“So, how good is your [French/German/whatever foreign language]?”
Anyone who has studied a language has probably been asked this question. Sometimes it’s difficult to answer – how good is good? Can you order a latte? Manage a project? Strike up a killer conversation about politics?
Especially if you want to get a job using your foreign language, one excellent way to get a real answer on your concrete skills is to get – wait for it – formally tested.
Hang on… did you just say I should do a formal test? Isn’t that boring? Why would I?
Volunteer for a test, willingly? Even pay a bit extra for it? Yes, that’s what I’m recommending. It might not be for everyone, but I think it’s excellent to validate your true language abilities at some point during your learning (how this works is explained further down). Here’s why you might like to consider it:
- It gives you a real idea of your progress. You have a measurable, standardised way of talking about your level.
- It gives prospective employers a concrete idea of your level. Many companies require applicants to have a certain level of linguistic competence, depending on the role.
- It forces you to practice everything you’ve learnt up to that point, reinforcing parts of the language you might have forgotten, or which had slipped out of use. It’s a great refresher.
- It gives you a great sense of accomplishment: motivation to keep kicking a$$ learning that language. I’ve never published this until now, but, I failed the Japanese test the first time in 2005. The pass rate was 65%; I achieved somewhere aruond 58%. I was very disappointed with myself, and wasn’t sure whether I’d be able to pass if I did it again. Two years later, I studied my butt off, practiced more than I ever had, and smashed my previous score to a pass rate I was very happy with and the best level of Japanese I’d ever had. It felt great.
Hmm… I’ll think about it, but how is this done?
Most major languages have an internationally recognised test that’s administered centrally, usually in the country where the language originates, or where it’s most widely spoken. You can book directly with the testing organisation, or through major language schools who work in conjunction with them. You prepare as much as you can, turn up on the day for the test (2-7 hours, depending on the language and level), and receive the results a few weeks later.
Here are the two I’ve taken. Keep in mind that a little Googling will help you find similar tests for most languages.
- The Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT). Beginner proficiency = Level 4; Native proficiency = Level 1. (Link to JLPT is here.).
Level 2 is required by many employers in Japan, as it denotes a high level of fluency in speaking, listening, reading and writing. I’m currently at Level 2, and hope to attempt Level 1 some day after I have chance to spend more time in Japan. Having this test on my resume helped me move into a role which allowed me to use Japanese every day. I was a happy boy.
- Goethe Institut’s Common European Framework of Reference for Languages – German. Range of levels from A1 (Start Deutsch) to C2 (Zentrale Oberstufenprüfung). (Link to more info is here- note: this points to the Australian version, but Goethe has schools worldwide, and they all use the same framework.) I’m somewhere in the middle, at B1 (Zertifikat Deutsch). Passing this exam was a great landmark for me as I find German grammar very challenging, and it got me get into gear with all the preparation I’d been meaning to do for a long time.
If you want to get a clear idea of where you’re at with your language, get some proactive motivation to revise all you’ve learnt, or get a job using your newfound tongue, you might like to look into taking a formally recognsied test. They’re not as painful as they sound, and you’ll feel great afterwards.
Question: Have you taken any formal tests, or do you have a better approach? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.
– Side Note: I’m travelling at the moment, so it might take a while to get to questions or comments, but I promise I will! Thanks for your understanding. –