The ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines 2012—Listening describe five major levels of proficiency: Distinguished, Superior, Advanced, Intermediate, and Novice. The description of each major level is representative of a specific range of abilities. Together these levels form a hierarchy in which each level subsumes all lower levels. The major levels Advanced, Intermediate, and Novice are divided into High, Mid, and Low sublevels. The subdivision of the Advanced Level into High, Mid, and Low is new. This makes the Listening descriptions parallel to the other skill-level descriptions.
Listening is an interpretive skill. Listening comprehension is largely based on the amount of information listeners can retrieve from what they hear, and the inferences and connections that they can make. By describing the tasks that listeners can perform with different types of oral texts and under different types of circumstances, the Listening Proficiency Guidelines describe how listeners process oral discourse and retrieve information. These Guidelines apply to listening texts that reflect the various types of listening: participative, non-participative, and overheard. The Guidelines do not describe how listening skills develop, how one learns to listen, nor the actual cognitive processes involved in the activity. Rather, they are intended to describe what listeners understand from what they hear.
The written descriptions of listening proficiency are accompanied online by authentic speech samples and the functional listening tasks associated with each major level.
The ACTFL Proficiency Guideline 2012—Listening may be used for non-profit, educational purposes only, provided that they are reproduced in their entirety, with no alterations, and with credit to ACTFL.
At the Distinguished level, listeners can understand a wide variety of forms, styles, and registers of speech on highly specialized topics in language that is tailored to different audiences. Listeners at the Distinguished level can understand language such as that found in classic theater, art films, professional symposia, academic debates, public-policy statements, literary readings, and most jokes and puns. They are able to comprehend implicit and inferred information, tone, and point of view, and can follow highly persuasive arguments.1 They are able to understand unpredictable turns of thought related to sophisticated topics. In addition, their listening ability is enhanced by a broad and deep understanding of cultural references and allusions.2 Listeners at the Distinguished level are able to appreciate the richness of the spoken language.
Distinguished-level listeners understand speech that can be highly abstract, highly technical, or both; speech that contains very precise, often low-frequency vocabulary and complex rhetorical structures. At this level, listeners comprehend oral discourse that is lengthy and dense, structurally complex, rich in cultural reference, idiomatic and colloquial.3 In addition, listeners at this level can understand information that is subtle or highly specialized, as well as the full cultural significance of very short texts with little or no linguistic redundancy.
Distinguished-level listeners comprehend language from within the cultural framework and are able to understand a speaker's use of nuance and subtlety. However, they may still have difficulty fully understanding certain dialects and nonstandard varieties of the language.
Rationale for Rating
This sample is considered Distinguished-level because of its content and style. Orhan Pamuk is describing what it means to be an author using speech that is dense in cultural references such as sayings and referring to stories known to his audience by the name of one of its protagonists. The lengthy sample is also highly abstract and sophisticated in its use of rhetorical devices. In order to understand it, the listener is required to be familiar with the Ottoman cultural milieu referenced by the mention of “nakkaş” and the modern Turkish cultural milieu where Pamuk describes what provides happiness to him as a writer. In addition, the listener must connect Pamuk’s description of what it means to be an author with these Ottoman and Turkish references, implicit and inferred information, as well as following his highly abstract discussion of happiness that is enriched by subtlety and no linguistic redundancy.
At the Superior level, listeners are able to understand speech in a standard dialect on a wide range of familiar and less familiar topics. They can follow linguistically complex extended discourse such as that found in academic and professional settings, lectures, speeches and reports. Comprehension is no longer limited to the listener's familiarity with subject matter, but also comes from a command of the language that is supported by a broad vocabulary, an understanding of more complex structures and linguistic experience within the target culture.4 Superior listeners can understand not only what is said, but sometimes what is left unsaid; that is, they can make inferences.5
Superior-level listeners understand speech that typically uses precise, specialized vocabulary and complex grammatical structures.6 This speech often deals abstractly with topics in a way that is appropriate for academic and professional audiences. It can be reasoned and can contain cultural references.7
Rationale for Rating
In this sample taken from a video titled Tuncel Kurtiz and his Friends, Tuncel Kurtiz is introducing Nejat Işler to the natural beauty and literary works of this region. The Superior-level listener is able to understand the conversation, which includes complex extended discourse exhibited by Kurtiz in describing his favorite authors and their works. The listener uses his/her command of broad vocabulary and experience with complex linguistic structures and cultural practices to understand not only the straightforward concrete information about how a waterfall got its name but also the inferences and nuances by what is left unsaid or referenced by lines of poetry.
At the Advanced level, listeners can understand the main ideas and most supporting details connected discourse on a variety of general interest topics, such as news stories, explanations, instructions, anecdotes, or travelogue descriptions. Listeners are able to compensate for limitations in their lexical and structural control of the language by using real-world knowledge and contextual clues. Listeners may also derive some meaning from oral texts at higher levels if they possess significant familiarity with the topic or context.
Advanced-level listeners understand speech that is authentic and connected.8 This speech is lexically and structurally uncomplicated. The discourse is straightforward and is generally organized in a clear and predictable way.
Advanced-level listeners demonstrate the ability to comprehend language on a range of topics of general interest. They have sufficient knowledge of language structure to understand basic time-frame references. Nevertheless, their understanding is most often limited to concrete, conventional discourse.
At the Advanced High sublevel, listeners are able to understand, with ease and confidence, conventional narrative and descriptive texts of any length as well as complex factual material such as summaries or reports. They are typically able to follow some of the essential points of more complex or argumentative speech in areas of special interest or knowledge. In addition, they are able to derive some meaning from oral texts that deal with unfamiliar topics or situations. At the Advanced High sublevel, listeners are able to comprehend the facts presented in oral discourse and are often able to recognize speaker-intended inferences. Nevertheless, there are likely to be gaps in comprehension of complex texts dealing with issues treated abstractly that are typically understood by Superior-level listeners.
At the Advanced Mid sublevel, listeners are able to understand conventional narrative and descriptive texts, such as expanded descriptions of persons, places, and things, and narrations about past, present, and future events. The speech is predominantly in familiar target-language patterns. Listeners understand the main facts and many supporting details. Comprehension derives not only from situational and subject matter knowledge, but also from an increasing overall facility with the language itself.9
At the Advanced Low sublevel, listeners are able to understand short conventional narrative and descriptive texts with a clear underlying structure though their comprehension may be uneven. The listener understands the main facts and some supporting details.10 Comprehension may often derive primarily from situational and subject-matter knowledge.
Rationale for Rating
The speaker, Safiye Ademoğlu, introduces herself and describes her path to becoming a pilot. The listener also meets her family members who describe her as a child. The speech is authentic and connected. The discourse is straightforward and organized in a clear and predictable way. The Advanced-level listener can understand this conventional autobiographical/biographical sample that includes past, present and future narration.
At the Intermediate level, listeners can understand information conveyed in simple, sentence-length speech on familiar or everyday topics. They are generally able to comprehend one utterance at a time while engaged in face-to-face conversations or in routine listening tasks such as understanding highly contextualized messages, straightforward announcements or simple instructions and directions.11 Listeners rely heavily on redundancy, restatement, paraphrasing, and contextual clues.
Intermediate-level listeners understand speech that conveys basic information. This speech is simple, minimally connected, and contains high-frequency vocabulary.
Intermediate-level listeners are most accurate in their comprehension when getting meaning from simple, straightforward speech. They are able to comprehend messages found in highly familiar everyday contexts. Intermediate listeners require a controlled listening environment where they hear what they may expect to hear.
At the Intermediate High sublevel, listeners are able to understand, with ease and confidence, simple sentence-length speech in basic personal and social contexts.12 They can derive substantial meaning from some connected texts typically understood by Advanced-level listeners although there often will be gaps in understanding due to a limited knowledge of the vocabulary and structures of the spoken language.
At the Intermediate Mid sublevel, listeners are able to understand simple, sentence-length speech, one utterance at a time, in a variety of basic personal and social contexts.13 Comprehension is most often accurate with highly familiar and predictable topics although a few misunderstandings may occur.14 Intermediate Mid listeners may get some meaning from oral texts typically understood by Advanced-level listeners.
At the Intermediate Low sublevel, listeners are able to understand some information from sentence-length speech, one utterance at a time, in basic personal and social contexts, though comprehension is often uneven. At the Intermediate Low sublevel, listeners show little or no comprehension of oral texts typically understood by Advanced-level listeners.
Rationale for Rating
In this sample, members of the Özçelik family are introducing themselves using simple, straightforward sentence-length speech. The Intermediate-level listener understands the simple, minimally connected speech which conveys basic personal information using high frequency vocabulary.
At the Novice level, listeners can understand key words, true aural cognates and formulaic expressions that are highly contextualized and highly predictable, such as those found in introductions and basic courtesies.
Novice-level listeners understand words and phrases from simple questions, statements, and high-frequency commands. They typically require repetition, rephrasing and/or a slowed rate of speech for comprehension. They rely heavily on extralinguistic support to derive meaning.
Novice-level listeners are most accurate when they are able to recognize speech that they can anticipate. In this way, these listeners tend to recognize rather than truly comprehend. Their listening is largely dependent on factors other than the message itself.
At the Novice High sublevel, listeners are often but not always able to understand information from sentence-length speech, one utterance at a time, in basic personal and social contexts where there is contextual or extralinguistic support, though comprehension may often be very uneven. They are able to understand speech dealing with areas of practical need such as highly standardized messages, phrases, or instructions, if the vocabulary has been learned.
At the Novice Mid sublevel, listeners can recognize and begin to understand a number of high-frequency, highly contextualized words and phrases including aural cognates and borrowed words. Typically, they understand little more than one phrase at a time, and repetition may be required.
At the Novice Low sublevel, listeners are able occasionally to recognize isolated words or very high-frequency phrases when those are strongly supported by context. These listeners show virtually no comprehension of any kind of spoken message, not even within the most basic personal and social contexts.
Rationale for Rating
This sample consists of aural cognates [e.g., "omelet, avocado"] and other breakfast items ["tea, cheese"] that the Novice-level listener can easily recognize in this context. The title of the sample (What are we eating at breakfast today) serves to activate background knowledge and create an anticipatory framework for listening comprehension.
1 Distinguished level listeners are familiar with Turkish rhetorical structures and devices, for example: word games, irony, sarcasm, witticism, humor.
2 These references include both Eastern and Western linguistic and cultural traditions.
3 Orhan Pamuk’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Babamın Bavulu (My Father’s Suitcase) is a representative of this type of discourse.
4 Listeners understand the meaning of a sentence based on what gets stressed through pitch/word order.
5 Superior level listeners are expected to infer meaning from idioms, sayings such as leb demeden...(they understand the entire message from a fragment of information).
6 Superior level listeners can follow discourse rich in complex grammatical structures such as causative, passive, conditional, embedded clauses and compound tenses. E.g.: Son anda iptal edilen konferansta ele alınacak konulardan biri de, çocukların belirli bir yaşa gelmeden çırak olarak çalıştırılmalarının yola açtığı sorunlardı. (One of the issues that would have been discussed in the conference, which was cancelled at the last minute, was the set of problems emerging from the hiring of children for apprenticeship before they reach a certain age.)
7 Superior level listeners are able to understand complex agglutinations such as Tarkanvariymişçesine (to do something in a way that one thinks Tarkan would do it).
8 Advanced level listeners can follow a message in connected discourse that is constructed with suffixes such as -(y)Ip/-(y)IncA/-(y)ken and high frequency embedded clauses.
9 Advanced Mid level listeners exhibit partial control over popular expressions or sayings, such as bal gibi/bal gibi yaptım (like honey/I did it, and how!); and doublings such as eğri büğrü (crooked). As part of increased facility with the language, listeners may begin noticing Turkish patterns of intonation. For example, they may note the fall in pitch before the articulation of the mI particle in yes/no questions.
10 Advanced Low listeners' awareness of interjections helps them interpret the contextual message. For example, listeners may note Hay Allah! (Oh, my God!) as a marker of surprise; Aman! (Watch out!/Too bad!) as a marker of warning or commiseration; Eyvah! (Pity!) as a marker of disappointment, etc.
11 Intermediate level listeners demonstrate limited understanding of public announcements using structures like passive/optative/imperative.
12 Intermediate High level listeners demonstrate partial understanding of the Aorist. For example: Odanı toplar mısın? (Would you tidy up your bedroom?) They show limited understanding of embedded clauses and connected speech. For example: Okuduğum kitap ilginç. (The book that I am reading/I read is interesting.); Kuzenlerim gelince yemek yedikten sonra bütün gece sabahlara kadar müzik dinleyip dans ettik. (When my cousins came after we ate, we listened to music and danced all night, until the morning.) An Intermediate High listener may have problems understanding the sequence of actions.
13 Intermediate Mid level listeners can understand connected sentences and strings of sentences. For example, Kütüphaneye gidiyorum ama ders çalışmayacağım. (I am going to the library but I will not study.)
14 Listeners at the Intermediate Mid level may have problems hearing negative verbal forms. For example, in Bize gelmiyor musun? (Aren’t you coming to us?) they may not catch the negative marker /mA/.