Determining your Spanish language proficiency level, or that of your child can be challenging. Even if the search for the correct proficiency level doesn’t result in the expected level, rest assured that learning processes are constantly improving with new methods and tools. One encouraging fact is that it’s easier to relearn vocabulary than to learn it for the first time.
A Unique Language Profile
Everyone has a unique language profile, which reflects their skills in reading, writing, speaking, and listening, and can improve with targeted practice. However, natural abilities and recent nurturing (practice) can create differences in skills.
Language testing by professionals can reveal proficiency in one or more skills, and thorough testing can demonstrate skills in all four areas.
Proficiency and certification gaps
Periodic language proficiency testing can reveal gaps and how far someone is from attaining a language proficiency certificate. Although testing may remind us of school, quantifying abilities is the way to make Spanish language ability marketable.
Many people in North America have some Spanish language ability. However, many heritage speakers’ oral ability is limited to their familiar and routine matters. Someone who learned from their family may understand sentences that are complex and advanced, but if this person talks slowly, they may not be suited for jobs with fast-paced communication.
On the other hand, someone with a Spanish academic background may be better off finding out sooner that their everyday Spanish skills are lacking. Language testing is the way to locate a true Spanish level. A person who studies Spanish in silence daily might find their studying hasn’t gotten them much closer to a usable language proficiency certificate.
The best way to tailor studying and practice is to get to know the organization regulating standard language and Spanish levels.
American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL)
The ACTFL joined forces with sixteen other language organizations and established the World-Readiness Standards for learning languages. The ACTFL hopes to instill a world-ready focus. Their standards and goal areas can seem vague, especially for someone who hasn’t learned more than very basic phrases. However, they do delineate three areas of communication function for day-to-day language use.
ACTFL communication functions
- Interpersonal – Two people interacting and working out the meaning of their messages
- Interpretive – Understanding meaning from resources, materials, and other input
- Presentational – Communication a person produces in the form of narration, explanation, and persuasion
Common European Framework of Reference for Languages
The most referenced standards for assessing language skills are the Common European Framework of Reference. The levels progress in the order of A1, A2, B1, B2, C1 through C2. Native English speakers may quickly progress up the levels of Spanish language skills. The speed will vary based on aptitude, study intensity, and personal interest.
The CEFR levels explained
A1: Communicates from a small base of words. Very basic phrases get acquired for faster use. An A1 person talks slowly and writes deliberately, sometimes with much obvious searching.
A2: Communication remains direct and unflowery. Simple sentences and basic phrases aimed at concrete objectives help them complete the simple and routine tasks of communicating.
B1: Has an expanding range of comfort and speed. Precision improves. They can “get around” in most public situations.
B2: A B2 speaker can navigate different situations better. Using and understanding less concrete topics and phrases is possible.
C1: The C1 level brings greater comfort and a range of communication. With more words available with which to make themselves understood, they can navigate unfamiliar topics.
C2: Nearly fluent, people operating in C2 have the widest range, depth and sophistication of communication. They can recognize implicit meaning. However, they may make mistakes they often recognize or need word suggestions.
Although these levels may sound intimidating, especially for speaking, bear in mind that after language proficiency testing, it’s easier than ever to gauge your speaking progress with the audio recorder on your cell phone! You need not move to a Spanish-speaking country or live with native speakers.
Spanish Proficiency Levels – Common Questions
Although no second language is simple, the Spanish language is the easiest for English speakers to learn. The shared vocabulary, or at least strings of letters and sounds, facilitates learning. Similar grammar also helps. People in certain parts of the US, like the Southwest or Florida, may have an even bigger advantage.
Exploring some common questions about Spanish language skills and proficiency levels is insightful.
What level of Spanish is considered fluent?
After passing C2 on the CEFR standards, the remaining breach to full native fluency varies, depending on the amount of vocabulary that person needs to operate in their different environments of life. A person scoring C2 may have a communication pace or accent that sounds prohibitive too.
Slow progress is normal
Bear in mind that most people learning a second language later in life seldom reach full fluency. Years of immersion or very intense study can make a difference. Regular language proficiency testing can maximize studying effort by showing what areas need targeting.
What do you learn at each Spanish language proficiency level?
Filling up with vocabulary
Naming nouns, actions, and other words take up a lot of learning energy at each level. As a person progresses, the vocabulary they learn will advance. Particularly, it will grow more complex and descriptive, as well as venture into less concrete topics.
Each level will include grammar topics. Basic levels like A1 and A2 will help learners put together strings of nouns, verbs, and some adjectives in the present tense. Familiar and routine matters and situations will dominate.
Different structures and constructions can be covered at any level. Even a simple and direct exchange like “I like the summer” (me gusta el verano) can involve a different sentence structure in Spanish. These structure-based learning steps appear alongside verb-based grammar topics.
Intermediate and advanced levels will learn past and future tenses and verb conjugations. The upper levels of proficiency involve compound tenses requiring two verbs. Helping (auxiliary) words characterize these tenses, like the “is” in “is talking.”
Hypothetical and conditional tenses are usually the last covered. Topics differentiating finer shades of meaning and hypothetical actions involve complex subjects, often without concrete visuals. Technical discussions are challenging too.
Which Spanish-Speaking country is best to learn from?
Spanish-speaking countries abound. It’s the official language of 20 countries. As with any language with many dialects, the answer is location specific. Learning the version of Spanish from the area whose inhabitants you’ll speak to is the best choice. With whom are you most likely to speak? Will you travel to a certain country? Follow your personal interest in, or ties to, different Spanish areas.
The major division in the Spanish language is between Spain and Latin America. However, there is a tremendous amount of variety within Latin American Spanish. Some of those countries are large and diverse, like Argentina and Mexico.
Why is it so difficult to understand native speakers?
There are two features of the Spanish language that sometimes work in tandem:
- the uniting of similar syllables
- the natural musicality of Spanish
Uniting similar syllables
Although the Spanish language is relatively phonetic, with every blessing, there’s a burden. The Spanish language unites similar-sounding syllables near each other. Uniting sounds contribute to musicality. It can create the “it sounds like all one-word” phenomenon too.
Natural musicality of Spanish
Problems with native speakers can also result from the natural musicality, like in the phrase “La semana pasada,” which has the letter “A” as every other letter. Luckily, for familiar matters regularly encountered by learners, catching up to the speed of understanding sentences and phrases are spoken aloud is not too hard. Spanish is becoming increasingly valuable for work and play, so working toward language testing and a language proficiency certificate in Spanish is worth it.
Assess Often for Better Progress
Whether you are learning very basic Spanish phrases now or approaching fluency, knowing your exact proficiency or your child’s level can help you plan and invest in future progress wisely. That stands whether you are referring to the Common European Framework (levels A1 A2 B1 B2 C1 C2), scholastic standards like AP or 101, or simply have a personal interest in improving. It’s worth pushing through speed and complexity challenges to speak excellent Spanish or español excelente!
Determine your Spanish language proficiency level by taking ALTA’s language proficiency test. Regular testing can help you identify your strengths and weaknesses and target your studying efforts to improve your Spanish skills.