Performance vs. Proficiency in World Language

Performance vs. Proficiency in World Language

Performance and proficiency are two related but distinct concepts in world language instruction. There is often confusion about the two and it can lead to frustration for both teachers and students. Coming from the perspective of an American High School Teacher, we have to try to move our students up in proficiency while using performance-based curriculum. It’s not ideal, but in a classroom setting, it’s very hard to replicate natural language learning. Let’s talk about the difference between Performance vs. Proficiency in World Language!

Language Proficiency

Proficiency refers to a learner’s overall ability to communicate effectively in the target language, including speaking, listening, reading, and writing. Proficiency is typically measured through standardized tests, such as the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) proficiency guidelines. Proficiency is a long-term goal of language learning and requires a deep understanding of the language’s structure, grammar, vocabulary, and cultural context.

ACTFL recognizes 4 levels: Novice, Intermediate, Advanced and Superior. To gauge a person’s proficiency, ACTFL has a number of ways. They use the OPI, which is an interview conducted by a human who is trained in asking questions to elicit communication from the language learner. ACTFL also offers the AAPPL test, a standardized, computer-based test that can help determine a student’s proficiency.

Moving through the levels of proficiency is like an inverted triangle. Students can move out of the Novice range relatively quickly, but require many hours of instruction and practice to move through intermediate. At least in my district, this causes some problems, because when trying to show growth from one year to the next, it is difficult to do this when talking about proficiency. Our target remains at Intermediate. But this is why school systems need to rely on performance indicators as well!

Performance With Language

Performance, on the other hand, refers to a learner’s ability to use the language in specific communicative situations, such as ordering food in a restaurant or asking for directions. Performance is measured through classroom activities, such as role-plays or group discussions. Performance is a short-term goal of language learning and focuses on developing practical skills that learners can use in real-life situations. Their tasks are directly related to the instruction that’s taking place.

In school systems, where students have limited time to hear and use the target language, performance is how we teach and assess. We identify specific themes for our curriculum that will help our students begin to develop a feel for the structure of the language. We identify topics that relate to high frequency vocabulary, and we teach them how to perform certain tasks, like reserve a hotel room, or ask questions about something they need to purchase.

In addition, when schools have departments with multiple teachers, it is critical that all students in Year 1 (or 2, 3, 4, etc) have a common curriculum. If not, when they are mixed up and have different teachers and different classmates the following year, it would be impossible to find appropriate materials for all of the students. They must come with some common knowledge as a starting point. *This makes things difficult for students who move in from other districts. Their background knowledge may not be the same as the students who have always been in your district, and they will require extra support.

Performance vs. Proficiency: How To Join Them

Performance vs. proficiency in World Language can be confusing! Though it is my belief that teaching WL in a high school setting must be primarily performance-based, that is not to say that we can’t incorporate many strategies for building proficiency! Next month we will have a series of blog posts about how to do both!

Proficiency refers to a learner’s overall language ability, while performance refers to a learner’s ability to use the language in specific situations. Both are important goals of language learning, but they require different approaches and assessment methods.


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Performance vs. Proficiency in World Language