Speak Spanish: 4 Tools to Set Goals and Test Your Fluency
Did you know that there are more Spanish speakers in the U.S. than in Spain now? Speaking Spanish will also allow you to communicate with a fifth of the ENTIRE world. 17 percent of Duolingo users are there studying that language. Being able to speak Spanish can send you to the front of the line for jobs, skyrocket your career and allow you to get to know some amazing people you wouldn’t be able to talk to otherwise.
With such a strong need and interest, you need tools to reach the B2/ACTFL Advanced-low levels. You need to be able to set goals and reach them to hit those points. One of the best experiences I have had professionally has been my training in language proficiency rating. There are some great tools out there to measure and reach fluency in Spanish that anyone learning can use-not just trained proficiency raters.
Step one: Speak
Listen to Benny Lewis, and speak Spanish from day one. Speaking is the most useful test for any language learner. When you speak, you process what you know. It also tells you what you don’t know. You then know what you need to learn. Fill in the gaps. Repeat. If you feel silly or ridiculous at first, talk to yourself and build up your confidence. Talk to others as early as possible- you will learn a great deal from the things they say to you.
Step Two: Explore Online Assessments
How I wish these had been available to the public when I first started teaching languages. Not only was the internet just really taking off, but these tools seemed to be shrouded in secrecy. They hold the keys to knowing how to open the door to language. They all provide concrete descriptions of a commonly understood definition of fluency also. Knowing how to assess your current level and your goals takes it from a lofty approach to a focused plan to speak Spanish fluently.
The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages does a great job of clearly defining what tasks people can do in languages at each level. Note that it isn’t a percentage, or a score on a test. It is all about what functional tasks a person can perform. Who is going to approach you on the street to ask you about verb conjugations, accent placement, or the gender of Spanish nouns? The answer: NOBODY. They want to understand you, and for you to understand them. Use the grid to help you determine your level now, and compare it to that (at least) B2 level.
The NCSSFL Can-Do Statements are essentially the US version of the CEFR used in many schools. They were developed by a council of supervisors of foreign language programs in the States, and based on the ACTFL Proficiency Scale. While the CEFR is great, the ACTFL scale goes more into depth, and is always working to further break down the levels. The CEFR has six separate descriptors, and ACTFL has eleven. Being an Intermediate-mid tells you more about how far you have to go to hit the Intermediate-high/Advanced-low level with a little more detail than being a B1 speaker does.
ACTFL also provides a variety of ways to test your level, and gives you an official rating at Language Testing International. Most of the options are costly, but they provide concrete proof of your current ability to speak Spanish. It can also help many Americans qualify for jobs.
I like to think of this as the spy scale. They measure proficiency up to a level 5. On their scale, that means almost impossible to detect a person’s native language. Their equivalent of B2 is a level 2. Their self-assessments provide more insight on what that means.
Step Three: Study Materials to Measure AND Work Towards Fluency
Want to hear concrete examples of people at those different levels? Check out UT at Austin’s Spanish Proficiency Exercises. It features Spanish speakers from all over the world. There is downloadable audio, transcripts, exercises and vocabulary lists to learn to complete these tasks yourself. Check out Intermediate B and Advanced A to hear B2 level Spanish.
U.S. high school students have the opportunity to take Advanced Placement exams in many subjects. Students are then given a score of 0-5, with a 3, 4 or 5 most often seen as demonstrating competency. For students getting a 3 or 4, they are often at the B2 level. Students scoring a 5 show very high proficiency.
There is a multiple choice section that tests reading and listening, and another section that tests writing and speaking. The speaking and writing exam materials, as well as real samples of performance are available at AP Spanish Language and Culture. You can see conversation prompts, email prompts, and materials to practice persuasion.
The reading and listening are not available for free. However, the study materials can be ordered from Amazon, and are not expensive. They provide audio, answer keys and scoring guides to help you know exactly where you are. The greatest thing about the materials is that they use super-interesting materials to deliver the content. Imagine learning about problems in the Galapagos, analyzing differing opinions on bullfighting or more about Yerba Mate, all while building and testing your skills at the same time. Learn to speak Spanish and learn new things at the same time.
Step Four: Journal
Writing is one of the last skills we can do well in a language. If you ever stared at blank screen wondering what to write in your own language, this will feel familiar. The beauty of journaling for yourself is that you can take advantage of all of the benefits of practicing language and skill-building that journaling offers, without fear of not finishing on time or getting a bad grade. Check out the Path to Fluency. Pay attention to the Sentences Becoming Paragraphs bubble and the Paragraphs bubble. This is your target.
Just like taking time to speak Spanish is a great test, journaling is too. Write regularly in your journal WITHOUT any helping tools. Look at what you didn’t know, fill in your gaps, and repeat.
Get a native-speaking tutor on italki. Not only can you get speaking and assessing your progress, you can share your work with your teacher who can provide feedback on your entries.
With such an abundance of materials available online, any level of skill you aim for is well within your reach. Happy Spanish learning!