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Archived Information

Foreign Language Curriculum Frameworks

The Developmental Stages of Language Proficiency

Students acquiring a new language pass through different stages of language proficiency as they develop their ability to use language for purposeful communication. These stages of proficiency describe what students are able to do with the language using the skills of speaking, reading, writing, and understanding. Students' progress through the stages of proficiency is not linear and not the same for all students.

The Developmental Stages of Language Proficiency described below can help teachers to define proficiency goals within foreign language programs, to devise activities that develop proficiency, and to design assessment expectations. Stages of proficiency for modern languages and reading comprehension in classical languages are listed below.6*

During Stage 1

In modern languages, students use selected words, phrases, and expressions with no major repeated patterns of error.

Students perform simple communicative tasks using single words such as naming articles in the classroom or listing their favorite foods. Students also use common phrases and expressions to complete simple tasks such as saying "good morning" and stating their name, age, and where they live.

In classical languages, students recognize selected words, phrases, and expressions with no major gaps in comprehension.

Students perform simple communicative tasks using single words such as naming articles in the classroom, rooms in a house, or using common phrases and expressions. They also read and comprehend simple sentences and short paragraphs composed for instructional purposes at this level.

Because Stage 1 communicative tasks are not complex, there should be no major repeated patterns of error in modern languages such as consistently misnaming an article of clothing or misusing a weather expression. In classical languages, there should be no major gaps in comprehension such as consistently misnaming an article of clothing or a location in a house.

During Stage 2

In modern languages, students use sentences and strings of sentences, and recombinations of learned words, phrases, and expressions with frequency of errors proportionate to the complexity of the communicative task.

As they enter Stage 2, students begin to create new combinations of the language they have learned in Stage 1. Messages are understandable but some patterns of error may interfere with full comprehension.

In classical languages, students read sentences, strings of sentence, and paragraph-length texts, including some authentic material, and recombinations of learned words, phrases, and expressions with frequency of errors proportionate to the complexity of the communicative task.

As they enter Stage 2, students begin to recognize new combinations of the language they have learned in Stage 1. The learner reaches beyond known patterns to understand new meanings and communications. Messages are understandable but some lapses may interfere with full comprehension.

It is natural for learners to move back and forth between Stages, at one moment showing confidence and accuracy, at another moment losing both, when the complexity of the message interferes with the learner's ability to produce it accurately (in modern languages) or comprehend it accurately (in classical languages).

* See Appendix D for Sample Program Entry Points and Expected Outcomes

During Stage 3

In modern languages, students use sentences and strings of sentences, and fluid sentence-length and paragraph-length message, with frequency of errors proportionate to the complexity of the communicative task.

Students are able to produce and comprehend fluid sentence-length and paragraph-length messages, but as the complexity of the task or message increases, errors and hesitation become more frequent. For example, a Stage 3 learner might be able to describe another person in class with accuracy, but if he or she described a viewpoint on a current social issue, there would be a higher frequency of error.

In classical languages, with appropriate assistance, students read and comprehend sentences, paragraphs, and story-length texts of predominantly authentic material with lapses of understanding proportionate to the complexity of the text being read.

Students are able to comprehend paragraphs and story-length texts and to interpret those texts in their cultural context. As the complexity of the text increases, gaps in comprehension become more frequent. The teacher's role is to help students achieve a greater degree of understanding in the reading and interpretation of complex texts.

During Stage 4

In modern languages, students use sentences, strings of sentences, fluid sentence-length, paragraph-length, and essay-length messages with some patterns of errors that do not interfere with meaning.

Students convey messages with some patterns of grammatical errors that do not interfere with meaning. As the task becomes more complex (for example, providing a rationale or hypothesis) errors and pauses to find appropriate words become more frequent. A learner's awareness of culturally appropriate language, behavior, and gesture is evident in interpersonal communication.

In classical languages, students read selections of varying length exclusively from authentic material with some gaps in understanding that do not interfere with comprehension.

With appropriate assistance, students read increasingly complex texts with cultural understanding and literary appreciation.

(See Appendix D for Sample Program Entry Points and Expected Outcomes)





Last Updated: January 1, 1999
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