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Developing Proficiency in the Spanish Classroom Part 2: Understanding Proficiency and Performance

palabras interesantes

By Maria J. Treviño

Proficiency:  Competence in something

Language Proficiency:  Competence in expressing yourself in a language

The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages defines proficiency as “the ability to use language in real world situations in a spontaneous interaction and non-rehearsed context and in a manner acceptable and appropriate to native speakers of the language.”

Performance:  Performing of a task or an action

Language Performance:  The language that a speaker or writer actually produces.

The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages defines performance as “the ability to use language that has been learned and practiced in an instructional setting.”

Keeping these two definitions in mind, refer back to Blog 1 of this series and look at the three numbers that you wrote in the three blanks.  Which three activities most likely represent examples of proficiency? Numbers 5, 8 and 10 are the best examples.  In each one, the student employs his knowledge of the language and expresses it naturally almost without hesitation.  The student has internalized the language to the point that he can communicate effectively.  The remaining classroom activities are those in which students practice the language (performance).  However, the value of the remaining activities must be reviewed to determine if these are valid examples of performance-based tasks that lead to proficiency.  Review the ACTFL Performance Descriptors for Language Learners at

It is difficult for teachers who have embraced a grammar approach to teaching Spanish to move in the direction of performance-based teaching/learning.  However, with proper staff development and a true understanding of the World Readiness Standards for Language Learners, ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines, and Performance Descriptors, the teacher can adapt to implementing tasks and activities that help students perform at their appropriate proficiency level (novice, intermediate, advanced) and to help them move up through the levels as the students continue their studies.

Administrators, teachers, parents, and students must also have a basic knowledge of proficiency levels and how these levels build upon each other.  Parents are under the impression their children will become  bilingual speakers in two or three years of study. Unfortunately, it takes several years to achieve near native proficiency in a K-16 curriculum and this can only happen using performance-based teaching/learning.


María J. Fierro-Treviño

Instructional Specialist, Northside Independent School District, San Antonio, TX. (Retired)

Director for Languages other than English, Texas Education Agency (Retired)

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