John Read

The University of Auckland

Speaker 1

ISSUES IN ASSESSING CHINESE AS A SECOND LANGUAGE: A LANGUAGE TESTER’S PERSPECTIVE

The teaching of Chinese as a second language (CSL) is now well established both in China and internationally, and a number of standardized tests have been developed to measure learners’ achievement in reaching their learning goals. However, the academic field of CSL assessment is relatively less developed and has had little impact in the international research community until recently. As the teaching of the language expands, there is a need to address multiple issues in assessing the language at all levels, from the global to the local.

My approach to this topic is that of an outsider, having no knowledge of Chinese but with a career-long engagement in the field of language testing and assessment, with particular reference to English. Chinese and English are obviously very different languages, and I am not qualified to comment on the specific linguistic features of Chinese which pose challenges for assessment design. On the other hand, Chinese and English are both major international languages that must meet the diverse needs of their users in a variety of social, cultural and educational contexts around the world. Over many decades, huge economic and intellectual resources have been devoted to the teaching and testing of English to speakers of other languages, including to speakers of Chinese, and there is much to be learned from that accumulated body of knowledge and practice.

In this speech I will discuss very selectively some of the current major issues in language assessment. Fundamentally, there is a division between two paradigms, represented on the one hand by large-scale psychometric tests, which are now often computer-based, and on the other by a range of standards-based assessment procedures conducted by teachers in their classrooms. Each paradigm creates its own challenges but, as the more innovative approach, standards-based assessment can be quite difficult to implement effectively. Another important concern is how to define the construct of language ability for particular assessment purposes, getting the balance right between language knowledge, communicative skills, and other components such as content knowledge and cultural understanding.