A language audit is a highly useful business solution that allows for a quick and clear definition of the language competencies of employees and candidates.
However, determination of the level of language skills and identification of training needs requires a high degree of structuring. The tool most frequently used for this purpose is the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). This classification adopted by the Council of Europe consists of six levels, each denoted by a capital letter and a number (A1-C2). The CEFR scale is clear enough not to leave room for any inaccuracies.
However, the language itself is very complex; that is why it is important to ask, firstly, who language skills should be assessed by and secondly on what basis they should be assessed.
The development of technology has changed the way many language competences are assessed.
Until recently, the standard was solely to answer language tests set in a paper or electronic form by completing a text document. Today businesses are increasingly choosing to utilise more modern solutions, such as online language audits. With adequate safeguards, they can reliably assess language competences and also can be performed at any time or in any place. These audits also allow for much faster evaluation than traditional language testing, thanks to the use of AI and scoring algorithms.
How can language audits be tailored to the level of auditees?
The standard for the best language schools offering language audits is the use of algorithms, which allow the ability to match the level of difficulty of a test with the language skills of the person seeking to pass it. This ensures that a person with a lower level of language skills does not get annoyed by the need to answer questions that are too difficult. These personalised tests allow for a more positive experience – they reduce anxiety and fatigue when sitting the test. For those parts of the test containing closed questions, AI makes an immediate and error-free assessment of the answers and the level of language competences of an individual.
But can AI check everything?
More and more efforts are being made to automate the assessment of language skills in the areas of writing and speaking. One of the most basic possibilities is to use automatic error detection algorithms – well known for their use in many programs and applications. However, such a system very often analyses individual words rather than entire sentences and the contexts in which they are used, making it necessary for a qualified person to re-check the test.
Attempts are also being made to alter AI algorithms, so that they can be used to fully assess written and oral statements and then grade them, according to the CEFR scale. However, it should be borne in mind that this assessment does not allow for such human vagaries as test anxiety, pronunciation defects etc. AI assesses using the zero-one binary system (wrong/right) and its algorithms do not yet allow for a perfect assessment of language competences. Therefore it may currently provide support, but it should not fully replace the work of people.
Auditor – native speaker or teacher?
It might seem that a native speaker – a native user of a given language – is the right candidate to work as an auditor, i.e. a person supervising language audits. In theory, it should not be a problem for them to capture the smallest linguistic subtleties, nor should it be a problem for them to check whether the pronunciation and cadence of speech is correct. However, it is often the case that native speakers who do not have a pedagogical education overstate the score and do not pay attention to aspects such as grammar, syntax or correct pronunciation.
It is worth noting that most teachers of English as a foreign language in the world are non-native speakers. In order for them to be able to learn and properly assess language competences, it is also necessary for them to have the appropriate expertise and not to have just “mastered” the language.
Thus it is advisable to trust qualified foreign language teachers who have specialised language training skills and who are long-experienced in both teaching and assessing language competences.
Who or what therefore is best to supervise a language audit?
Technology is currently an integral part of everyday life and changes the way people learn and use languages. A language audit can be an excellent tool for a personalised, largely computerised and cost-efficient system for validating language competences – provided that the assessment model is supported by the knowledge of qualified language teaching professionals.