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Oral Proficiency

What Is Adult Oral Language Proficiency?

Students talkingWe have many labels for nonnative English speakers with strong oral communication skills, such as proficient, fluent, native-like, and advanced. We often talk about adults having functional or “survival” communication skills demonstrated through language-related competencies, such as being able to call 9-1-1 in an emergency or order food in a restaurant. Many adults are eager to develop the advanced speaking and listening skills necessary for academic or professional work. With so many ways to think about language proficiency, what key information do we need in order to design instruction that meets a variety of speaking and listening abilities?

It may seem easy to distinguish a language learner with limited English ability from one with a higher level of proficiency, but it can be difficult to pinpoint what it is exactly about their language that makes someone a “beginning,” “intermediate,” or “advanced” speaker. In addition, learners' listening abilities may differ from their speaking abilities within a given proficiency level. However, if you know the key elements of language proficiency, you can target your instruction to improve your learners’ skills in these areas.

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