Yesterday afternoon was hot here in Bologna, and I’d had a busy morning, what with one thing and another.
So I decided to take an hour or two off ‘work’ and have a go at a set of sample papers for an international Swedish exam (though I admit that might sound rather like ‘work’, too!)
If you’ve ever studied a language ‘formally’, at school or university say, or for professional reasons, you’ll know that there tends to be regular testing.
The few remaining British children who study foreign languages take an exam at sixteen years old, another at eighteen and, should they proceed to study a language or languages at university, they will also be regularly tested during their undergraduate years.
Tests measure progress, obviously. But they also help identify where you’re stronger or weaker, and so inform what you study next.
They can also be motivating, in the sense that, if you know you have an EXAM on the horizon, you’re less likely to put things off.
E poi, what better way to KNOW FOR YOURSELF your real ability in a language, rather than staying mired in false modesty or having to rely on the opinion of a teacher, who might not know their ‘sedere’ from their ‘gomito’.
Obviously, if you’re a language teacher yourself, you’ll already have a good idea of your level. But still, it’s always nice to get some feedback, right?
So, knowing myself to be in the B1 band at Swedish, but with some areas (reading, listening, speaking) stronger. and others (grammar, writing?) weaker, I figured I’d have a go at an A2 exam (one level down).
The feedback obtained would then help me set B1 as a target, either for the New Year or for this time next summer, according to the results.
I found a website for the internationally-recognised Swedish exams. It offers one sample test for each level, which isn’t very generous but is enough for benchmarking.
I downloaded everything for A2, including the answer ‘key’, the audio .mp3s to do the listening test, and so on.
Then, finding a spare classroom and closing myself in, I sat down and started on the first paper – the listening.
I scored seven out of ten, which was not as good as I’d hoped.
But then, I mainly listen to news, which is all crime and politics right now.
The exam listening, in contrast, was stuff like “I left my glasses on the table in the sitting room, besides the book, under the cat”.
Still, it was an A2 pass, at least, the minimum being 60%.
Next was the reading paper – the time allowed was forty minutes but I finished in about half that, and still scored 80%, which showed I’ve been doing something right
The third paper was the ‘Grammar and Words’, which was a short multiple-choice cloze test (the one when you have to choose the best of three answers to go in each gap). To my satisfaction, I passed comfortably.
The writing paper was also short and simple: reply to an email from a Swedish friend about going to stay at her place in Stockholm. Write about thirty words, making sure to give your arrival date, length of stay, and say what you’d like to do (with her? to her?) during your visit.
My wife, who’s a Swedish native speaker, agreed to check my text and took pleasure in pointing out all the spelling mistakes. But having studied the evaluation notes, she awarded me nine out of ten, the priority being effective communication rather than spelling.
The speaking we skipped as it’s hard to reconstruct exactly how a speaking test would be if you’ve never done one before (though we were both familiar with the general idea from years doing English and Italian exams.)
Instead, I decided to self-evaluate my speaking. A2, passed, well done Daniel!
And so I had my benchmark. An A2 pass with around 80%, comfortably above the minimum of 60%.
To complete the process, what I SHOULD now do is try the B1 material.
Assuming, for the sake of argument, that I scored 50% on that, I’d then have triangulated (or at least ‘biangulated’) my level.
Better than A2, not yet B1, so A2/B1.
Doing the B1 material would also give me a ‘heads-up’ about areas which I’ll need to pay more attention to in the coming months.
Knowing approximately how far I was from being able to ‘test out’ at B1, I could estimate the time I’d need to get there (four months?), prepare a study-plan, find an online teacher with appropriate experience and skills, and even commit to taking an exam on a certain future date.
Once I’d decided to do the B1 exam, for example in January, I’d then tell all my friends, publish it here, and so on, with the aim of making it difficult for myself to back out!
That’s a common technique, and one which brings us, more or less, back to how language teaching is organised in more formal contexts like schools and universities.
There’s a plan (called a syllabus), an expectation that the students will do the work, and a schedule of evaluations to make sure they make the progress expected.
But the rest of the benchmarking, the B1 sample exam, can wait for now.
I’m currently debating with myself whether it’s worth a €160 fee, the cost of the train tickets to and from Milan, and a day off work, to do the REAL A2 exam!
I’d hopefully gain a certificate with which, should Italy ever chuck me out, I could demonstrate that I have the minimum level of Swedish required for immigration purposes. Be impressed!
If I actually do go take the exam in Milan, you can be sure you’ll hear you about it. But in the meantime, what about internationally recognised ITALIAN exams?
Well there’s CILS, but really, don’t even consider giving them your money.
Last but not least, there’s PLIDA, about which I know nothing, other than it’s not the horrible CILS. You’ll find PLIDA samples here.
Should you benchmark your learning?
Absolutely yes, for the reasons I offered above, and because you’re an adult and it’s a way to take responsibility for your own learning.
Shoud you do an actual, real exam and hang the certificate on your bathroom wall for visitors to admire as they pee?
That’s up to you.
Though one question just about every non-beginner encounters sooner or later is “WHY AM I DOING THIS?”
WHY learn Italian (or Swedish)? You may never live here. You probably don’t have in-laws to communicate with. You may not actually need it for your job or studies.
Whatever answer you come up with, it’ll have to be a good one – you’ll surely find that, by deciding to learn a foreign language, you’ve embarked on a never-ending task!
However many years you study Italian, there’ll always be more to learn.
And I GUARANTEE that there’ll always be things you can’t do as well as you’d like to.
So why bother?
One answer is: to get the certificate, then the next one, then the next one, and put them all on your resumé!
Why not? It’s better than watching ‘Love Island’
Another way to benchmark – and save 50%!
Did I mention that, if exams aren’t your thing, you can also benchmark your progress with ‘easy readers’?
OK, it’s not so precise.
But reading and listening to material which our team of professional Italian teachers have judged to be a certain level is an affordable, fun and useful way to measure your progress.
Many thanks, by the way, to those of you who’ve already bought this week’s ‘Book of the Week’ ‘Cielo libero‘.
We appreciate your support.
Revenues from the sale of ebooks and online lessons are recycled to pay for new materials, and to meet the various costs associated with hosting this and other websites.
So, if you haven’t got yours yet, don’t forget that this week only you can get ‘Cielo libero‘ for just £3.99 (it normally costs £7.99, so that’s half-price.)
Whatever your level, download the free sample chapter (.pdf).
Listen to the audio, follow the text.
It’s free, so what’s to lose?
If that one’s too easy, or too hard, find other free sample chapters which might suit you better on our Catalogue page.
And/or get the full version of ‘Cielo libero‘ and read/listen to the remaining seven not-free-but-very-good-value chapters.
It’s a nice story, easily worth the price of a prawn sandwich!