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New test to better assess language proficiency within DOD

  • Published
  • By Donna Miles
  • American Forces Press Service
A new language test scheduled to roll out in October will better measure language fluency in real-world situations, the Defense Department's senior language official said July 13.

The new test is the fifth generation of the Defense Language Proficiency Test, a battery of tests used to assess native English speakers' reading and listening skills in a wide range of foreign languages, said Gail H. McGinn, deputy undersecretary of defense for plans.

The so-called "DLPT 5" test will be more challenging than previous language tests, Ms. McGinn said, with longer passages and, in some cases, more than one question for each passage. The test will be computer-based, making it more secure and efficient to administer. And unlike past tests that Ms. McGinn described as "scripted," the new test will rely more on actual newspapers, magazine articles and radio broadcasts.

"We want a test that measures as accurately as possible one's ability to operate in the real world," Ms. McGinn said.

Toward that end, the new language proficiency test will better measure each tester's skills in selected languages, at levels ranging from a low of zero-plus to a high of four on the Interagency Language Roundtable scale. Five is the highest level on the scale.

The new test will become "the benchmark" for DOD to assess who in the force has language skills and how proficient they are. By better measuring language skills, the new test will allow DOD officials to identify and reward those with the highest proficiency levels, Ms. McGinn said.

Test scores are part of the formula for determining language proficiency pay for language professionals and servicemembers with specific language skills. Congress recently authorized increasing the cap on language proficiency pay from $300 to $1,000, but Ms. McGinn said that not all language professionals will receive the full amount.

The new test and higher language proficiency pay are keys to the Defense Language Transformation Roadmap, a major initiative to develop foreign language and cultural expertise among its military and civilian members. The initiative aims to increase language and cultural expertise within the ranks and to establish a cadre of language specialists with advanced proficiency levels.

The world situation demands that the Defense Department maintains solid language and cultural capabilities so it is prepared to carry out its missions worldwide -- from humanitarian and reconstruction efforts to combat operations, Ms. McGinn said.

"We are building alliances, we are engaged in operations in the Middle East, we are engaged in the war on terror, (and) we need to understand and interact with the people around us," she said.

The rollout schedule for the new test begins in October for Albanian, Persian-Dari, Hindi, Pashto, Norwegian and Urdu. DLPT-5 tests for Russian and Iraqi are scheduled to debut in December, and early 2006 rollouts are planned for Chinese Mandarin, Spanish and Korean.

New tests are also under development for a variety of other languages, including Egyptian, Levantine, Modern Standard Arabic, Persian-Farsi, Greek, Kurdish-Sorani, Turkish, Serbian-Croatian and Japanese. Ultimately, the DLPT-5 could cover as many as 31 languages.

Ms. McGinn urged test takers to begin their homework now using authentic materials available on the Internet and in other sources, and encouraged supervisors to re-enforce the need to prepare. The Defense Language Institute has developed an Internet site and Global Language Support System with materials and exercises to help test takers prepare.