Gallery Teachers Communicative Language Test

Description and Procedure

Most language tests assess grammatical accuracy and little else. Little or no account is taken of a learner’s ability to successfully undertake a communicative transaction. And yet, grammatical accuracy is a tiny part of what is required to achieve a desired outcome – in fact lexis is much more important since we can often make our meaning clear using only lexical units. In addition the ability to use whatever other verbal and non-verbal techniques we may possess to support our communication, can be invaluable. Some of these techniques fall into the category of Strategic Competence – the ability to use almost any device to assist in our communications when we don’t have the right form or term.

This language test allows learners to use whatever they can command to get where they need to be!

Rationale

The test is designed to assess functional, communicative language and strategic competence (SC) – i.e. the capacity to make oneself understood using whatever means are available including mime and gesture for productive skills (PS) and questioning, asking for repetition and regrading in receptive skills (RS).

Grammatical competence is also assessed but is subordinate to functional use.

In the real world, most English language learners will communicate with Non Native Speakers (NNSs) rather than Native Speakers (NSs) for business or whatever their field is – even visiting an English speaking country doesn’t guarantee that they’ll be speaking with NSs.

It is also true that real world language is less grammatically accurate than we may think; most informal NS language acts contain ‘errors’, repetitions, false-starts, interruptions and pauses which are almost never represented in English Language Teaching (ELT) or formal testing situations. The emphasis is still very much on ‘correct’ grammar both in ELT and in testing, probably because grammar is accessible, can be judged as ‘right or wrong’ and still represents for many, the rules base of the language – though these notions are easily challenged.

Strategic Competence

Positive features

  • Deliberate error: the learner uses an item which s/he knows is incorrect but will get the message across; usually accompanied by some sort of non-verbal recognition that something is not correct.
  • Invention: the learner invents a ‘new’ word to get the message across.
  • Description: the learner describes/defines the object (or its purpose) or action, e.g. ‘You know, I use it for clean my teeth.’ (Often accompanied by mime.)
  • Circumlocution: the learner finds a way around the item (lexis or structure) but remains on topic.
  • The learner asks for help.
  • Lacking a term, the learner uses mime to assist.

Negative features

  • Topic avoidance – the learner avoids or changes the topic when s/he lacks the proficiency to continue.
  • Message abandonment – the learner simply stops in mid-utterance, lacking the proficiency to continue.
  • Transfer: the learner uses his or her L1, translating word for word or not bothering to translate at all but simply uses L1.

Description

The test is divided into PS and RS sections and students, in pairs, are given tasks which require them to listen, react, interact and complete a number of communicative tasks successfully. The students are grouped in 4 age ranges to ensure a) relevant topics, b) appropriate concentration time and c) appropriate tasks.

Thus the lower age group, 7 – 10 year olds have about 10 minutes per pair in the testing context. 11 – 14 yr olds have about 13 minutes, 15 – 18 have 15 minutes and adults have about 20 minutes testing time, though a short time to relax and settle is of course programmed in for all groups.

Scoring

The CEFR is used as a base model with each band having 2 additional sub-bands to fine-tune the descriptors and take account of the strategic competencies mentioned above. Examiners use a template which has been previously provided to the institution so that students’ names and ages can be pre-entered; scoring is performed using a laptop or a tablet during and immediately after the interviews.

In addition to the CEFR descriptors which are applied to the PS and RS tasks, SC is also scored and determined by the descriptors above with each task scoring a maximum 12 points.

Standardisation is achieved by the use of video and or audio recording of a sample of tests.

Certificates

All students who take the test, whatever their result, will receive a  CLTS Certificate with the level they achieve and the age group in which they performed.

About the Tester and Test creator


Steve Hirschhorn, MA., PGCHE., FHEA., FGT has 40 years of experience teaching language, training teachers, from beginner teachers to post MA level and delivering lectures and workshops around the world. He has published in a number of professional journals, written numerous book reviews and is Chair of Gallery Teachers Membership Committee.
He has been Senior Lecturer in Higher Education, Vice President of a group of schools in China and Principal of one of the oldest language schools in the UK.
Steve is passionate about providing a testing service which really answers the needs of students and reflects authentic language use.