2003                                                                                uimh 4

WHAT IS LANGUAGE PROFICIENCY ?

Ministers plan a new grading qualification in languages, likened to music grades or cycling proficiency. But what is basic proficiency? We asked Linda Parker, of the Association for Language Learning, and Derek Winslow, chief executive of the Languages National Training Organisation. They say you should:

" Be able to say "hello" and use courtesy phrases such as please / thank you / you're welcome / excuse me / it doesn't matter, in your chosen language.
" Be able to say who you are and where you are from and ask another the same.
" Be able to explain how much (or how little) of the foreign language you speak.
" Be able to count from 1 to 100 and ask how much things cost.
" Be able to order food and drink, such as a three- course meal in a restaurant, pay the bill, leave a tip and check your change.
" Be able to ask for help in an emergency, and name the emergency services.
" Be able to book a hotel room or buy a travel ticket.
" Be able to exchange e-mails and make and receive telephone calls in the foreign language.
" Have at least a basic knowledge of the culture of the country whose language you speak.
" Realise that other countries do things differently, and that this doesn't make them better, or worse - just different.
" Above all, be confident, tolerant and understanding.


How do you compare?

Half of all Europeans say that they can speak at least one European language in addition to their mother tongue. One in four say that they can speak two European foreign languages. In Europe, English is most spoken, with 41% boasting it as their first foreign language. Of these, one in three regards themselves as proficient. The most commonly spoken second languages after English are: French, 19%; German, 10%; Spanish, 7% In Britain, by contrast, 66% of adults cannot speak a second language at all.
(Reprinted by kind permission of The Independent newspaper 19 Dec 2002)

Table of contents