficiency
Working on your lower level abilities in order to balance reading, writing, speaking, and listening
Here is an Example Spanish Rubric
I perform Spanish level tests differently than the way the other teachers do it. Because I teach conversational classes, I’m focusing on that domain. I want to make sure that the student is going to fit in well, if he/she joins an upper level course. It also gives us the benefit of being able to address little holes in vocabulary or grammar before we begin a class.
Heritage Spanish Students With Prior Exposure
In addition I have separate rubrics for heritage Spanish speakers. Or students that have had some type of meaningful exposure to the language. These students typically have higher listening comprehension. Normally, they will have a much larger vocabulary than peers. But, they also make more conjugation mistakes. This occurs when they’ve never had grammar instruction. It's common for heritage speakers to use a word, but not know why they used it or know how to explain it in English. It is just like a native speaker.
Before I Go...
If you found this article helpful, make sure to follow our blog. This is the first in a series of blog posts. They will detail ways to improve your Spanish level in speaking, listening, reading, and writing.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sara Tyler has 2 M.A. degrees, in Educational Technology and Curriculum and Instruction. Her B.A. degree is in ESL. She has worked online since 2014, and has taught languages since 2010.
Her company, Viva Online, L.L.C. provides Spanish language courses, immersion classes, and professional development teachers. She lives in Playa del Carmen, Mexico with her husband and 2 daughters.
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