The Comparative Fallacy Reflected in L2 Proficiency Tests

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Árpád Galaczi


Most language learners and language teachers around the world, if asked about their dream goal, would say something to the effect of: “(for my students) to speak/write/sound like a native speaker.” While this is a natural and understandable striving – given that native speakers are the most proficient users of any language – it sets adult language learners up for ultimate failure. Even though in a handful of documented cases some adult L2 learners do achieve this goal, they are rather the exceptions than the norm and most post-puberty language learners stop short of native-like performance. As Cook (1999) puts it: “Whether or not one accepts that some L2 users can pass for native speakers, these passers form an extremely small percentage of L2 users. [They are] as typical of human beings as are Olympic high jumpers or opera singers” (p. 191). He goes on to make the point that L2 users should be viewed in their own right, as proficient users of highly complex linguistic systems (interlanguages) and not in terms of what they are not: “L2 users (should) be viewed as multicompetent language users rather than as deficient native speakers” (p. 185).

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