Oral Proficiency Interview

If you major in French and Francophone Studies, Linguistics and Cultural Studies, Russian Studies, or Spanish Studies, you are required to complete an Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI) before graduation.

What It Is

The Oral Proficiency Interview is a reliable assessment of a speaker’s ability to communicate effectively in a language he or she did not grow up speaking. It was developed over the course of many years by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), which provides descriptions of what speakers at the various levels — Novice, Intermediate, Advanced, Superior and Distinguished — are able and are not able to do in the language they have studied. Here is a link to these descriptions.

The OPI is conducted over the telephone by a highly trained and certified tester. It is an interactive conversation that the tester continuously adapts to the interests and abilities of the examinee. The conversation generally lasts for 20 to 30 minutes, though it may be much shorter if the examinee has a very low level of proficiency. The examinee receives an official ACTFL Certificate stating his or her proficiency level.

The format of the OPI includes a fairly brief, low-key warm-up, where the examinee has a chance to get accustomed to speaking the language on the phone, and the tester makes a preliminary estimate of the speaker’s proficiency level. This is followed by a level check, to establish a base line of what the examinee is able to do. Then the tester does a probe to see whether the speaker can handle the tasks characteristic of the next higher level; if the examinee is successful, this becomes the new base line. There will typically be several probes, followed by more level checks, to enable the tester to make an accurate assessment. Finally, the tester returns to the highest level at which the examinee can communicate comfortably and confidently, so that the interview ends on a positive note.

How to Prepare

Plan to do the OPI when you are at your highest level of proficiency during your time at SPU, ideally shortly after you return from a Study Abroad program. If this is not an option, do everything you can to put yourself in situations where you use the language with people who have been speaking it all their lives. Since we rely a lot on seeing the faces of people we talk to, doing the interview on the phone may feel intimidating. Practice having conversations on the phone, so that you are used to it and don’t get flustered.

The OPI assesses your ability to communicate, not whether you know specific vocabulary. If you can’t recall some word, that’s not a big problem; just explain what you mean in a different way. Practice narrating to yourself what you see while walking to classes, in the language in which you are going to be tested. If you are going to watch a movie to relax, watch it in that language. Since the interview may include a role play, think about how you would handle various situations in the language.

Once you are in the interview, realize that it’s your job to give the tester the best sample you can of what you are able to do. Chat freely; now is not the time to be a reticent introvert. If the tester asks whether you have any brothers or sisters, don’t just say, “Yes,” but tell as much about them as you can. If asked about your views on the health care system, be a strong advocate for what you believe, providing specific evidence or even statistics if you can. Above all, STAY IN THE LANGUAGE! Do not revert to English, no matter what. You have prepared, and so has the tester, so you can be relaxed and confident.

Students in classroom

How to sign up

To sign up for your oral proficiency interview, contact the Humanities administrative assistant, Marilyn Hancock, at mhancock@spu.edu.

In your email, include:

  • Your full name.
  • The language being tested.
  • Two possible dates, Monday-Thursday, when you would be available during a 3-hour window between 8:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. The interview will last 30 minutes.

It is recommended that you complete your interview when your oral skills may be strongest, such as just after completing study abroad.

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