Articulation of Language Proficiency Programs
From APEC HRDWG Wiki
Articulating Language Ability
Articulation is used by curriculum specialists to refer to putting lessons and activities into a meaningful sequence that is designed to improve learners’ proficiency. Articulating language ability refers to the process of interrelating and coordinating all aspects of language learning across the range from novice to master. Articulating language proficiency means that systems have analyzed, planned and cross-referenced the curriculum, contents, instruction and evaluation for all levels of learners. Thus, teachers and others can distinguish where learners are and how they may continue to proceed through the sequence of varying levels that one reaches as language ability improves.
Identifying and applying the best ways to articulate proficiencies of students and teachers in language ability from one level to another is important for several reasons, which vary in importance according to the stakeholders. For students, learning language consumes energy and time that they might have invested in other pursuits. They can be more aptly rewarded for their efforts and motivated to continue learning languages if they can see their progress and have confidence that they are being guided in productive ways. Teachers are encouraged to perform their parts well when they have some assurance that their efforts contribute meaningfully to long-term development of proficiency. Parents and government policymakers are keen to see well-directed learning taking place within systems that make the most of precious education resources.
Frameworks to Guide Articulation
Several well-known frameworks have been developed to describe proficiencies of language learners. APEC member economies have approached development of frameworks suited to their situations and learning needs from a variety of angles, as described in their Language Content Standards. Some provide specialized descriptors that may best be interpreted by linguists and language educators, while others provide statements of what a language learner “can do” at a given level. The latter is considered by some to be more easily understood by the average learner.
Defining Language Proficiency Skills
Looking at the frameworks, one can see that something as complex as language is difficult to describe in discrete units called “levels”. Generally, frameworks attempt to break language into skills: listening, reading, speaking, and writing. Some include cultural understanding or social skills related to communication. Thus, to obtain a clear picture of what level of proficiency a student or teacher has achieved, one must consider multiple factors and measure accordingly. A more detailed analysis of the more commonly referred to language frameworks is presented in a Background Research Paper written by Chen, et al, for the APEC Seminar on Language Standards and their Assessment.
The meaning of the descriptors or “can do” statements requires clear definition among those applying these to measure proficiency, whether that be the learners themselves, their teachers, or others assigned to assess or rate language achievement. A robust bank of examples illustrating what qualifies for a particular rating is very important if the assessment results are to be considered meaningful and reliable. Most systems or enterprises involved in ‘high stakes’ testing invest heavily in initial training and recalibration of those involved in rating learners’ language performance, making use of such examples.
Examples of Language Proficiency Frameworks
- American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL)
- Canadian Language Benchmarks (CLB)
- Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR)
- Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR)
- International Second Language Proficiency Ratings (ISLPR)
Obstacles to Articulation
Despite notable developments in proficiency definitions and proficiency-based testing over the past two decades, students do not always find that the language instruction and curriculum available to them at their next level of schooling fills the bill for continuing them on in progression towards mastering another language. Adding to the complexity, language learners do not uniformly progress in a linear fashion, adding pieces of new information to their language ability in the same way. Rather, a cyclical re-introduction of key elements that progresses in an appropriate sequence allows learners to not just be taught but learn, not just use the language for textbook exercises but internalize it.
As Byrnes (1988) pointed out a number of years ago in an address to the Association of Departments of Foreign Languages:
"Ultimately such an articulation would spell out more clearly what is teachable and learnable at the high school level and what is more appropriate for the college level. After all, the learners have entered into a decisively different stage of their cognitive and academic development. Should not their language teaching and learning reflect this as well? … the impetus for improving this state of affairs should be greatest on the part of the college faculties, working together with the high school faculties in a spirit of cooperativeness and learning that has the best interests of the students at heart." 
Wallinger (2007) noted, that internal and external assessments aside, there is a need for faculty at the K-12, community college, and four-year college/university levels to have a better understanding of the students, curriculum, and expectations found at all levels.
Professional language educator associations have attempted to address this situation. For example, the Modern Language Association sponsored projects around the US early this decade with the goal of increasing articulation between secondary and tertiary language education. The coordination effort to make the most of education resources addressed placement and student proficiencies among institutions and considered the importance of spreading this understanding to governments and business.
Example of Cross-level Articulation in Practice
Singapore, a multicultural metropolis, is well known for its multilingual education system. The Singapore language curriculum, with distinctive versions for the four official languages: Chinese, English, Malay and Tamil, is well developed and clearly articulated between primary and secondary schools. Students may move horizontally between schools at the same level and advance to new schools vertically with a clear path for their language progress. Not only may students in this system understand where they currently stand and are headed, but teachers, parents and policy makers as well.
The curriculum articulation success in Singapore is one outstanding example in the APEC region of how language and education policy researchers at the tertiary level worked in careful coordination with the language teachers and administrators at the local level. Thus, learners all levels have remarkable opportunities to achieve their linguistic potential.
- ↑ Byrnes, H (1988). How Do You Get There from Here? Articulating the Foreign Language Major Program, ADFL Bulletin 20 (1): 35-38. http://www.adfl.org/cgi-shl/docstudio/docs.pl?adefl_bulletin_c_adfl_20_1_35&amp;from=adefl_bulletin_t_adfl20_1
- ↑ Wallinger, L. (2007). Increasing Foreign Language Proficiency Through Well-articulated Study, The NECTFL Review 59 (Fall/Winter 2006/2007), 32. http://www.dickinson.edu/prorg/nectfl/reviewarticles/59-wallinger.pdf