Testing Oral Proficiency: Difficulties and Methods
Although testing language has traditionally taken the form of testing knowledge about language, the idea of testing communicative competence is becoming recognized as being of great importance in second language learning. In testing communicative competence, speaking and listening tasks are commonly used. Those require tasks such as the completion of an information gap and role play (Kitao & Kitao, 1996). As language teachers, it is important for us to enhance the students’ delivery skills, increase their confidence, and develop their methods of organization and critical thinking skills. On the other hand, as language testers, it is necessary to establish a careful research design and conduct a precise measurement to determine f these goals have been met. The oral communication field needs a clear-cut method of evaluation as can be found in discrete language skill classes such as listening comprehension (Nakamura & Valens, 2001). Language teachers and language testers need a method which takes subjective qualitative observations and then transforms them into objective quantitative measures. In testing oral proficiency, or oral skills of second language learning, four components are emphasised. These include: vocabulary, grammar, semantics, and phonology. Accurate assessment of limited-English speaking learners requires a total description of the communication skills, linguistic structures, and functional usage of the learner’s language within all social domains (Silverman, Noa, & Russel, 1977). A critical issue in the assessment is the selection of criteria for evaluating performance. Stiggins (as cited in Butler & Stevens, 1997) points out that the selection of these criteria should be one of the first steps in designing performance assessments. Students should understand ahead of time what is expected of them and whenever possible, actually help them determine on what basis their performance will be judged. When students are actively involved in establishing assessment criteria for tasks, they do not only have a better understanding of what is expected of them when they perform the tasks, but they will be able to more fully appreciate why the criteria are important (Butler & Stevens, 1997). This paper is divided into two sections. The first provides a brief description of the difficulties that testers of speaking skills encounter. The second presents different methods and approaches to testing speaking skills and oral proficiency in second language learning.
Difficulties in testing the speaking skills:
Speaking is probably the most difficult skill to test. It involves a combination of skills that may have no correlation with each other, and which do not lend themselves well to objective testing. In ( Kitao & Kitao, 1996), it was mentioned that there are not yet good answers to questions about the criteria for testing these skills and the weighing of these factors. It is possible to find people who can produce the different sounds of a foreign language appropriately; hence they lack the ability to communicate their ideas correctly. This is one of the difficulties that testers encounter when testing the oral production of learners. However, the opposite situation could occur as well; some people do have the ability of expressing their ideas clearly, but at the same time they can not pronounce all the sounds correctly. Another difficulty is the administration of speaking skills testing. That is because it is hard to test large numbers of learners in a relatively short time. Therefore, the examiner of an oral production is put under great pressure (Heaton, 1988). The next difficulty discussed here is that speaking and listening skills are very much related to each other; it is difficult to separate them. In most cases, there is an interchange between listening and speaking, and speaking...
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