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 understand oral discourse. 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.
These Guidelines apply to listening that is either Interpretive (non-participative or overheard) or Interpersonal (participative).
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 Guidelines 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 classical 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. 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. 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, as well as 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. 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.
The listeners need to process highly specialized information that contains not only historical references, but also highly abstract universal concepts such as hope and fear, risk, sacrifice, and supremacy. The listeners find themselves in the context of an academic setting in which the language is tailored to an audience of specialists–here, law-school graduates–and nonspecialists–here, parents, family. The listeners hear a speech that is dense, structurally complex and rich in cultural references. The speaker’s language contains clearly identifiable features of upper-class British English that the listeners must be able to recognize in order to appreciate the richness of the message.