Beyond Words - Language Blog

Language Testing – When to Customize

Language testing has been all over the news lately, from new immigration policies requiring language testing for working immigrants, to globalization studies on hiring multi-lingual employees to conduct business in emerging markets throughout the world. Some business and government agency leaders may be considering language testing, but may not be sure who to trust to create, administer, and evaluate statistically valid assessments.

Test customization is one of the many services that ALTA provides, and clients often ask whether they should use a standard, general test, or whether they should have one created specifically for their organization. When answering this question, there are several factors to consider, such as how the test will be used, what type of test will be used, and what the goal of customization is.

How will the language test be used?

Many of our clients are using proficiency testing as part of a hiring or selection process. In this case, we typically recommend using a general test, as this test is aimed at measuring global language proficiency, i.e. use of the language that is not dependent on knowing industry-specific terminology or being able to talk about industry-related topics. This puts candidates on an even playing field when testing. It should also be used if this knowledge is acquired on the job or in training programs. Typically, candidates who have a strong command of the language can easily supplement their vocabulary with an organization’s terms, and discuss related topics with ease. However, if candidates are expected to be able to speak about the organization’s topics in the target language – whether upon hiring, or after being on the job – then a customized test can be appropriate.

What type of language test do you need?

In terms of test type, there are some caveats to consider when having a test customized. For instance, an oral or written test can prompt the candidate with your organization’s topics, but does not guarantee that the candidate will respond using industry-specific terminology. Secondly, ALTA’s evaluators are measuring overall use of the language. There are no “right” or “wrong” answers to questions found on these types of tests. Therefore, if the objective is to elicit certain responses, these test types do not satisfy this goal.

What is the goal of language testing for your organization?

If you do want to measure knowledge of certain terms or phrases used in your industry, an online test, which is set up to determine correct versus incorrect responses, might be a better model to use. ALTA can develop such a test for your organization, in addition to tests that measure the overall use of a language. If your testing needs require a more complex solution, or if you are not certain what type of skill measurement would best suit your organization, feel free to contact us at 404.920.3820 for a free consultation and language testing estimate.