Learn a Foreign Language: AP for Five Weeks
Learn a new language using AP.
Advanced Placement- what is it?
If you’re not familiar with Advanced Placement, it is a program run by the College Board in the United States. Essentially, what Advanced Placement (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 the credits. You can also use the practice exam materials to help you learn any subject, including building your language skills.
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 I believe there’s now Mandarin. For the European languages, the equivalent of passing a test will give you a pretty good idea that you’re on a B2 for the Common European Framework for Reference (CEFR), or an Intermediate High on the ACTFL scale. But 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 and surpass it.
Students taking the AP foreign language exams take about three and a half to four hours in one day in May to take this exam. The first part is multiple choice and the second part is free response. On the multiple choice, the students have several reading sections with multiple choice answers that follow. They then have a selection of print and audio based on a certain theme. They answer a set of questions after. Then they answer listening comprehension questions.
On the free response portion of the exam, the students 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 given.
If you’re past the stage of wanting to do exercises and simple apps, these materials are rich. They are a fantastic way to build and assess your language skills. You could go on Amazon and find very reasonably priced practice books with a CD that contains all the audio. You can go through all the different practice materials and even take the practice exams. It is an intense experience that can bring your skills to a new level.
AP exams are given a score of zero, one, two, three, four 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.
Focus on reading practice. This is great because you’re going to have lots of opportunities to read interesting content in your target language. Then, you’ll have questions that follow, with answers and the explanations there in the practice book. One way that I really like to approach this is not to worry so much about the ones you got right and 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 all the practice activities for reading.
Audio and print and audio materials. These audio and print materials questions are themed around a print source, which might be a graphic or an article of some kind, and then 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. Great way to up your listening comprehension as well.
Emails. This is one of my very favorite practice activities. The practice books have tons of emails to answer. This gives you a great opportunity for input. You then respond to the email with an opening, a polite introduction, and then get into answering the questions that they asked. Lastly, ask questions back . There’s often student samples available for these. You can see a really good example of high level email and one that’s maybe not so strong. Again, get your journal out and write. This is a great opportunity to have input and output-essentials to learn a foreign language.
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 of about 200 words using the materials responding to the question providing evidence from the text as support. This is a great opportunity to learn a foreign language to a high level by defending your stance on something as well as getting lots of input and listening comprehension along the way.
Speaking. There are two speaking sections on this exam. The first one is 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, but again, you’re not really taking the test. Practice these conversations. 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. But if not, it’s still a fantastic way to learn a language.
Next, there’s an oral presentation. You get about four minutes or so 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 or how public health in your community and the community in the Spanish-speaking world are the same or different.
After you’ve done your five weeks, take the practice tests that come with the books and try to score yourself. They give you 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, even if you’ve already done it. Each time that you do these activities you’re going to learn more words and phrases that are going to stick. You’re going to be able to use what you’re engaging in to help you hit fluency.
Go ahead and repeat the five-week cycle and do the same test. Go back on Amazon and order another book to practice as well. Some great publishers of AP materials are Barron’s, Peterson’s, and 5 Steps to a 5.
I hope you found this resource a useful way to learn a foreign language up to B2 intermediate high level.
The official site for the exams here.