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Introduction to Oral Proficiency Levels Spanish
Part 2 Module 2.5
ACTFL level: Intermediate High
Topic: Apartment Living
Interview Prompt: ¿Cuáles son las ventajas y desventajas de vivir en casa en lugar de vivir en una residencia o en un apartamento?
Features of speaker performance:
- Tell stories about past events; keep discourse in past tense most of the time
- Explain and describe in detail sometimes but not consistently
- Produce coherent discourse across groups of sentences most of the time
- Comprehensible to people who may not have experience with language learners
About the Intermediate High Speaker: A hallmark of the Intermediate High level is inconsistency and struggle. Speakers at this level are on the border between Intermediate Low/Mid and Advanced Low/Mid. When asked questions that elicit functions of the Intermediate Low/Mid level, they respond confidently, fluently, and accurately. But when they are asked questions that elicit functions at the Advanced Low/Mid level, such as explain and describe in detail, they struggle to integrate the vocabulary, grammar, and structural elements smoothly.
To read the full description of the Intermediate High level, see the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines for Speaking. You can also view video clips of interviews in English at this level.
1. Prepare Interview Questions
Here are some sample video interviews of Intermediate High speakers. The topic is apartment living. As you watch these videos, consider the perspectives of the speaker and interviewer by following the guide provided for you below.
Speaker perspective: Listen to how Elizabeth and John respond to this prompt: ¿Cuáles son las ventajas y desventajas de vivir en casa en lugar de vivir en una residencia o en un apartamento? Their language samples are good examples of performance at the upper range of the Intermediate level. The intended level of the prompt is Advanced Low/Mid, but depending on how the prompt is formulated, the speaker will receive more or less guidance on how to organize his/her response. The formulation here (¿Cuáles son las ventajas y desventajas de vivir en casa en lugar de vivir en una residencia o en un apartamento?) conveys directly to the speaker how to organize the comparison between living at home and living in a university residence hall or an apartment off campus.
This prompt asks for a comparison that focuses specifically on advantages and disadvantages of the respective options. Speakers who do not organize their response into categories of advantages and disadvantages will most likely list (in sentences) points of comparison in random order, which results in a performance at Intermediate High (or lower), rather than Advanced Low/Mid. This is the case with the responses by Elizabeth and John. To fulfill the criteria of the Advanced Low/Mid level that are relevant to this task—detailed description; produce coherent discourse across groups of sentences—you will need to organize your response into a logical presentation of advantages and disadvantages.
Now brainstorm how you might answer this question at an Intermediate High level. You should start with a general comment, such as Vivo en un apartamento y me gusta mucho, pero hay tantas ventajas como desventajas en comparación con vivir en casa to set the stage for what you are going to say. This opening comment serves the same function as the topic sentence of a paragraph in writing. Then think of the advantages of living in an apartment: freedom from your parents’ rules, the opportunity to learn the skills of independent living, the benefits of living close to campus, and so forth. You should also think of the disadvantages: having to shop and cook for yourself, the time needed for household chores, the financial burden of rent and utilities, and so forth. To demonstrate proficiency at the Intermediate High level, list advantages and disadvantages and explain in some detail. Hay desventajas, pero para mí las ventajas son más importantes. Your interview should show an attempt to create a coherent, detailed exposition of the pros and cons of the two living options.
Interviewer perspective. First, listen again to the speech segments by Elizabeth and John. This time, focus on the questions the interviewer asks. As you listen, write down the follow-up questions the interviewer asks and take note of how the speaker responds. You will see that the most successful questions (i.e., those that prompt the speaker to produce more language) are open-ended. They take the form of questions (e.g., ¿Por qué?) or requests (e.g., Dime más sobre…). The least successful questions are those that elicit brief responses from the speaker. Also note that the interviewer frames the same question to Elizabeth and John slightly differently. To Elizabeth, she asks outright for advantages and disadvantages. To John, she asks which scenario he thinks is better. Consider how these subtle differences may affect speaker performance. Remember: the interviewer’s goal is to elicit speech at an Advanced Low/Mid level and to push the speaker to talk at length about the topic; it is the speaker’s job to organize his/her responses into a coherent presentation of ideas.
Now work together to brainstorm questions that you might ask to follow up on the first prompt. Remember that your purpose is to encourage the speaker to produce detailed explanation; that is, lots of information on the advantages and disadvantages that the speaker has chosen to talk about. As the interviewer, you should adopt the persona of a curious but uninformed conversation partner, someone who knows very little about the two living options. This allows you to ask the speaker to explain, clarify, and describe in detail. Most of your questions will be general: ¿Qué más?; Dime más; No tengo mucha información sobre este tema, ¿me puedes explicar más?; ¿Hay más desventajas? Keep in mind that you will have to think quickly to ask questions that follow up on the specific content of what the speaker has just said. This means that although you can—and you should—prepare follow-up questions, you cannot just read the questions from your list. Instead, you will have to modify your questions and/or prepare new ones on the spot so that the resulting speech segment sounds like a coherent conversation.
2. Produce the Interview
Working in pairs or small groups, the interviewer asks the prompt and the follow-up questions, and the speaker responds. Record your speech segment on video, if possible; if not, audio is acceptable. (It is easier to transcribe from video.) Aim for a segment that is 1–2 minutes in length. Put away your notes from the preparation phase; you should not use any notes during the interview, so that your interaction will be natural and spontaneous.
After producing the interview, work together to transcribe the speech segment. To see the relationship between interviewer questions and speaker responses, it is helpful to lay out your text as follows:
¿Cuáles son las ventajas y desventajas de vivir en casa en lugar de vivir en una residencia o en un apartamento?
Follow-up question 1 (Question type?)
Follow-up question 2 (Question type?)
3. Evaluate the Speaker
Looking only at the speaker’s performance, and keeping in mind the linguistic features associated with this level, discuss the following:
- Does the speaker produce an explanation of the advantages and disadvantages that would be comprehensible to someone who is unfamiliar with the living options for students at your university?
- Is the response substantial (lots of information)?
- Does the response present a coherent picture of the pros and cons?
- Is the speaker able to produce additional information in response to the follow-up questions?
- Is the speaker able to link sentences together to form complex expressions? Are the basics of the grammar (verb endings, comparison expressions, agreement, etc.) correct almost all of the time?
- Does the speaker control the vocabulary needed to talk about the pros and cons?
- Does the speaker organize the response logically and coherently?
What proficiency level do you give to the response? Select among the following and justify your choice with evidence from the speech sample:
- Below Intermediate High: Gives information about the two option, but the element of comparison is present only minimally.
- Intermediate High: Provides substantial information about the advantages and disadvantages of one living option, or a comparison between two options, but not in a fully coherent and organized fashion.
- Advanced Low/Mid: Fulfills the criteria for the task, and does so with ease and fluency most of the time. May not produce a lot of language at times. Produces or attempts to produce a coherent description that focuses on the advantages and disadvantages.
4. Analyze the Interviewer
Now consider the interviewer’s performance. Looking at the questions the interviewer asked, discuss the following questions:
- Does the interviewer ask open-ended follow-up questions?
- If the interviewer asks closed-ended questions, do they serve to open up a new topic (e.g., ¿Es caro vivir en un apartamento? [yes/no question] ¿De qué manera es una desventaja? [open-ended follow-up question]
- Do the follow-up questions fit logically with the content of what the speaker has just said?
- How does the interviewer bring the speech segment to a close? Is it accomplished smoothly? If not, what suggestions do you have for how the interviewer might have done so?
- Do the follow-up questions encourage the speaker to produce more language? If not, what problems do you see?
- How does the interviewer allow the speakers to demonstrate the extent of their proficiency?
Video(s) Referenced in this Module
- Name: Elizabeth
- Topic: Apartment
- Name: John
- Topic: Apartment