Another difficulty is separating the listening skill from the speaking skill. In most normal situations, there is an interchange between listening and speaking, and speaking appropriately depends, in part, on comprehending spoken input. This necessarily becomes a factor in the testing of speaking, and it is difficult to know whether you are testing purely speaking or speaking and listening together.
Testing speaking is also a particular problem when it is necessary to test large numbers of students. In some situations, it is necessary to test thousands of students, and even if each student speaks for only a few minutes, this becomes a huge job.
In spite of the difficulties inherent in testing speaking, a speaking test can be a source of beneficial backwash. If speaking is tested, unless it is tested at a very low level, such as reading aloud, this encourages the teaching of speaking in classes.
Type 1. Students are asked to construct a sentence following a certain pattern using the information that they are given. They are usually given two or three examples first. For example:
1. Jane has been working at the same job for ten years. She is tired of her job and would like to do something more interesting. (She wishes she could find a more interesting job.)
2. It has been raining since yesterday. I want to go on a picnic this afternoon. (I wish it would stop raining.)
Type 2. In another type of conversational exchange test, a situation is given but no guidance is given as to how to respond, and the student can respond freely. For example:
A friend of yours has been tired a lot recently. What do you say to her? (Maybe you should be getting more rest.)
You have been served coffee in a restaurant but you haven't been given any cream or sugar, and you would like some. What do you say to the server? (Could I have some cream and sugar.)
Type 3. In another type of text, the student is given a stimulus sentence and can respond in any appropriate way. This type of test usually depends on conventional responses, such as responses to requests, invitations, etc.
Could I borrow your dictionary?
(Sure, go ahead./ Sorry, I'm using it.)
Hey, how are you doing?
(Just fine, how are you?)
This may also be done as part of a longer dialogue, where there are pauses for the testee's responses to questions on a tape. The problem with this sort of test is that the dialogue on the tape keeps going along, no matter what the testee says, whether the next line on the tape is appropriate or not. In addition, it is testing listening at least as much as it is testing speaking. However, this type of test does make it possible to test large numbers of people at the same time in a way that is at least somewhat communicative.
Various types of material are appropriate for this type of test, depending on the language that the tester wants to elicit. One common type of stimulus material is a series of pictures which tell a story, often with a few sentences of introduction to get the testee started. This requires the testee to put together a coherent narrative. A variation on this is to give the pictures in random order of the narrative to a group of testees. The students describe their pictures and decide on their sequence without showing them to each other, and then put them down in the order that they have decided on. They then have an opportunity to reorder the pictures if they feel it is necessary.
Another type of test using a visual stimulus is one in which two testees are given pictures that are similar but have several differences. Without seeing each other's pictures, they describe their own pictures and find the differences.
In addition to using pictures, it is possible to use charts, graphs, or other ways of visually organizing information, and the testee has to describe them. One possible problem with this type of visual stimuli is that the material has to be something that all the testees can interpret equally well, since if a testee has difficulty understanding the visual information, that will influence the way he/she is evaluated.
The interview protocol needs to be carefully considered. It might be best to start with yes/no questions or factual questions that are easily answered to put the interviewee at ease, but these can be inhibiting, so this stage should not last too long. The questions should be interesting, easy to respond to, and give the testee some range in answering.
When doing an interview test, it is very important that the interviewer be well trained in order to avoid problems and so that the interviewer is consistent from one interview to another to help make the evaluation of the testee more reliable. The interviewer, for example, should avoid talking too much (though giving some personal information may help break the ice and put the testee at ease), should speak clearly, should not interrupt the interviewee to give answers, should maintain eye contact with the interviewee, and should not correct the interviewee during the interview.
If possible, the speaking task should be recorded and the scoring done from the tape. In addition, the marking should be done by more than one person and their reliability checked. If the task is an interviewer, the interviewer should not be required to score the test at the same time as conducting the interview, if this is avoidable.
Among the aspects of speaking that might be considered in the assessment scale are grammar, pronunciation, fluency, content, organization, content and vocabulary.
The band descriptions for a general scale might be as follows. The number indicates the level, and it is followed by a description of the characteristics of a speaker at that level.
7 Spoken communication is fluent, appropriate, and grammatically correct, with few if any errors.
6 Communication is generally fluent and grammatically correct with only occasional errors in grammar or pronunciation.
5 Student produces numerous grammatical errors and hesitations, but these do not interfere greatly with communication. Utterances are long and connected.
4 Student produces numerous grammatical errors and hesitations, and these occasionally interfere with communication. Utterances are short and connected.
3 Student's communication is limited to short utterances and depends in part on previously memorized conversational elements. Difficulty dealing with unpredictable elements. Many hesitations and grammatical errors. Communication only possible with sympathetic interlocutor.
2 Communication limited to short utterances, almost entirely memorized conversational elements. Unable to deal with unpredictable elements.
1 No communication possible.
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