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Language proficiency or linguistic proficiency is the ability of an individual to speak or perform in a language. As theories among pedagogues as to what constitutes proficiency go, there is little consistency as to how different organizations classify it. Additionally, fluency and language competence are generally recognized as being related, but separate controversial subjects. In predominant frameworks in the United States, proficient speakers demonstrate both accuracy and fluency, and use a variety of discourse strategies. Thus, native speakers of a language can be fluent without being considered proficient. Native-level fluency is estimated to be between 20,000–40,000 words, but basic conversational fluency might only require as little as 3,000 words.
The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) distinguishes between proficiency and performance. In part, ACTFL's definition of proficiency is derived from mandates issued by the U.S. government, declaring that a limited English proficient student is one who comes from a non-English background and "who has sufficient difficulty speaking, reading, writing, or understanding the English language and whose difficulties may deny such an individual the opportunity to learn successfully in classrooms where the language of instruction is English or to participate fully in our society."
ACTFL views "performance" as being the combined effect of all three modes of communication: interpretive, interpersonal, and presentational.
Note that test scores may not correlate reliably, as different understandings of proficiency lead to different types of assessment:
- FSI Test (Foreign Service Institute) Scores range from 0 to 5. (deprecated)
- Interagency Language Roundtable Scores range from 0 to 5. (evolved from FSI)
- Language Proficiency Index
- ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines ACTFL recognises ten different levels of proficiency: "novice", "intermediate", "advanced", and "superior", of which the first three are each subdivided into "low", "mid", and "high".
- Common European Framework of Reference for Languages CEFR recognises six levels: A1, A2, B1, B2, C1 and C2.
- Avant STAMP (STAndards-based Measurement of Proficiency)
- Cambridge English Language Assessment tests
- CaMLA (Cambridge Michigan Language Assessments)
- CELPE-Bras (Certificate of Proficiency in Portuguese for Foreigners)
- Defense Language Proficiency Tests
- DELE (Diplomas of Spanish as Foreign Language)
- Examination for Japanese University Admission
- General English Proficiency Test
- HSK (汉语水平考试 Hànyǔ Shuǐpíng Kǎoshì)
- IELTS (International English Language Testing System)
- iTEP (International Test of English Proficiency)
- Japanese Language Proficiency Test (日本語能力試験 Nihongo Nōryoku Shiken)
- Language Proficiency Assessment for Teachers
- Pearson Test of English Academic (PTE-A)
- The European Language Certificates (telc - language tests)
- TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language)
- TOEIC (Test of English for International Communication)
- TOPIK (한국어능력시험 Test of Proficiency in Korean)
- TEPS (Test of English Proficiency developed by Seoul National University)
- Test of Russian as a Foreign Language
- Test de français international
- Test de connaissance du français
- TOCFL (華語文能力測驗 Test of Chinese as a Foreign Language)
- UBELT (University of Bath English Language Test)
See also: Language tests category