How to Use AP to Learn a Language over the Next Five Weeks

If you’re not familiar with AP (Advanced Placement), it is a program run by the College Board in the US. Essentially, what AP does is offer high school students the opportunity to take exams to test their knowledge on an equivalent college course. Depending on the college or university, a student can be awarded credits. For example, you might take a college-level physics class. You take that exam in high school and your college or university will recognize that and award you college credits.

The College Board and AP have created quite a few really useful exams for learners of a foreign language, whether you’re in school or not. Every May, students take exams in Spanish, French, German, Italian, Japanese, and Mandarin. For European languages, the equivalent of passing a test will give you a pretty good idea that you’re on a B2 (CEFR), or an Intermediate-high on the ACTFL scale. Don’t worry if you’re not in high school or you’re not going to be taking this exam. The materials out there are a fantastic way to build up to that level of fluency, and even surpass it.

AP foreign language exams take about three and a half to four hours and are administered in May. The first part is multiple choice. The second part is free response. For the multiple choice, the students have several reading sections with multiple choice questions that follow. They then have a selection of print and audio based on a certain theme, with a set of questions that follow.

For the free response portion of the exam, the students first respond to an email. They write a persuasive essay based on two print sources and an audio source in the target language. They have a simulated conversation on the computer, and they create an oral presentation in which they compare and contrast practices among cultures based on a prompt.

If you’re past the stage of wanting to do exercises and simple apps, these materials are rich for teaching culture and language. They are a fantastic way to build and assess your language skills. Many of these practice materials are on Amazon. You can find very reasonably priced books with a CD that contains all the audio you need. You can go through all the different practice materials, and even take practice exams. AP exams are given a score of zero, one, two, three, or five. A one being not at all qualified, didn’t pass the test, to five being extremely well qualified for that equivalent college class. These materials are great for both learning and assessment.

Week One: Reading

You’re going to have lots of opportunities to read lots of interesting content in your target language. You’ll have questions that follow that will allow you to test your comprehension skills. I like to approach this by not worrying so much about right or wrong. Use the answer keys to go back and find evidence in the text of what you may have missed. Use it as an opportunity to learn vocabulary and grammar, all completely in context. Underline words you don’t know. Write in the margins. It’s not a real test, so you’re not cheating on anything. Nobody else is grading this but you. Spend week one immersed in the practice activities for reading.

Week Two: Audio and Print Combined and Audio

The audio and print materials questions are themed around a print source, which might be a graphic or an article of some kind, followed by an audio source. You have time to read the print source and listen to the audio source twice. Then, you answer a set of questions. Again, approach this the same way as you did the reading. Do the practice, check your answers, and go back and do it again. Write down any words you don’t know. Underline words. This is a great way to up your listening comprehension as well.

Week Three: Emails

This is one of my very favorite practice activities. The practice books have tons of emails to respond to. They give you a great opportunity for input by reading one. You then respond to the email with an opening, a polite introduction, and then get into answering the questions that they asked and ask questions back to the person writing you. There’s often times student samples of these included, too. You can see a really good example of high level email, or one that’s maybe not so strong. This is a great opportunity to have input and output.

Week Four: Persuasive Essays

Throughout the persuasive essay portion of the exam, students are given a question to which they need to respond yes or no. They’re given an article, a graphic source, and then an audio source that they listen to twice. They need to write an essay about 200 words using the materials to respond to the question and providing evidence from the text and audio sources. This is a great opportunity to practice some really high level language defending your stance on something, as well as getting lots of input and listening comprehension along the way.

Week Five: Speaking

There are two speaking sections on the exam. The first one has simulated conversations. Essentially, you’re given an outline that tells you what to say and explains what the person on the CD is going to say to you. Students have to record these and turn them in. However, you’re not really taking the test, so this is a great chance to practice speaking. Have the book in front of you and respond to the computer when they talk to you. If you record it, it’s a great way to document your progress. If you don’t, it’s still a fantastic way to practice speaking.

There’s also an oral presentation. You get about four minutes to create an oral presentation where you compare two things. For example, you might compare holidays somewhere in the French-speaking world and holidays in your own country.

After you’ve done your five weeks, take the practice tests that come with the books. The materials provide lots of tools to help you figure out if you would get a zero, one, two, three, four, or five. If you’re not happy with your results, go back and do it again. Each time that you do these activities you’re going to learn more words and phrases. They are going to stick. You’re going to be able to use this stuff to help you hit fluency. Repeat the five-week cycle and do the same test again and see better understanding, results and fluency each time.

Amazon has great materials by publishers like Barron’s, Peterson’s, and 5 Steps to a 5. They provide books that have all of the practice materials you need.

College Board provides released free response questions and samples.

French Language and Culture

German Language and Culture

Italian Language and Culture

Japanese Language and Culture

Spanish Language and Culture

Mandarin Language and Culture

I hope you found this resource a useful way to get your language up to B2/Intermediate-high level.

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