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How to Conduct Language Testing for Employment

Recruiters can test language proficiency to determine which candidates are the best fit for certain roles. ALTA offers language testing for employment in over 100+ languages.

Employers need to know how well a candidate can communicate in a certain language before making a hiring decision. Conducting language testing for employment can help you figure out a potential employee’s proficiency in more than 100 different languages and can be targeted to specific industries.

Whether you are hiring a nurse who needs to be able to communicate in a multi-lingual hospital environment or a resort concierge who will be helping guests from all over the world, it is essential that you know how well an employee can actually communicate in the languages their role requires.

In this article, you will learn why it is essential to conduct language testing during the recruiting process, the different types of language tests available, and how to prepare if you are a candidate who needs to take a language test.

What are the 5 types of Language Tests?

Most language proficiency tests cover the four key language skills – reading comprehension, speaking, writing skills, and listening skills. Additionally, some language proficiency tests look for translation and interpretation skills.

The five main types of language tests include:

  • The speaking and listening assessment. This language proficiency test helps employers determine a candidate’s ability to communicate in a language verbally and to understand the language when spoken.
  • The written assessment. Recruiters can use this test to assess the potential employee’s writing skills in the target language.
  • The reading comprehension assessment. This test allows recruiters to assess the candidate’s ability to read and comprehend the written form of the target language.
  • The interpretation assessment. This language test is used if a recruiter needs to determine the candidate’s ability to interpret between English and the target language.
  • The translation assessment. A translation language assessment determines how well the candidate can translate between English and the target language and vice versa.

How Do I Prepare for a Language Assessment Test?

If you are scheduled to take a language assessment test you might feel anxious before test day. While it’s normal to want to do your best, you don’t have to stress. Preparing in advance and knowing what to expect can help you feel ready and may even reduce your language testing anxiety.

The first step is to set a date for your language assessment test. Your hiring organization will likely let you know the steps for scheduling this test. Once you have a date on the calendar, create a preparation schedule and stick to it.

Knowing what you are getting into can also help you feel prepared. The language proficiency tests will take different amounts of time and may be conducted online, over the phone, or in person. Automated listening and speaking tests take about 40 minutes, reading comprehension and writing skills tests take around an hour, translation tests last about 2 hours, and in-person listening, speaking, and interpretation tests usually last 30 minutes.

Find a studying method that works best for you. Whether that means flashcards, study guides, watching movies or videos in the target language, or taking a practice online test, keep practicing using the technique that helps you the most.

Practice tests are available online. Take a few practice tests for each of the key language skills to have a better understanding of what you can expect when you take the official test. Practice tests also help you determine what areas you need to focus on during the studying process.

Make sure to take breaks while studying. Stretch, go for a walk, call a friend, or read a book outside – anything that makes you step away from your study materials for a few moments.

Once you’ve studied and your language proficiency test day is here, there’s still time for some self-care. Get a good night’s sleep the night before, do some light exercising in the morning to help get the nerves out, cut down on the caffeine, and try to practice mindfulness.

After completing your language skills tests, give yourself a chance to relax and celebrate. It will probably take about a week or so for your language proficiency results to be returned.

What is a Language Test in an Interview?

Language proficiency tests are often part of the interview process. Using a language test in the interview process gives the recruiters a chance to understand a candidate’s language skills beyond what is included in their resume.

Language skills tests are either conducted before the first interview, during an interview, or after the first interview. Recruiters may screen language skills between the application process and the first interview to weed out any candidates who don’t have the necessary language skills. However, this can lead to discrimination and is not always the approach taken by hiring organizations.

Sometimes, a language skills test is given during the interview. When a language skills assessment is conducted in the interview, a candidate can expect to have additional tests further in the hiring process.

If a language proficiency test is conducted after the first interview, language proficiency may not be as essential for the job. Administering the test after an interview may help recruiters determine which candidates have the baseline comprehension skills needed for the position.

During the interview process, you can ask the recruiter to discuss the type of language skills that will be covered in pre-employment testing. Each industry and job has different requirements and will test at different points during the hiring process. Once you have an idea of what to expect you can start to prepare.

What to Expect in a Language Proficiency Test?

You’ve applied for a job, and the hiring organization has scheduled a language skills test. What should you expect next?

Different language skills are required for different industries, so language proficiency tests can vary. Generally, the types of jobs that require certain language skills include those that hire internationally or include client-facing positions with a global customer base.

You shouldn’t feel intimidated when thinking about what to expect in language assessments. These tests are designed to be unbiased, standardized, and accurate to give recruiters a fair comparison between the language skills of different candidates.

Job applicants will be often tested on the four language skills – listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Some candidates will also be tested on their translation and interpretation skills depending on what the job requires.

Listening skills are usually assessed by having the candidate listen to an audio clip and answer multiple-choice questions to determine comprehension after the recording is over. Listening tests are one of the most important language tests during the recruitment process. Customer service suffers if an employee cannot accurately understand the necessary language so this is an essential part of the pre-employment testing for customer-facing roles.

Speaking skills can be difficult for recruiters to measure but this is a key part of the recruitment process because employees need to be able to communicate in the spoken language if that is part of the job description. In order to determine language proficiency, recruiters can ask candidates to submit a video of them speaking in more than one language or can spend time speaking to the candidate in the required language during the pre-interview process.

Reading tests may be important if the job requires candidates to communicate via email or review contracts, articles, or any other form of written language. Depending on the required skills, a reading test can assess if the candidate is fluent in reading a second language. However, a candidate may not need to be fluent and may only be required to have the reading skills necessary for a practical setting. Either way, this test typically asks the candidate to read a passage and answer multiple-choice questions about the passage.

Writing tests show how well a candidate can communicate via emails or prepare written presentations. Writing tests often evaluate the candidate’s knowledge of everything from grammar to sentence composition. Sometimes the reading and writing tests are combined and test-takers are required to read a passed and write a response. Other times, candidates are given real-life situations and asked to create a written response online.

Translation and interpretation tests typically ask the candidate to demonstrate how well they can switch between multiple languages. This test may require candidates to translate a written passage or interpret spoken communication. If a candidate is being interviewed for a job in the medical field, these tests will typically include complex topics and phrases to determine if the candidate is prepared to translate and interpret medical jargon.

What Types of Questions Are Asked in Language Proficiency Tests?

Practice tests for language proficiency are available online. These practice tests are available in the key language skills of listening, speaking, reading, and writing. By completing a few of these practice tests in advance you will feel more comfortable when the actual test day arrives.

ALTA offers a practice English listening and speaking test for language proficiency online. The official test will be conducted live or via an automated system over the phone. The test will take between 15-25 minutes and the questions get harder as the test continues. Sample questions include:

  • “Describe your shoes.”
  • “Give directions for buying a book from a website.”
  • “Tell me three things you will do the next time you go to a restaurant.”

Some questions are targeted to a specific industry. If you are taking a test for a job in the medical field you might be asked:

  • “Describe the symptoms of chickenpox.”
  • “Explain how to give a patient an injection.”
  • “Tell me three things you will do the next time a patient has an anxiety attack.”

ALTA also offers practice English writing tests. The official test lasts one hour and covers five questions. Throughout the test, you will be asked to demonstrate your ability to persuade, describe, share a personal experience, give your opinion, and explain a procedure. Sample questions include:

  • “In the last five years, how has technology affected people’s health?”
  • “If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be? Discuss with specifics why you choose this location.”
  • “Describe a time when you provided assistance to a colleague. Discuss why you took on that role, what you did, and how it made you feel.”

Reading comprehension tests asses how well a candidate can read and understand the material in a second language. ALTA provides sample English reading tests if you want to practice before test day. Depending on the test your hiring process requires, the reading comprehension portion will last between 30-90 minutes and will include readings followed by multiple-choice questions. Sample questions include:

  • “What is mainly discussed in the article?”
  • “What can be understood about college education based on the article?”
  • “According to the article, what is one factor contributing to poverty in California?”

Interpreter practice tests give you the chance to prepare for this 30-minute test. You will be asked to interpret from English to the target language and then from the target language to English. Depending on the industry you are applying for, be sure to practice interpreting jargon or complex topics that are relevant to that field.

Translation practice tests typically follow the same format as the actual test. You will be given 2-3 passes of text to translate in 120 minutes. The test will be evaluated based on grammar, accuracy, and how well the translated passage fits the style of the original passage.

No matter what type of language proficiency testing your hiring process requires, this type of test will help you demonstrate your written and spoken language skills in the language required for the position. ALTA offers practice language tests so you can prepare in advance.

Recruiters who are looking for a company to administer the test for language proficiency can also utilize ALTA’s services. We offer language tests in over 100 different languages covering reading, writing, speaking, listening, translation, and interpreting.

Contact ALTA today to learn more about our language proficiency testing services and how these can help in the recruitment process.

Stephanie Brown is a New York City-based travel blogger and freelance content creator. You can find her at The Adventuring Millennial.

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