Beyond Words - Language Blog

Language Testing for Bilingual Employees

To verify that an employee or potential employee can speak or write another language at the appropriate level, you should use valid language testing.

In most professional circumstances, it takes more than a simple interview: you need to be confident that the language testing methodology you employ is both valid and reliable. Validity requires that the test accurately reflects the skill level required to perform the job. You want to know whether an employee or potential employee can use the language at the level you need, and legitimate testing services will offer protocols to measure performance versus a standard. ALTA’s language testing services address these needs for validity and reliability by providing the following:

  • Valid testing methodology supported by statistical analysis
  • Native speakers administering the tests
  • Security of the test materials and results
  • Process for reviewing and appealing test results.


There are four types of language communication skills: speaking, listening, reading and writing. It’s likely that the positions you need filled have different requirements in the two languages for each skill. In many cases one or more of the skills may not be needed at all.

Defining what language skills are needed in both languages is an important step in defining your need for a bilingual employee. Almost no one operates at the native level in two languages in all four types of language skills. The needed types of language capabilities can be identified by looking at the job functions and how the person will interact with people who speak the first language and with people who speak the second language.Determining the type of language skill needed is important, and ALTA provides assistance as part of its Language Review Service.

DEFINING LANGUAGE CAPABILITY:

It is important to identify the level of capability (e.g. native-fluent, nearly fluent, advanced, beginner, etc.) required to perform a particular job function.

A call-center agent and an online Latin American sales representative both need to have high-level bilingual skills, but their respective jobs require distinct skills. There are no international standards for defining levels of language capability. Several countries have government-authorized definitions of “correct” language usage for the language in that country, but there is no agreement on standards outside specific countries or across languages.

In the U.S. two organizations have set cross-language standards that apply to their specific needs: the Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR) standards for U.S. government use, and the American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) for academic use. Also, there are specialized exams that test one or more types of language communication in one language only, such as the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), and the Cambridge exam in the UK.

ALTA’s performance levels and testing protocol were designed to provide language testing standards that are meaningful across languages and cover the full range of performance levels.