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Is There a Universal Spanish Competency Test?

TOEFL Is Widely Used

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Question: Could you please tell me what Spanish language tests are given to determine a person's fluency? Is there a standard test like the TOEFL?

Answer: if there's one single Spanish test that is as universally recognized and available as the Test of English as a Foreign Language, I'm not aware of it. One reason may be the large number of jurisdictions that would have an interest in testing for Spanish fluency.

The closest equivalent I've been able to find to the TOEFL — and it's an excellent one — is Los Diplomas de Español como Lengua Extranjera (DELE), a certification granted by the Ministry of Education and Culture of Spain. Certification examinations are given on a limited basis throughout the world, and certification is granted in three levels: elementary language usage, everyday language use, and advanced language use. Exams are offered twice a year, although you may have to travel if you don't live near a major city. Although the test may be logistically difficult to take for many, the certification is broadly recognized.

Also excellent is the proficiency program used by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. More information on its tests (which cover about three dozen languages) are available from Language Testing International.

On a less prestigious scale, some quick research has found, however, a number of standardized tests used in the United States to test Spanish proficiency for academic purposes. Most of them attempt to measure a student's proficiency in multiple skills, such as conversation, reading and writing. Some were designed specifically for Spanish, while others are modifications of standardized tests used in English. Here are some of the tests you may see used in places:

  • Advanced Placement: Spanish: This test is used in the placement of students in college-level Spanish classes.
  • Advanced Placement: Spanish Literature: Like the preceding AP test, this is used for placement of students in college-level classes.
  • Basic Inventory of Natural Language: This test can be used for more than 30 languages and is used to test students in grades kindergarten through 12. Students are shown large pictures, which the students individually discuss orally. Their taped explanations are then scored using measurements such as sentence complexity and length.
  • Bilingual Syntax Measure: Students are asked questions about drawings. Scoring is based primarily on the grammatic structures of their answers.
  • Idea Proficiency Tests: These tests, used for both children and adults, measure reading ability and use of syntax and vocabulary.
  • Language Assessment Scales: These tests are administered to both children and adults and measure oral proficiency as well as reading and writing ability.
  • Woodcock-Muñoz Language Survey: This individually administered test is for ages 4 through adult and measures speaking, reading and writing skills.

Most of these tests rate examinees on a scale ranging from nonspeaker to "survival Spanish" to fluent, or something similar. If you are taking such a test in the near future, ¡buena suerte!

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