How to Test ESL Speaking to Assess Levels

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To effectively teach English as a Second Language (ESL), you must first accurately assess your students’ speaking levels to ensure they receive the correct lessons. If a student is placed in the incorrect class level, whether too high or low, his ability to learn will be hindered. There are a few capabilities that should be tested when assessing a student, including reading, writing and speaking. To test speaking levels, there are a number of factors that should be considered.

1 Give the student

Give the student a few different topics to choose from. Let the student have a few moments to prepare, and then engage him in a five to ten minute conversation on the subject. Assign a point based system from zero to five, with zero indicating no proficiency and five indicating native speaking skills, to assess levels in four areas.

2 Test for pronunciation

Test for pronunciation. It’s okay to make allowances for an accent, but the goal is comprehensibility.

3 Test for comprehension

Test for comprehension. To test high, the student must be able to fully understand your replies and questions.

4 Assess fluency

Assess fluency. This includes both the size of vocabulary used by the student and the speed and ease at which questions were answered.

5 Evaluate clarity

Evaluate clarity. Both grammar and content fall under this category. Look for sufficiency of information – short answers may be fluent and clear, but if important information is left out, clarity ratings will be lower. Likewise, proper grammar is important for creating a clear message.

6 Add up the total points

Add up the total points to decide which level best fits the student.

David Johnston works internationally as a freelance writer and editor in a number of professional fields. He received his bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.