Reflections on the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines

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Yayun Anny Sun


One strength of the ACTFL Guidelines is that they have been formulated based on a functional approach to language, which views language as a channel to express functional meaning. It focuses on what a learner can do with the language, which can be assessed by examining the learner’s performance in various contexts, and not on what the learner knows about the language. For instance, one criterion for the mid-intermediate listeners is the ability to comprehend short face-toface conversations and routine telephone conversations pertaining to basic personal needs (ACTFL, 1985). This type of description suggests that curriculum planning should prioritize and place practical language use in focus, instead of being driven by some arbitrarily chosen linguistic structures that may lack a sense of immediacy to the students. Curriculum with a functional orientation can be motivating to many students because students can directly see the improvements by comparing the tasks they were able to perform before and after the teaching. From a teacher’s perspective, I find these descriptive, open-ended guidelines (especially the ones for lower levels) helpful in providing benchmarks for my teaching, while allowing enough freedom for my own content selection.

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