ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines

NOVICE (Low, Mid, High)

CONVERSATION as such is really not taking place. The Novice may be able, sporadically, to answer questions; has isolated words and a few memorized phrases, but can't create in a sustained way. May be able to name or list some objects.
Pronunciation may be unintelligible. Fluency: So halting that conversation as such is impossible. Vocabulary is inadequate for even simple conversation. Grammar is basically nonexistent with little or no evidence of awareness of the target language's culture.


Intermediates can CREATE WITH THE LANGUAGE to a certain extent. They tend to be reactive rather than initiatory — they can answer questions but don't volunteer much. VERY STRONG Intermediates can participate in short conversations, but the larger burden is still on the interviewer, and their intelligibility is often low. They tend to function largely in the present tense, though they can use some pasts and futures. They also tend to focus almost entirely on personal welfare, not much outside themselves. They can handle everyday survival tasks, e.g. courtesy, routine travel, food, personal welfare. They can basically function on the SENTENCE level, not just in separate words.

SURVIVAL language is the criterion, not sustained conversation. A native speaker accustomed to foreigners can understand pronunciation. Intermediate speakers have only minimal control of major grammatical structures; but they can say a lot of things — not just a few — simply, and a whole range of personal-welfare things. With limited vocabulary, they can handle the three phases: get into, through, and out of a practical situation (for example, get a hotel room or a taxi, find out closing times, order a basic meal, etc.).

ADVANCED (Low, Mid, High)

Advanced speakers can describe and narrate in past, present, and future; they can participate fully in casual conversations as full partners, not merely reactors. They ask questions naturally as part of give and take; can express facts; can give, as well as ask for, directions; can not only survive in the target culture, but can live and function socially. They can talk about people, places, and events outside themselves, unlike intermediates. They can do some circumlocution but may still do a lot of verbal groping, and they can handle situations, which may not develop according to expectations, and explore options, e.g. get a less expensive hotel room than has been offered. Sometimes they miscommunicate. Pronunciation may still be obviously foreign but is OK for most native speakers. Advanced speakers can function on the PARAGRAPH level.

A typical task for an Advanced speaker is having to persuade someone to do something, or at least put up a good argument, when that person doesn't want to do it. Example: trying to convince a resistant store clerk to take back a defective article.


Even SUPERIOR speakers don't have native fluency, but will be getting within reasonable range of it. They will still make occasional mistakes, but these will be rare and won't interfere with comprehension even by a native speaker who is NOT accustomed to dealing with foreigners. They have many ways to say the same thing, not just one; they can often provide a synonym if needed. They can support opinion, narrate, negotiate, hypothesize and can talk on abstract and professional topics. They are very comfortable with the culture of the target language and don't make major social blunders in speech. They can function in terms of POLYPARAGRAPHS — can explore quite extended ideas.

SUPERIOR speakers can handle unfamiliar situations and hypothetical questions ("What would you do if...?"), and give instructions for or explanations of complex situations.

While speakers in all these categories do make varying numbers of mistakes, a rating of SUPERIOR implies a high, if not perfect, degree of accuracy.