The lack of consensus
A very symptomatic problem in ancient language instruction is the lack of consensus for answering how well someone knows a language. In my experience the answer to this is typically which textbooks you have worked through or how many classes or semesters you have had.
When it comes to modern languages, there exists no shortage of standards, and one of the most commonly used frameworks is the Common European Framework of Reference. See my article here for more about it.
However, when it comes to ancient or other minority and endangered languages, such self-assessments are not as relevant. While admittedly a work in-progress, the following is how at Immersio we have adapted the CEFR self-assessment grid for these hidden gems of languages.
Note that in lieu of “reading” and “writing,” which are labels that can easily bias or favour “print culture”, broader terms such as “experience” and “perform” are used so as to include a greater diversity of cultural contexts and values.
The “A” Levels: Basic User
A1 | Beginner
Receptive Listening: When people converse slowly and clearly I recognize common words and phrases about familiar kinds of people, places, or customs.
Receptive Experiencing: I understand familiar names, words, and basic utterances in performances.
Productive Speaking: I can use common phrases and simple utterances to describe myself and fundamental aspects of the culture’s worldview.
Interactive Speaking: Concerning familiar topics I can respond to simple questions and interact in a simple way if others are ready to repeat or rephrase things slowly, and guide me in formulating what I’m trying to communicate.
Performance: I can perform basic details about myself, such as my name, my family, or where I live. I can use stock phrases, like greetings, farewells, or thank yous, to perform basic activities.
A2 | Elementary
Receptive Listening: I understand common words and phrases about topics I have familiarity with. I can understand the main point of simple, short announcements or messages.
Receptive Experiencing: I understand short, simple performances. I can identify specific and predictable information and identify key words and phrases in genres or tropes I am familiar with.
Productive Speaking: I can link a series of common phrases and simple messages to give basic descriptions of my life and background, and comment on customs, ideas, and types of people I am familiar with from the culture’s worldview.
Interactive Speaking: I can handle short social exchanges, though I need prompting and help to keep conversations going. For familiar topics and activities I can communicate in routine and simple tasks that require an exchange of information.
Performance: I can perform short, simple messages about matters I am familiar with. I can logically express basic opinions, experiences, and beliefs about topics I have knowledge about from the culture’s worldview.
The “B” Levels: Independent User
B1 | Intermediate
Receptive Listening: I understand the main points of clear, standard speech about topics I have familiarity with, and the main point of conversations that are slowly and clearly spoken. I can recognize most performances as such in their context, though I have difficulty making sense of them.
Receptive Experiencing: I understand performances consisting primarily of high frequency or familiar language, and can largely infer the meaning of unfamiliar words or phrases about topics I am familiar with. With familiar genres I can perceive implicit desires, feelings, or wishes.
Productive Speaking: I can connect a series of thoughts or opinions in a simple way to describe experiences and events. I can express or clarify reasons and explanations for various opinions, emotions, hopes, and preferences. I can form a basic narrative about a topic I am familiar with, relate the narrative of another, or describe reactions to it.
Interactive Speaking: I can speak at length about topics I am familiar with or have prepared for, and can solicit help to follow along with and at moments contribute to conversations or discussions I have not prepared for or have little familiarity with.
Performance: I can create basic performances about matters I am familiar with, following common cultural conventions and norms. In general, I can perform with regard to daily experiences.
B2 | Upper Intermediate
Receptive Listening: I can follow extended speech and some complex lines of thought about topics I am reasonably familiar with, even when spoken at a native speaker’s rate of speed. I understand most messages and conversations that are spoken in standard speech. And even in non-standard speech I usually understand the main points in conversations or messages about topics I am reasonably familiar with. I can somewhat understand and be impacted by structured performances, especially those about topics I am familiar with
Receptive Experiencing: I can experience and understand most performances about topics and genres I am familiar with and the particular attitudes and viewpoints of their creators. I can identify key information and basic creator viewpoints in structured performances about topics I am reasonably familiar with, and can identify the main points of most performances I am not familiar with.
Productive Speaking: I can use some nuanced language to talk about a wide range of subjects about topics I am familiar with. Regarding familiar topics I can expound different viewpoints or attitudes, and provide basic support for my experience or that of others. In general, I can express my opinions, emotions, hopes, and preferences, describe common experiences and events, and form basic narratives.
Interactive Speaking: I can speak with relative fluency and spontaneity about topics I am familiar with or have prepared for, and actively contribute to most related conversations or discussions, while accounting for and sustaining my positions or experiences. Regarding unprepared conversations or discussions about unfamiliar topics, with active support I can make a meaningful contribution. In general, I can converse with fluent speakers about most topics.
Performance: I can create a structured narrative, argument, encouragement, or similar performance about subjects I am familiar with. I can use at least some nuanced language to describe events and experiences or express reasons and attitudes behind various points of view about most matters. In general, I can communicate key thoughts to fluent speakers about the significance or implications of my own experiences.
The “C” Levels: Proficient User
C1 | Advanced
Receptive Listening: I understand unstructured, extended speech and most complex lines of thought about topics I am reasonably familiar with. In general, I can understand messages and conversations spoken in standard speech at a native speaker’s rate of speed. I can understand most non-standard speech about topics I am reasonably familiar with, given some time to familiarize myself with the group or dialect. I can understand and be impacted by familiar performances.
Receptive Experiencing: I understand the majority of extensive and complex structured performances, and can appreciate most stylistic devices. With some guidance and familiarity with the subject matter I can understand the majority of structured performances. I can reflect on potential ambiguities or alternative communal interpretations, and understand their implications for the overall meaning.
Productive Speaking: I can use nuanced speech to present detailed aspects of complex subjects and sub-themes, and develop lines of thoughts into appropriate conclusions or statements. With preparation or familiarity with the topic I can use many appropriate verbal cues and structure my speech coherently.
Interactive Speaking: I can speak with relative fluency and spontaneity about most topics, with minimal searching for appropriate expressions or vocabulary. I can flexibly employ various speech registers and styles, depending on the social context, and recognize most dialectical variations as such. I can formulate and express specific ideas and opinions relevant to most conversions or discussions.
Performance: In general, I can create performances with well-structured thoughts about complex issues in an appropriate style and register for my intended readers. With adequate preparation I can employ appropriate stylistic elements for my intended audience about topics I am familiar with.
C2 | Proficiency
Receptive Listening: Even at a native speaker’s rate of speech, I have little or no difficulty understanding unstructured, extended speech and complex lines of thought about most topics. And when given some time to familiarize myself with unknown topics or dialects, I can almost always understand what is said. I can understand and be impacted by the vast majority of performances.
Receptive Experiencing: I understand the vast majority of structured performances, even philosophical, linguistically complex, or somewhat esoteric ones, and appreciate nearly all stylistic devices. With most performances I can engage in reflection or deliberation while at the same time experience them with fluent understanding. With some guidance and familiarity I can understand the vast majority of structured performances.
Productive Speaking: I can creatively use nuanced speech to describe, argue, or explain my thoughts and experiences in contextually appropriate ways. I can intentionally and coherently structure my speech and employ verbal cues that intentionally guide recipients to notice and remember significant points and follow what I am communicating.
Interactive Speaking: I can speak with fluency and spontaneity about the vast majority of topics, employing appropriate idioms, expressions, or colloquialisms. I can precisely express and reformulate specific ideas and opinions, and even backtrack and restructure new thoughts or corrections without derailing the conversation or discussion. I can subconsciously account for most dialectical variations or socio-cultural nuances.
Performance: As I perform I can use creative and stylistically appropriate devices to describe, argue, or explain complex thoughts or experiences in ways that guide my intended audience to remember significant points and follow what I am communicating. With appropriate background knowledge I can summarize or comment on the vast majority of topics. With deliberation or aid I can at least mimic highly structured stylistic elements or tropes
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