In this article you will discover everything you need to know about to accurately assess your student’s level during the Speaking Placement

What is the placement test?

When new Fluentify students join the platform they take a placement test to assess their level.

How does it work?

The written part has four components: reading, listening, grammar and vocabulary. This part is followed by an oral assessment.

What do I have to do, as a teacher?

It’s your job to conduct the oral assessment, which takes place during the student’s first session on the platform.

This person might become a new regular student or the placement test might be just a one-off 30-minute session with someone who will either  look for a new teacher, or, maybe even never book again on Fluentify. This is certainly not what we or you want.

Great, can you give me some tips on how to conduct the speaking placement?

Of course! Here is what you should achieve during the speaking placement test session:

1. Assess your student – after the session you are asked to fill out a detailed form in which you assess your student’s speaking skills – fluency, accuracy, pronunciation and sustained monologue. The most important part is when you are asked to choose the overall level which can be the same as the written test result but if you feel it should be higher or lower, YOU can change the level! YOU decide! Read HERE for more detailed information.

2. Analyse your student’s needs and learning objectives.

3. Tell your student how YOU and Fluentify can help them achieve their learning goals – offer suggestions and ideas for a programme your student can follow.

3. Make your student feel at ease and relaxed. If they enjoy the session, they are likely to book more!

4. Finish the session giving your student clear advice on what to do next, i.e. look at your calendar (make sure it is updated for a few weeks ahead) and pick a slot to get started with the course!

What should I look for when assessing my student’s English level?

The four components of the speaking assessment are comprehension, fluency, pronunciation and accuracy. Let’s look at each of those in more detail.

1. Comprehension: How well does the student understand you?

Use body language and the student’s responses to check for comprehension.

Body Language– if the student is looking at you confused, not responding, or seems absolutely petrified, then you know to take a second and start from the top. These physical cues will give you an idea of what pace you should be speaking at and what kind of language you should use (simple, medium, advanced).

Appropriate Responses– If you ask the student about what kind of university he or she attended and then the response has to do with English goals, there is a clear misunderstanding.

BUT: Comprehension can be improved quickly- recommend some videos, TV shows, podcasts, or a radio station that the student can start following daily in order see improvements quickly.

HOW TO MANAGE: At the beginning, always presume that the student’s comprehension level will be low. Then as you start your introduction, their physical feedback will help you understand right away if he or she is understanding you or not. Adjust your pace accordingly.

2. Fluency: How easily does the student speak and participate?

You can evaluate fluency by listening for a few different things such as how comfortable the student is, how easily he or she is able to form sentences, ideas, and thoughts, and how quickly the student can change from talking about one topic to the next. If there are many long pauses or gaps where the student can’t complete a phrase, then your student probably has some issues with fluency.

BUT: Don’t form an opinion in the first 5 minutes- sometimes students need to warm up before they are able to reach their full fluency level.

HOW TO MANAGE: If the student is clearly struggling, try to help them by providing some vocabulary or modeling the proper grammar form. However, remember to continue giving both physical (head nods and smiles) and verbal (yes, exactly or good job) feedback to encourage the student to keep going.

3. Pronunciation: How well does your student pronounce English words and sounds?

Articulation– Listen for clearly articulated words and the appropriate pronunciation of strangely spelled words. These will help you understand which sounds the student might need to improve.

Intonation– Understand whether the student is using the right inflection for the types of sentences he or she is saying. Does it make a difference in the meaning of the sentence or how easily someone else would understand it? Make a note of these issues so that you can address them later on.

BUT: Bad pronunciation does not mean poor fluency, sometimes some of your more fluent students may have less than desirable pronunciation.

HOW TO MANAGE: Identify the specific sounds that the student continues to struggle with. When you notice a frequent error, ask the student to repeat the statement and then give them feedback on the proper pronunciation of the word or phrase. Pronunciation can be one of the hardest things to fix, so it is important to continually reinforce proper pronunciation.

4. Accuracy: How precise is the student’s English?

Some of your students might struggle with their fluency because they are concerned with making very few grammar and vocabulary mistakes, something that is often taught in standard English classrooms. You might notice that some of your students, while they speak very slowly and with caution, make very few mistakes. This indicates high accuracy.

BUT: High accuracy may be restricting students from achieving greater fluency because they are more concerned with being precise than speaking more naturally.

HOW TO  MANAGE: Encourage students to make mistakes, take risks, and to not be ashamed of their English level. The more comfortable students feel, the more easily they can improve their fluency level. Also, talk about the student’s goals at the beginning of the session. If their goal is to focus more on fluency and being able to speak rather than not making mistakes, let them speak and wait until the end of the session to make corrections.

 

Final thoughts

Now you’re ready. Remember, you have 30 minutes to test your student, create a very friendly atmosphere and make your students know that with Fluentify and your teaching they are on the right track to improving their English.

So, what about you? What do you usually do to assess your student’s level? Any suggestions? Share them with us

3 thoughts on “How to Accurately Assess a Student’s English Level in 30 Minutes”
  1. Katie,

    Thank you for another excellent practical blog that shows how experienced you are.

    I’m new to fluentify, so it’s reassuring to read that I am trying to follow a very similar approach. I have been surprised that most of my students can say what they want to say in English. They may not have the precise vocabulary that they want to use, and pronunciation can be an issue, but they have got to a certain level that works for them.

    I musn’t run before I can walk (because I am a new teacher). I need to focus on the basics. But I was listening to a student the other day and the questions in my mind was ‘how can I help this person move to the next level?’ ‘How can I help them to speak like a real English person?’ What I noticed was that the student spoke fluent English with no vocabulary or grammar mistakes. There were no hesitations. There were no obvious pronunciation difficulties and yet they sounded Italian. Something was missing. I think part of it was lack of intonation. But then I thought how much of that is cultural and how much of it is personal.

    For me it’s quite an interesting question – how to help a competent speaker sound like a native speaker! I’m sure it’s possible. Has anyone else got experience of helping a ‘good’ speaker become a ‘great’ speaker?

    1. Hi Edward,
      I’m not usually one to comment on posts, but this one struck me and I’d like to offer my “two cents” on the subject.
      First of all, I think it’s really important to dispel any myths of “perfect English” and the mistaken idea that there is one correct way to speak the language. Obviously, there isn’t. One has to account for a whole range of subjective factors that influence perception in language use. In fact, I think you give yourself away a bit when you say, “How can I help them to speak like a real English person?”. Of course, there are numerous “real English” accents in England alone. Which one would you choose for your student? RP? Heightened RP? Geordie?
      Second, I agree with Rich’s point on Slack regarding the massive challenge involved in sounding like a native speaker of another language. It’s sort of like the Everest of language learning; there are some who have managed to climb that mountain, but not many. We certainly wouldn’t use it as a standard of one’s climbing ability. By the same token, managing to speak “fluent English with no vocabulary or grammar mistakes…hesitations…[or] pronunciation difficulties”, as you say, is pretty darn awesome. I imagine most people who have learned a foreign language from scratch can tell you that they would be happy to have their proficiency described like that. In that way, your opinion that “something was missing” was likely related to your own expectations of what English should sound like and no fault of the student’s to communicate effectively.
      That brings me to my last point. Basically, I think the idea that students should sound “like natives” is misguided anyway. In my opinion, it’s probably a case of falling victim to industry marketing. This business uses the phrase “native speaker” like it’s the defacto goal of every student, yet it’s a goal that has probably been sold to them. The truth is that for most, native-level proficiency is probably unobtainable and, moreover, unnecessary. Personally, I believe our goal as teachers should be to empower students to use the language effectively. We should try to help them find their own voice and to feel confident expressing themselves as individuals. As Katie pointed out in her post, the keys are fluency, accuracy, comprehension and pronunciation, as they fit with the students’ needs. Being a “great English speaker” doesn’t have to be synonymous with “native English speaker” if we in the industry don’t perpetuate the myth.
      Phew, this reply has turned into quite a rant! Sorry about that. And sorry, if I’ve come off sounding a bit harsh regarding your well-meaning comment. I don’t mean to target you personally. This topic just gets under my skin after so many years of working with students ashamed of their perceived failure to measure up to the “native speaker standard”.
      OK, time to get back down off the soapbox. 🙂 Ciao!

      1. Hi Kevin…not having taught for long but being passionate about the spoken language, I have researched the issue of the pronunciation over and over and over again. I have to agree with you – our goal is to empower the students to use the language effectively. My issue on pronunciation is the schwa after consonants as well as the long ee instead of i – which can have disastrous outcomes. I would like to focus on building vocabulary and grammar more. Not sure if i’m wrong in my approach? 🙂

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