ACTFL Proficiency Guidelinesby the American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages
American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages. 1983. ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines. Revised 1985. Hastings-on-Hudson,
NY: ACTFL Materials Center.
[In the public domain.]
ACTFL guidelines: Listening--Novice
Understanding is limited to occasional isolated words, such as cognates, borrowed words, and high-frequency social
conventions. Essentially no ability to comprehend even short utterances.
Able to understand some short, learned utterances, particularly where context strongly supports understanding and speech is
clearly audible. Comprehends some words and phrases from simple questions, statements, high-frequency commands and courtesy
formulae about topics that refer to basic personal information or the immediate physical setting. The listener requires long
pauses for assimilation and periodically requests repetition and/or a slower rate of speech.
Able to understand short, learned utterances and some sentence-length utterances, particularly where context strongly supports
understanding and speech is clearly audible. Comprehends words and phrases from simple questions, statements, high-frequency
commands, and courtesy formulae. May require repetition, rephrasing, and/or a slowed rate of speech for comprehension.
Able to understand sentence-length utterances which consist of recombinations of learned elements in a limited number of
content areas, particularly if strongly supported by the situational context. Content refers to basic personal background and
needs, social conventions and routine tasks, such as getting meals and receiving simple instructions and directions. Listening
tasks pertain primarily to spontaneous face-to-face conversations. Understanding is often uneven; repetition and rewording may
be necessary. Misunderstandings in both main ideas and details arise frequently.
Able to understand sentence-length utterances which consist of recombinations of learned utterances on a variety of topics.
Content continues to refer primarily to basic personal background and needs, social conventions and somewhat more complex
tasks, such as lodging, transportation, and shopping. Additional content areas include some personal interests and activities,
and a greater diversity of instructions and directions. Listening tasks not only pertain to spontaneous face-to-face
conversations but also to short routine telephone conversations and some deliberate speech, such as simple announcements and
reports over the media. Understanding continues to be uneven.
Able to sustain understanding over longer stretches of connected discourse on a number of topics pertaining to different times
and places; however, understanding is inconsistent due to failure to grasp main ideas and/or details. Thus, while topics do
not differ significantly from those of an Advanced level listener, comprehension is less in quantity and poorer in quality.
Able to understand main ideas and most details of connected discourse on a variety of topics beyond the immediacy of the
situation. Comprehension may be uneven due to a variety of linguistic and extralinguistic factors, among which topic
familiarity is very prominent. These texts frequently involve description and narration in different time frames or aspects,
such as present, nonpast, habitual, or imperfective. Texts may include interviews, short lectures on familiar topics, and news
items and reports primarily dealing with factual information. Listener is aware of cohesive devices but may not be able to use
them to follow the sequence of thought in an oral text.
Able to understand the main ideas of most speech in a standard dialect; however, the listener may not be able to sustain
comprehension in extended discourse which is propositionally and linguistically complex. Listener shows an emerging awareness
of culturally implied meanings beyond the surface meanings of the text but may fail to grasp sociocultural nuances of the
Able to understand the main ideas of all speech in a standard dialect, including technical discussion in a field of
specialization. Can follow the essentials of extended discourse which is propositionally and linguistically complex, as in
academic/professional settings, in lectures, speeches, and reports. Listener shows some appreciation of aesthetic norms of
target language, of idioms, colloquialisms, and register shifting. Able to make inferences within the cultural framework of
the target language. Understanding is aided by an awareness of the underlying organizational structure of the oral text and
includes sensitivity for its social and cultural references and its affective overtones. Rarely misunderstands but may not
understand excessively rapid, highly colloquial speech or speech that has strong cultural references.
Able to understand all forms and styles of speech pertinent to personal, social, and professional needs tailored to different
audiences. Shows strong sensitivity to social and cultural references and aesthetic norms by processing language from within
the cultural framework. Texts include theater plays, screen productions, editorials, symposia, academic debates, public policy
statements, literary readings, and most jokes and puns. May have difficulty with some dialects and slang.
ACTFL guidelines: Speaking--Novice
The Novice level is characterized by the ability to communicate minimally with learned material.
Oral production consists of isolated words and perhaps a few high-frequency phrases. Essentially no functional communicative
Oral production continues to consist of isolated words and learned phrases within very predictable areas of need, although
quantity is increased. Vocabulary is sufficient only for handling simple, elementary needs and expressing basic courtesies.
Utterances rarely consist of more than two or three words and show frequent long pauses and repetition of interlocutor's
words. Speaker may have some difficulty producing even the simplest utterances. Some Novice-Mid speakers will be understood
only with great difficulty.
Able to satisfy partially the requirements of basic communicative exchanges by relying heavily on learned utterances but
occasionally expanding these through simple recombinations of their elements. Can ask questions or make statements involving
learned material. Shows signs of spontaneity although this falls short of real autonomy of expression. Speech continues to
consist of learned utterances rather than of personalized, situationally adapted ones. Vocabulary centers on areas such as
basic objects, places, and most common kinship terms. Pronunciation may still be strongly influenced by first language. Errors
are frequent and, in spite of repetition, some Novice-High speakers will have difficulty being understood even by sympathetic
The Intermediate level is characterized by the speaker's ability to:
create with the language by combining and recombining learned elements, though primarily in a reactive mode
initiate, minimally sustain, and close in a simple way basic communicative tasks
ask and answer questions.
Able to handle successfully a limited number of interactive, task-oriented, and social situations. Can ask and answer
questions, initiate and respond to simple statements, and maintain face-to-face conversation, although in a highly restricted
manner and with much linguistic inaccuracy. Within these limitations, can perform such tasks as introducing self, ordering a
meal, asking directions, and making purchases. Vocabulary is adequate to express only the most elementary needs. Strong
interference from native language may occur. Misunderstandings frequently arise, but with repetition, the Intermediate-Low
speaker can generally be understood by sympathetic interlocutors.
Able to handle successfully a variety of uncomplicated, basic, and communicative tasks and social situations. Can talk simply
about self and family members. Can ask and answer questions and participate in simple conversations on topics beyond the most
immediate needs; e.g., personal history and leisure time activities. Utterance length increases slightly, but speech may
continue to be characterized by frequent long pauses, since the smooth incorporation of even basic conversational strategies
is often hindered as the speaker struggles to create appropriate language forms. Pronunciation may continue to be strongly
influenced by first language and fluency may still be strained. Although misunderstandings still arise, the Intermediate-Mid
speaker can generally be understood by sympathetic interlocutors.
Able to handle successfully most uncomplicated communicative tasks and social situations. Can initiate, sustain, and close a
general conversation with a number of strategies appropriate to a range of circumstances and topics, but errors are evident.
Limited vocabulary still necessitates hesitation and may bring about slightly unexpected circumlocution. There is emerging
evidence of connected discourse, particularly for simple narration and/or description. The Intermediate-High speaker can
generally be understood even by interlocutors not accustomed to dealing with speakers at this level, but repetition may still
The Advanced level is characterized by the speaker's ability to:
converse in a clearly participatory fashion
initiate, sustain, and bring to closure a wide variety of communicative tasks, including those that require an increased
ability to convey meaning with diverse language strategies due to a complication or an unforeseen turn of events
satisfy the requirements of school and work situations, and
narrate and describe with paragraph-length connected discourse.
Able to satisfy the requirements of everyday situations and routine school and work requirements. Can handle with confidence
but not with facility complicated tasks and social situations, such as elaborating, complaining, and apologizing. Can narrate
and describe with some details, linking sentences together smoothly. Can communicate facts and talk casually about topics of
current public and personal interest, using general vocabulary. Shortcomings can often be smoothed over by communicative
strategies, such as pause fillers, stalling devices, and different rates of speech. Circumlocution which arises from
vocabulary or syntactic limitations very often is quite successful, though some groping for words may still be evident. The
Advanced-level speaker can be understood without difficulty by native interlocutors.
Able to satisfy the requirements of a broad variety of everyday, school, and work situations. Can discuss concrete topics
relating to particular interests and special fields of competence. There is emerging evidence of ability to support opinions,
explain in detail, and hypothesize. The Advanced-Plus speaker often shows a well-developed ability to compensate for an
imperfect grasp of some forms with confident use of communicative strategies, such as paraphrasing and circumlocution.
Differentiated vocabulary and intonation are effectively used to communicate fine shades of meaning. The Advanced-Plus speaker
often shows remarkable fluency and ease of speech, but under the demands of Superior-level complex tasks, language may break
down or prove inadequate.
The Superior level is characterized by the speaker's ability to:
participate effectively in most formal and informal conversations on practical, social, professional, and abstract topics
support opinions and hypothesize using native-like discourse strategies.
Able to speak the language with sufficient accuracy to participate effectively in most formal and informal conversations on
practical, social, professional, and abstract topics. Can discuss special fields of competence and interest with ease. Can
support opinions and hypothesize, but may not be able to tailor language to audience or discuss in depth highly abstract or
unfamiliar topics. Usually the Superior level speaker is only partially familiar with regional or other dialectical variants.
The Superior level speaker commands a wide variety of interactive strategies and shows good awareness of discourse strategies.
The latter involves the ability to distinguish main ideas from supporting information through syntactic, lexical, and
suprasegmental features (pitch, stress, intonation). Sporadic errors may occur, particularly in low-frequency structures and
some complex high-frequency structures more common to formal writing, but no patterns of error are evident. Errors do not
disturb the native speaker or interfere with communication.