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Many people the world over speak two or more languages and successfully navigate their way through lots of different situations. Some people grow up bilingual with parents of different nationalities. Others learn their language skills through study and living in foreign countries. Many of these people will be highly skilled in their chosen languages.

This guide offers advice on what individuals can do in everyday situations in terms of speaking, listening, reading and writing. It highlights the different levels of skills as ranges and offers advice on what a person can and cannot achieve within the level of language they hold, regardless of where, when or how the language may have been learnt.

There are five different levels of skills: distinguished, superior, advanced, intermediate and novice. Advanced, intermediate and novice are further split into high, mid and low sub levels.

Your skill levels may vary depending on how well you keep them up to date. Languages are constantly evolving and you are advised to regularly refresh your understanding of the languages you work in, and to practise your linguistic skills whenever you have the opportunity to do so. In many languages, new terminology and phrases are coined regularly and you need to make a conscious effort to keep up to date with these terms. You are advised to read news articles as often as you can and keep your working language alive using resources such as using the internet to access films, music and such cultural features that play an essential role in the development of languages. You should also develop awareness of your own and other cultures in order to promote cross-cultural understanding.

Whilst this guide does not tell you how you learn or should learn a language it does give you information on how to improve your language skills so you can progress from one level to another. It also provides a platform on which functional language ability can be tested.

Language skills are the key assets of an interpreter. Simple conversational skills are not enough – you should have a thorough knowledge of your foreign languages and be able to adapt what you hear to the right register based on the situation. You should not only have qualifications in the languages you intend to work with, but you should also have a feel for the various dialects of the spoken language. The latter will have been gained from living and working in the relevant countries.

Development or a curiosity to develop a number of specialist subjects based on your interests or previous experience is also necessary. Most interpreters work with more than two languages and are required to follow international events and keep your language fresh in the countries whose languages you work with. The main role of the interpreter is to break down language barriers and work towards a better understanding and communication with different cultures.

What Language Empire looks for in a linguist?

  1. Understanding of a variety of regional accents and linguistic styles and registers
  2. The ability to select the appropriate mode of interpretation for each situation
  3. The ability to interpret with the highest degree of accuracy and completeness
  4. The ability to self-correct and understand one’s own linguistic limitations. Able to seek clarification and accepts correction
  5. Able to pick up cues from encounter participants regarding level of understanding and/or need for clarification
  6. Possession of strong writing skills and understanding of translation process
  7. The ability to learn and retain new terminology

Language Proficiency - The Skills You Need

Language proficiency is the ability of an interpreter to speak or perform in an acquired language.

As well as being fluent in two languages and you need to the following:

  • Ability to interpret accurately
  • Great listening skills
  • Ability to follow instructions and observe protocols
  • Ability to comprehend two languages as spoken and written
  • Knowledge of the general subject and technical field of the material to be interpreted as well as good knowledge of terminology in interpreter’s chosen field
  • Intimate familiarity with both cultures
  • Solid general education and extensive vocabulary in both languages
  • Ability to express thoughts clearly and concisely in both languages
  • Excellent note-taking techniques for consecutive interpreting
  • Ability to perform efficiently in language situations that may change unexpectedly or are unfamiliar
  • Cohesive and coherent communication
  • Ability to grasp and clearly convey meaning; ability to differentiate shades of meaning between words and process complete content of message in a cohesive discourse. Ability to distinguish between denotative and connotative meanings
  • Ability to convey abstract concepts
  • Ability to show requisite level or extensive knowledge of specialised vocabulary (e.g. legal, medical, business, administrative) needed to competently perform the duties of an interpreter
  • Ability to recognise and appropriately use a broad range of idioms, proverbs, collocations, and sayings
  • Ability to demonstrate full grammatical and structural control (absence of patterns of error), and the infrequent grammatical errors, if there are, do not interfere with meaning
  • Ability to vary register appropriately or to demonstrate sociolinguistic competence and full control of register
  • Adequate rate of delivery (fluency) and reasonable intervals between utterances
  • Accent does not interfere with the listener’s comprehension
  • Ability to speak clearly (enunciation, pronunciation, stress, intonation, and tone)
  • Ability to learn new words and the phrases. A willingness to watch and learn from other interpreters.
  • Objectivity – an interpreter must not favour anyone and treat all parties equally. An interpreter must not show their feelings, regardless of their opinion.
  • A basic understanding of human needs and emotions along with a strong sense of community service and participation.
  • The ability to maintain the same expression as that of the hearing person.
  • Ability to communicate the feelings and attitudes of both the hearing and the speaking person.
  • The interpreter should not accept assignments where he knows he is not qualified.


As a professional interpreter you need to have the ability to analyse the information that you hear and be able to express what you understood to the target audience. You should be able to construe meaning from the information that you received from the person speaking.


You will often have very limited time to adjust to the subject or the speaker’s accent. You should be able to adjust to those circumstances, including the technical terms used in the conference, so you are able to act appropriately.


This is a very important aspect. As an interpreter you should have a very high level of concentration, especially when involved in simultaneous interpretation. Lack of focus could lead to the audience losing thread of the argument or the conversation.


You will be under a lot of pressure when interpreting, but your voice should remain clear, calm, pleasant and neutral throughout.


As a professional, one is expected to be on time. You play a huge role in helping people communicate with each other. A tardy interpreter will only keep the meeting or the conference from moving forward and being on schedule. This could result in a negative atmosphere and client dissatisfaction.


Sometimes you will be needed to interpret in sensitive cases such as legal proceedings or doctor’s appointments. As a professional interpreter, you should never discuss the details of these meetings with anyone.


This does not necessarily mean wearing a three-piece suit but it does mean that when representing Language Empire, you should wear something appropriate to the occasion. Avoid outfits such as shorts, jeans or anything too casual. Casual business attire should do the trick.

Language Proficiency Performance Description – Speaking


Those at the distinguished level are better able to use language with finesse, precision and power, and consistently achieve levels above those in superior and advanced. They are better informed and intellectually aware users of the language and are able to dwell on a vast number of worldly issues and highly complicated matters in a culturally befitting manner. At the distinguished level users can effectively use their speech in the course of a spoken debate, allowing them to persuade and put a point forward which might not necessarily be their own. They have the ability to tailor their speech in a way which allows them to communicate to audiences of different levels and abilities. The rate of fluency is regular and carried out at acceptable intervals and their accent does not have an impact on the listener’s ability to understand what is being said.

The communication of speakers at distinguished level is comprehensible and flows well and they are highly knowledgeable, having a comprehensive understanding of specialised vocabulary such as that used by doctors, lawyers and businesses.

Speakers communicate clearly and can accurately convey voice tone, nuance, stress and emotion in what is being interpreted. They have full control over grammar and structure of the sentences and don’t make mistakes.

Speakers who are of the distinguished level are able to converse in a highly knowledgeable and elegant manner. They are skilled in using cultural and historical references which helps them express to audiences precisely what they mean by use of a few words. Speaking at this level can often result in there being a resemblance in the spoken and written discourse.

Unfamiliar accents, a lack of native expressions, cultural references and/or an occasional language error may still present a problem at this level but the speaker is able to work around this effectively and find appropriate alternatives.


Those at the superior level, communicate with both accuracy and fluency in order to fully engage in conversations on a variety of topics during formal and informal settings. They are better able to discuss matters related to their field of expertise, discuss various difficult topics in detail, and give logical and clear descriptions effortlessly and accurately. They can give their opinion on issues that are of particular interest to them, such as political and social issues and provide well-constructed explanations in support of them. They are able to develop theories and ideas to explore different avenues where necessary.

They have a strong grasp of the language and are aware of idioms, colloquialisms and are effectively able to convey them and other abstract concepts. They also have a good understanding of any specialised language required for interpreting in a given situation and are able to use it effectively.

Even when engaged in hypotheticals, these speakers use extended communication without lengthy hesitation to make their point when appropriate. Such debate, while reasonable, may still be altered by language patterns other than that of the target language. Superior level speakers practise different modes of communication, such as turn-taking, and are able to separate main ideas from supporting information.

Speakers of the superior level have no difficulty in forming basic structures and their speech is fluid and easily comprehended, although they may make occasional errors in the less used and in the highly complex form of communication. If these errors do occur, they do not distract the native speaker or restrict communication. Their accent does not interfere with what is being said and they are able to effectively convey what is being said, are able to pick the different meanings for similar words and use them appropriately and have a good understanding of cultural references or differences that may be relevant.

In addition, they are not phased by a strange or changing setting and continues to perform effectively even when things alter unexpectedly.


Those at the advanced level are able to have a conversation in a very clear and precise manner and discuss topics relating to community, autobiographical topics, as well as being able to discuss national and international issues. Topics relating to the past, present, and future are given great care and consideration when being spoken of. These speakers are able to overcome any unexpected obstacle they encounter during a social situation. The speech and language of the advanced level speaker is copious, they have a broad vocabulary and are able to explain abstract concepts. The advanced level speaker is able to structure their sentences and use the right vocabulary to be able to communicate with native speakers of the language as well as those that are of non-native speech.

Speakers at advanced level have an adequate rate of fluency and their accent doesn’t inhibit the listener’s understanding. They generally speak clearly and convey voice tone, emotion, tone and intonation accurately and they have a good working knowledge of cultural differences and references.

Advanced High

Speakers of the advanced high level are able to perform advanced-level tasks with little effort, confidence and skill. They have the capability to converse fully and accurately in any situation. Those at the advanced level can also touch on certain topics on the superior level but are not able to sustain that level throughout a variety of topics. Patterns of error may appear when they attempt to provide a structured argument or construct theories at the superior level although those errors generally don’t affect meaning.

They can discuss certain topics that they have a particular interest in or that which relates to their fields of expertise and have knowledge of specialised vocabulary such as medical or legal terms, which is sufficient for them to carry out their interpreting duties effectively. However, they are most at ease when discussing topics which they are more familiar with.

Advanced level speakers compensate for their lack of confidence where they may have a limited vocabulary by using strategies such as paraphrasing, repetition and illustration. They use the correct vocabulary and speech pattern to express themselves and are often able to show proficiency and fluency in speech. They generally use the appropriate words given the context and can differentiate between primary and secondary meanings of words. When an advanced level speaker is asked to perform tasks at the superior level, they may at times prove insufficient, and resort to simplification or narration instead of giving an argument or hypothesis, or they may just avoid the task altogether.

Advanced Mid

Advanced mid level speakers are able to handle a large number of communicative exercises with ease and confidence. As well as topics relating to their own personal interest, such as work, school, home and leisure activities, they are able to actively participate in most informal and some formal exchanges. However, their language proficiency is not sufficient enough to convey abstract concepts to the listener and their knowledge of specialised language such as that used by doctors and the legal profession is limited.

Advanced mid speakers have the skill to relay and describe in the main time frames of past, present and future, and being able to give a full account with ease. Description and narration are usually unified to relay the facts in paragraph length.  They show some awareness of idioms colloquialisms and sayings but are unable to always convey them accurately.

Advanced level speakers can easily handle the challenges they are faced with during an unexpected turn of events that occurs within the context of a routine task which is familiar to them. Repetition and rephrasing are often the strategies employed for this purpose. Their vocabulary is fairly extensive although mainly quite general in nature, other than their specialised area or interest. They sometimes pick the wrong meaning for a word and can’t always distinguish between subtle differences in meaning.

Advanced mid speakers take part in conversations on a range of topics with clarity and precision and they are able to relay their message without misleading the listener or causing any confusion. They are easily understood by native speakers of their language and are used to dealing with non-natives. When asked to perform certain tasks which are of a superior level, the quality and quantity of their speech will most probably decline.

Advanced Low

Speakers of the advanced low level are able to perform a number of communicative roles. They manage to take part in a vast number of formal and informal discussions on topics relating to leisure activities, school and home. They can also converse on topics related to current events, employment and matters relating to the interest of public or community.

Advanced low speakers are capable of narrating in the major time frames of past, present, and future in paragraph length discourse. Although these narrations and descriptions tend to be handled separately rather than being connected, advanced low speakers do often combine and link sentences to form paragraph length discourse. They can handle unexpected situations or complications appropriately.

Advanced level speakers tend to give responses that are not longer than single paragraphs. The speaker’s dominant language can become evident during literal translations or by the oral paragraph structure of that language. They may at times be heard conversing with an irregular flow and containing noticeable self-correction. The performance of the advanced low speaker tends to generally be uneven.

Their accent sometimes affects the listener’s ability to understand and the rate of delivery is not always fluent i.e. sometimes they speak either too fast or too slowly. They are not able to sufficiently reflect the social nuances of language and interpret in an appropriate manner for the situation. For example, they may not be able to vary their register appropriately to convey stress or emotion.

Advanced low speech is typically shown to have grammatical roughness, inconsistency in control of verb endings, but the overall speech of the advanced level speaker is sustained, although minimally. They have some structural control but make mistakes. The advanced low level speaker often lacks precision and they occasionally use the wrong word for the context, distort or even invent words. Advanced low level speakers are able to put in place strategies such as rephrasing and repetition.

Advanced low level speakers are able to take part in discussions and get their message across with sufficient clarity, accuracy and precision without any misrepresentation or confusion. Natives who are not used to dealing with non-natives can understand their speech, although this may require some repetition or rephrasing. When trying to perform tasks of the superior level, the quality and quantity of speech may deteriorate substantially.


Speakers at the intermediate level stand out mainly for their ability to express themselves with language when talking about familiar topics relating to everyday situations. They are able to combine various materials in order to express their own personal opinion. Intermediate level speakers are able to ask simple questions and handle straightforward survival situations. However, their ability to convey the message is limited at best and their ability to understand what is being said is restricted. They produce language in sentence-level structure, ranging from discrete sentences through to strings sentences. They are understood by people who are used to dealing with non-native learners of the language.

Intermediate High

Intermediate high speakers are able to communicate and handle routine tasks of intermediate level. They are able to successfully handle uncomplicated matters and social conventions which require an exchange of basic information related to their work, hobby, school and their particular field of interest. But their vocabulary is limited, they have limited or no knowledge of specialised language and are unable to use it in context. They also have a lack of control over sentence structure and sometimes make grammatical and structural errors, which can interfere with meaning.

Intermediate high speakers are able to cope with wide range of tasks related to advanced level speakers, but they are unable to sustain this performance throughout the task. High speakers can communicate and describe in all major time frames using the correct format, but not all the time. Usually, when intermediate high speakers are attempting a task which is of the advanced level, their speech can break down, resulting in failure to carry out the task in the right time frame, inability to maintain paragraph length discourse, and a reduction in vocabulary.

Gaps in patterns of speech and communication error may become evident in the speech of the intermediate high speaker when there is an interference from another language, but they are generally understood by native speakers unaccustomed to dealing with non-natives.

Intermediate Mid

Speakers of the intermediate mid sub level are able to deal with a number of uncomplicated communicative tasks in simple social situations but are generally not able to communicate beyond paragraph level. Communication is normally limited to the kind of everyday verbal exchanges which are necessary for survival in the targeted culture. This contains personal information, related to family, home, daily activities, personal preferences, interests, as well as social and physical needs, such as food and drink, shopping, travel and lodging. They have little or no knowledge of specialised language and limited understanding of sayings, idioms and colloquialisms.

Intermediate mid speakers are normally quite reactive in their approach and do well responding to direct questions or requesting information. They also hold the ability to ask a variety of questions when necessary to seek basic information, such as directions, prices and services. When asked to perform tasks or handle topics at the advanced level, they are able to provide basic information but have difficulty linking ideas, managing time and using communicative strategies.

Intermediate mid speakers are able to express their personal opinions using language, combining various different elements and able to create responses consisting of a string of sentences. They may pause, correct themselves and revise their ideas during conversations when they are searching for adequate vocabulary for them to express themselves. Despite their limited vocabulary, mid speakers are normally understood by those used to dealing with non-natives although they are unable to vary their register appropriately and have a limited ability to interpret in a sociolinguistically appropriate manner i.e. unable to convey speech patterns.

Taking everything into account, Intermediate mid speakers are able to perform intermediate level tasks with ease and do so with the quality of intermediate level language.

Intermediate Low

Intermediate low level speakers are able to successfully handle a limited number of speaking tasks by using straightforward language in everyday social situations. Conversations are normally confined to the predictable topics necessary for the survival of the target language and culture. The topics are normally related to personal information, for example, family and self, daily activities, personal preference and basic immediate needs, such as ordering meals and handling simple transactions. Intermediate low level speakers are naturally reactive and find it difficult to answer direct questions or make simple requests.  They frequently misuse words and are unable to distinguish between words with similar sound or meaning. They also frequently distort or invent words. They can however manage to ask a few appropriate questions. Although they find it difficult, they are able to sustain their language at an intermediate level.

Intermediate low speakers communicate their personal opinion in short statements and discreet sentences by combining and recombining what they hear from their interlocutors. While trying to gather their thoughts, form messages and give responses they are often filled with hesitancy and inaccuracies. They are often seen pausing during speech in order to try and correct themselves. They are strongly influenced by their first language and this can be visible in their vocabulary and syntax when they fail to speak clearly and enunciate their words. Their accent sometimes makes it difficult for the listener to understand them. Despite being constantly misunderstood, low speakers can generally be understood by those more sympathetic interlocutors, and particularly by those that are used to dealing with non-natives.


Everyday topics which may have an impact on them directly are those that novice-level speakers are most comfortable conversing about. They communicate mainly through use of words which they have encountered, memorised and recalled in the past. Novice-level speakers are difficult to understand even for those more sympathetic interlocutors accustomed to non-native speech. Their accent is very strong and they sometimes fail to speak clearly.

Novice High

The novice high level speaker is able to communicate at the intermediate level but are not able to sustain this. They are capable of handling a number of uncomplicated tasks in simple social situations. Their conversation is usually restricted to a few topics which are necessary for survival, such as basic personal information, basic objects, and a limited number of activities, preferences and immediate needs. Novice level speakers can respond to basic direct questions, or requests for information. They are also able to ask a few basic questions. However, their language skills are limited to basic levels of comprehension.

Novice high speakers are heavily reliant on what they hear from their interlocutors, which enables them to express personal meaning. Their conversations usually consist of short and incomplete sentences based in the present, and may often be inaccurate. They may at times sound very fluent and accurate in their language due to them having learned material and a stock of phrases but their vocabulary is very limited and they have no knowledge of specialised language or how to use it.

Their first language has an influence on their vocabulary, pronunciation and syntax. Repetition and rephrasing is implemented to try and avoid any misunderstandings, but novice high speakers can generally be understood by sympathetic interlocutors who are used to non-natives. When asked to take part in discussions on the intermediate level, a novice high speaker can respond in intelligent well-structured sentences, but will not be able to maintain such level of discourse.

Novice Mid

Speakers of the novice mid sub level communicate as minimally as is required of them through use of isolated words and memorised phrases. They have no understanding of colloquial phrases, idioms or sayings. When giving a response to questions they may only say two or three words or may give an occasional stock answer. They make serious and regular grammatical mistakes, which distort meaning. They have a limited understanding of sentence structure but are unable to use it correctly. They take regular pauses in an attempt to try and search for simple vocabulary or attempt to reuse some of their own or their interlocutor’s words. Novice mid speakers are hard to understand, even for those sympathetic interlocutors used to dealing with non-natives. They are unable to use speech in an appropriate manner and vary their register, and have no awareness of the rules of social discourse. When being asked to perform tasks that are related to the intermediate level, they often resort to repetition, words from their native language, or silence.

Novice Low

Novice low sublevel speakers have no real functional ability, and because of their pronunciation, they may be impossible to understand. If given enough time, they may be able to exchange greetings, give out their identity, and identify a number of recognisable objects from their everyday life. They are not able to handle large topics of discussions pertaining to the intermediate level, and are unable to take part in conversations.

They struggle to communicate beyond single words or simple sentences and have almost no comprehension of the meaning of many words and sentences. They also consistently make mistakes, use the wrong words or distort or invent words.

Language Proficiency Performance Description – Listening

Listening is a highly valuable skill. What listeners can hear and the interferences and connections they make, is the basis for listening comprehension. Listening proficiency guidelines outline the task of the listener using different types of oral texts and under different types of circumstances and how the listener understands oral discourse.  The actual cognitive process involved in listening, how one learns to listen and how your listening skills develop is not what the guideline will look at, however, they will go into detail about what listeners understand from what they hear.

These guidelines talk about listening that is interpretative, non-participated, overheard, interpersonal or participative.

Each major level of listening is associated with authentic samples of speech which are outlined in the written descriptions of listening proficiency.


Distinguished level listeners are able to understand a large variation of styles and forms, and able to register speech on highly specialised topics in a language which is suited to different audiences. They can understand language associated with classical theatre, art films, academic debates, public statements, symposia, public policy statements, literary readings and most jokes and puns. They are able to follow highly persuasive arguments, able to comprehend implicit and inferred information, tone and point of view. They can follow unpredictable turns of thought, those that are related to sophisticated subjects. Additionally, their ability to listen is further enhanced by their deep knowledge and understanding of cultural references and allusions. Distinguished level listeners are able to fully appreciate the depth and elegance of the spoken language.

Speech that can be highly abstract, highly technical, or that which may contain very precise, often low-frequency vocabulary and rhetorical structures is understood by the distinguished level listener. Listeners at this level can digest oral discourse which may be lengthy, dense, structurally complex, idiomatic, colloquial and rich in cultural references. Adding to these skills, these listeners can understand information which is subtle and highly specialised which may contain cultural significance or very short texts, containing little or no linguistic redundancy.


Superior level listeners are able to interpret speech at a certain level when it comes to dialect on a large scale of familiar and the less familiar subjects. Linguistically complex extended discourse, as that within the academic and professional settings, lectures and speeches can be easy to follow for the superior level listener. Understanding isn’t only limited to the listener’s understanding of the topic in question, but is also developed through a firm command of the language which is supported by a broad vocabulary, understanding of complex structures and experience within the target culture. Not only are they able to understand what is said, but at times will be able to understand that which is left unsaid, enabling them to come to conclusions.

Speech, which uses precise, specialised vocabulary and complex grammatical structures, is understood by superior-level listeners. Their speech is often catered to academic and professional audiences in the way in which it abstractly deals with topics. It is well thought out and can contain cultural references.


Advanced level listeners can understand a variety of general topics that are connected to news stories, explanations, instructions, anecdotes or travelogue descriptions. They have less understanding of lexical and structural control of the language but can make up for this with their knowledge of the real world and contextual clues. Being familiar with the topic or context may also help the listener derive some meaning of the oral texts.

Speech which is authentic and connected is easily understood by the advanced level listener. This type of speech is lexically and structurally unchallenging. The speech is simple and is normally organised in a clear and obvious way.

Advanced level listeners show the ability of being able to understand language on a large number of topics of general knowledge. They are able to understand basic time-frame references through their knowledge of language structure. However, their skills are most often limited to conventional discourse.

Advanced High

At the advanced high sub level, listeners can understand with trust and ease, conventional narrative and descriptive texts of various lengths, as well as factual material such as summaries and reports. In areas which they have a particular interest in or knowledge of, they are able to follow points of more complex or argumentative speech. Oral texts that deal with unfamiliar topics or situations are easily understood by the advanced high sublevel listener. Listeners are able to understand facts presented in oral discourse and able to make sense of the references made by the speaker. There are however likely to be gaps in the understanding of difficult texts that deal with issues that are treated abstractly which would typically be within the understanding of the superior level listeners.

Advanced Mid

Descriptive texts, such as past, present future events, narrations, things and places are understood by the advanced mid sub level listener. Their speech is mostly familiar with target-language patterns. Listeners can understand the supporting details and the main facts presented to them. Not only does their comprehension of language come from their knowledge of the subject matter, but also from the overall understanding of the language.

Advanced Low

Short conventional narrative and descriptive texts are understood by the advanced low sub level listener, although their comprehension of the underlying structure may be uneven. They are able to understand the main facts and the supporting details.  Their understanding may come from situational and subject matter knowledge.


Intermediate level listeners are able to digest information which is conveyed in simple, sentence lengths and speech which is familiar or of everyday topics. They tend only to be able to understand one declaration at any given time while engaged in face to face conversations or during routine listening projects such as understanding highly contextualised messages, straightforward announcements or simple orders and directions. Listeners are highly dependent on paraphrasing and contextual clues.

Intermediate level listeners can comprehend speech which conveys basic information as well as speech which is simple, minimally connected and contains high level of vocabulary.

There is a more accuracy in their comprehension when trying to gain the meaning from simple, straightforward speech. Everyday familiar contexts are easily understood. They require a controlled listening environment where their expectations of what they might hear are met.

Intermediate High

Listeners at the intermediate high level are able to understand simple sentence length speech related to basic personal and social contexts with ease and confidence. There will be a gap in their knowledge and comprehension of texts which is typically understood by the advanced level listener.

Intermediate Mid

Intermediate mid listeners are able to understand simple, sentence-length speech with regards to basic personal and social contexts. Although a few misunderstandings may occur, their comprehension is mostly accurate. Oral texts typically associated with advanced level listeners may be used by intermediate mid listeners to derive meaning.

Intermediate Low

Although comprehension is often uneven, intermediate low sub level listeners are able to understand some information from sentence-length speech. Oral texts which are typically understood by advanced level listeners will not be understood by intermediate low listeners.


Novice level listeners are able to understand key words, expressions that are highly contextualised and highly obvious, as those that can be found in introductions and basic civility.

Words and phrases derived from simple questions are easily understood by the novice level listener. They generally need repetition, rephrasing and a slow pace in the speech to aid comprehension. They are highly dependent on extra linguistic support to be able to understand meaning.

The novice level listener is in his/her element when able to recognise the speech which they anticipate. Listeners are therefore able to recognise rather than just comprehend. Their ability to listen is dependent on other factors rather than the message itself.

Novice high

The novice high level listener is not always able to understand and fully comprehend sentence length speech or basic personal and social contexts. If they have learnt the vocabulary, then they are able to understand and fully comprehend speech dealing with areas of practical need, highly standardised messages, phrases or instructions.

Novice Mid

At the novice mid sub level, the listener is able to identify and start to understand a large number of high frequency, highly contextualised words and phrases and borrowed words. They are typically seen to understand one phrase at a time and repetition is often necessary.

Novice Low

Listeners at the novice low sub level are occasionally able understand isolated words or high frequency phrases when supported by context. These listeners show no sign of comprehension of spoken messages, not even with the basic personal and social contexts.

Language Proficiency Performance Description – Interpreting

Interpreting is a key skill for multi-language speakers. Interpreting correctly can be very important in many different areas of life and even subtle differences in interpretation can make a huge difference to the end meaning and understanding. This interpreting guideline provides advice on the different circumstances and levels of interpreting. It offers an insight into the interpreting process and what skills interpreters need to have in order to be successful at it.


Interpreters working at the distinguished level have a thorough understanding of the languages they are interpreting from and to and consistently exceed the highest standards, seamlessly working between the two languages on a range of complex and specialist topics. They are very confident translating or interpreting in whatever situation they find themselves in.

They have an excellent understanding of the source language and can demonstrate an extremely high level of proficiency in both English and foreign language. They consistently produce high quality interpretations and are not affected by sudden changes in situations.

Distinguished speakers always render accurate interpretations and can preserve the style, tone and nuance of the speaker, even down to filler phrases such as “um” and “ah”. They also ensure the appropriate speed between languages is maintained and accurately reflect the speech patterns of the speaker e.g. allowing for pauses or breaks in sentences. If there is no equivalent word in the destination language they are able to find a suitable alternative or convey the necessary meaning.

They rarely make mistakes and continually assess their own performance so in the unlikely event of a mistake they are able to adjust accordingly. In short, their interpretation between two languages is extremely accurate.


Like distinguished interpreters those operating at superior level have an excellent command of the languages they speak. They are able to understand and interpret linguistically complex discourse and render a very accurate interpretation at all times. They operate regularly at distinguished level and have a thorough knowledge of specialised language though their performance is slightly less consistent than those at the distinguished level.

Superior interpreters are aware of speech patterns and word placement to ensure the rules of the target language are interpreted properly and they have a strong understanding of the two cultures involved and total comprehension of the source language.

They consistently render accurate translations and can convey the speaker’s register, style, tone and nuance very consistently. They are able to maintain speech patterns and allow for paralinguistic elements such as “um” and “ah”.

Like superior interpreters they are able to continually assess their own performance and make adjustments as and when necessary. They may make the occasional mistake but are able to correct it and it doesn’t detract from the interpretation or the meaning which they are trying to convey.


Advanced level interpreters have excellent interpreting skills as described in distinguished and superior levels but they may not be able to maintain them as consistently as those in the higher levels.

They have less understanding of the language than superior or distinguished interpreters but their level of understanding on a wide variety of topics, day-to-day situations and specialist subjects remains high. They can interpret on a range of issues and have good specialised knowledge and language, which can be used in complex interpretation situations.

Advanced High

Advanced high interpreters have a good understanding of the cultures of the two languages they are working with and total comprehension of the source language. The may occasionally make small slips in competence when interpreting but have mechanisms in place for dealing with this so meaning is not distorted or a wrong interpretation given.

They have a solid language structure which doesn’t impede their interpretation and have a wide vocabulary as well as a good level of specialised language. They are able to pick the right meanings for words and to accurately distinguish between subtle meanings.

Advanced high interpreters are able to deliver the information at the appropriate speed and tone and make smooth transitions between languages. They are able to convey paralinguistic elements like “um” and “ah” and convey pauses.

Where no direct word is available they are usually able to find a suitable equivalent and can identify speech patterns and word placement to ensure syntax in the target language is maintained.

Advanced Mid

Advanced mid interpreters have a good understanding and working knowledge of both languages. They are mostly familiar with target language patterns and are able to effectively interpret them. They can convey nuance, meaning and tone as well as pauses in speech and only make the occasional mistakes which do not affect the meaning of what is being said. They are able to distinguish between subtle meanings of words and generally pick the correct ones to be used.

Their language structure is solid and they are able to deliver information accurately as well as usually compensate for any small slips in competence.

Advanced Low

Advanced low interpreters have a good understanding of both languages and are generally able to interpret the languages accurately, though not always as consistently as at the higher levels. They may make the occasional error in meaning or syntax but are usually able to correct themselves.

They have a reasonable knowledge of specialised language and their language structure does not impede their interpretation. They can normally identify speech patterns and maintain syntax in the target language.


Intermediate interpreters will be operating at an advanced level and hold many of the requisite skills but they will be unable to maintain it and on occasions their performance will drop to that of intermediate. They will be able to competently render an interpretation but may make occasional errors or use the wrong word or meaning.

They have a reasonable knowledge of sentence structure and a good working knowledge of both languages but their specialised language knowledge is limited.

Intermediate High

Interpreters working at intermediate high level have many of the skills of advanced level interpreters but are unable to maintain them consistently.

The can generally render a fairly accurate interpretation but they sometimes use the wrong meaning or are unable to fully understand the material or what is being said. They may occasionally embellish or make up sentences and words and they can’t always convey nuances, tone and syntax accurately.

Rather than providing a complete interpretation they may occasionally paraphrase or summarise material.

Intermediate Mid

Interpreters operating at intermediate mid level will possess many of the qualities of advanced interpreters but will be unable to use them consistently.

They may struggle sometimes to fully understand the material to be interpreted and therefore may render an inaccurate or incomplete interpretation. They may have trouble keeping up with the speaker on occasion and they may overcorrect themselves sometimes or use inappropriate words or phrases.

They may offer up more literal translations rather than an accurate interpretation of the material at hand and they may make up words or sentences or embellish what is being said to compensate for lack of understanding.

Intermediate Low

Intermediate low interpreters possess some of the qualities of advanced level interpreters but are unable to use them consistently and struggle to render an accurate interpretation. They will often summarise or paraphrase rather than provide a complete interpretation and they may struggle to understand what is being said.

They will often pick the wrong meaning and some parts of the interpretation may be missed out altogether. Their speed of interpretation may be too slow and interfere the interpretation. They may be aware of mistakes they are making but are unable to correct them.


Novice level interpreters are able to understand simple phrases and key words but struggle to render a full and accurate interpretation. Their understanding of the language is impaired and therefore they are unable to interpret correctly or suitably convey meaning. They are not able to convey tone, nuance and speech patterns accurately which means they fail to interpret all of the message.

Novice High

Interpreters operating at novice high level with have a reasonable level of understanding of both languages but the breadth of their skills are not enough to render a full interpretation. They often have trouble keeping up with the speaker, overcorrect themselves and use long, inappropriate lengthy pauses.

They often embellish, make up words and phrases or leave out parts of the interpretation altogether. They are unable to monitor their own performance and make corrections as needed and their interpretation is confined to a more literal translation.

Novice Mid

Novice mid interpreters have some understanding of both languages but limited knowledge of complex, sentence structures and therefore an inability to understand what is being said. Their interpretation will be confined to literal translations with inappropriate use of language and a lack of appreciation of syntax.

They make embellish or make up words and phrases. They may also overuse certain words or use the wrong synonyms, rendering any interpretation inaccurate

Novice Low

A novice low interpreter has a limited understanding of the languages and is unable to render anything other than the most basic of interpretations. Any interpretation is confined to literal translation and they often miss out parts of the material altogether. They frequently embellish their interpretation or add in words that are not there as well as use the wrong synomyms. They have no appreciation of syntax and are unable to self-assess and correct their mistakes.

Language Proficiency Performance Description – Reading

The amount of information readers can gain from a text and the interferences and connections they are able to make is what the comprehension of reading is largely based on. The reading proficiency guidelines outline how readers understand text by describing the tasks that readers are able to perform with different types of texts under various different circumstances.  They do not explain how reading skills are developed, nor how one learns to read. It doesn’t describe the actual cognitive processes involved in reading, it merely talks about what readers are able to understand from what they read.

The guidelines are put in place for reading which is either interpretive, such as, books, reports, essays, etc. or Interpersonal, such as, instant messaging, email communication or texting, etc.

Accompanying the reading proficiency guidelines are authentic text samples and the functional tasks that are associated with each major level.


A wide variety of texts will be understood by the distinguished level reader. These include professional, technical, academic and literary texts. They are distinguished by either one or more of the following: precision or uniqueness of vocabulary, a high level of abstraction, cultural reference, density of information or complexity of structure. Readers are able to follow highly persuasive arguments as well comprehend implicit information, tones and point of view.

Distinguished level readers are able to understand writing which is aimed at specific audiences as well as a number of historical, regional and colloquial alterations of the language. The readers are able to respect and appreciate the complexity of the written language. Texts that use highly precise, low frequency vocabulary as well as complex structures to convey information are understood and appreciated by the distinguished level readers. These types of texts are normally of essay length but may be extracted from more lengthy texts.

Distinguished level readers are able to understand a writer’s use of nuance and subtlety as well as being able to comprehend language from within the cultural framework. They may still find it difficult to fully comprehend the varieties of written language.


Superior level readers are able to handle texts from various genres dealing with a wide range of topics, both familiar and unfamiliar. Understanding is no longer dependent on the reader’s knowledge of the subject matter, but depends on their command of the language which should be supported by broad vocabulary, understanding of complex structures and understanding of the target culture.

Texts that use precise, often specialised vocabulary and complex grammatical structures are easily understood by superior level readers. These texts contain argumentation, hypothesis, supported opinion and use formulations that are used in professional and academic reading. These types of texts generally contain cultural references.

Lengthy texts that are of a professional, academic or literary nature are understood by superior level readers. Readers at the superior level may find it difficult to understand texts in which cultural references and assumptions are used.



Readers at the advanced level can understand the idea behind supporting details of authentic narrative and descriptive texts. By their use of contextual clues, they are able to make up for their lack of lexical and structural knowledge. Likewise, comprehension is supported by conventions of the language (e.g. noun/adjective agreement, verb placement etc.). Advanced level readers are able to derive meaning from simple argumentative texts when familiar with the subject matter.

Texts that have a clear and predictable structure are understood by advanced level readers. The sequence is uncomplicated for the most part and the subject matter contains everyday issues.

Advanced level readers have sufficient control of standard linguistic conventions, enabling them to understand sequencing, time frames, and chronology. However, advanced level readers are likely to find texts in which issues are treated abstractly, challenging.

Advanced High

Conventional narrative and descriptive texts of any length are easily understood by readers of the advanced high sub level as well as more complex factual materials. Areas of interest or knowledge are where they are able to follow some of the essential points of argumentative texts. They are also able to understand texts and situations which deal with topics which may be unfamiliar to them. They are able to recognise the authors intended inferences by going beyond comprehension of facts in a text. Errors may be present when reading texts that are structurally and/or conceptually more complex.

Advanced Mid

Conventionally narrative and descriptive texts, such as descriptions of people, places, things, narrations about past, present and future events are understood by the advanced mid sublevel readers. Readers are able to predict what they are about to read due to the fact that these texts reflect the standard linguistic conventions of the written form. They understand the main points, facts and supporting details. Not only is comprehension obtained from situational and subject matter but also from the knowledge of the language. Texts that are structurally and/or conceptually more complex might be partially understood by readers of this level.

Advanced Low

Though their comprehension may be uneven, advanced low sublevel readers are able to understand conventional narrative and descriptive texts. These texts most often contain high-frequency vocabulary and structures. The main idea and supporting details are understood by the readers. Understanding might often come from situational and subject matter knowledge. Readers at this level to handle will find more complex texts challenging.


Simple, predictable, loosely connected texts are understood by readers at the intermediate level. Readers of this level are highly dependent on contextual clues. Texts which have a familiar format are understood better by this level reader.

Texts that convey basic information, such as announcements, notices, online bulletin boards and forums are easily understood by readers at the intermediate level. These sorts of texts are not difficult to understand and have an obvious pattern of presentation. The discourse is mainly organised in individual sentences and strings of sentences, mostly containing high levels of vocabulary.

Intermediate level readers can understand messages that can be found in familiar everyday situations. Texts that are detailed or those in which knowledge of language structure is essential for the comprehension of the text may not be understood by readers of this level.

Intermediate High

Intermediate high sub level readers are able to fully understand, short, non-complex texts that give simple information and those dealing with personal and social topics which the reader will have a genuine interest in, and knowledge of. Intermediate high level readers will be able to understand some texts that are connected, which feature description and narration. There will however be gaps in their understanding due to their lack in knowledge when it comes to vocabulary, structures and writing conventions of the language.

Intermediate Mid

Intermediate mid sub level readers are able to grasp short, simple texts which give basic information and discuss topics in which the reader will have a genuine interest in, although some confusion may still be apparent. Short connected texts featuring description and narration, which deal with familiar situations may give the reader of this level a better understanding of the topic.

Intermediate Low

Although there may be frequent misunderstandings, intermediate low sub level readers are able to understand some simple texts that deal with personal and social needs. Intermediate level readers will struggle to understand connected texts of any length.


Novice level readers are able to understand key words and cognates, along with formulaic phrases which are highly contextualised.

Topic or context that are familiar, such as a hotel bill, a credit card receipt or a weather map, will help the novice level reader obtain a limited amount of information. Novice level readers will be highly reliant on their own knowledge and extra linguistic support, such as the image of the weather map or the format of a credit card bill to fully comprehend the meaning.

Novice level readers are able to understand texts better when they are able to anticipate the information in the text. Comprehension is made possible when the novice level reader is able to recognise key words, cognates and formulaic phrases.

Novice high

Contextualised texts, formulaic phrases, cognates and key words are easily understood by readers of the novice high sub level reader. Where there is knowledge of vocabulary, they are able to understand predictable language and messages that can be found in train schedules, street signs and roadmaps. Basic information for which there is contextual or extra linguistic support, such as short, non-complex texts are typically understood by readers at the novice high sub level.

Novice mid

Readers are able to recognise letters and symbols associated with the alphabetic or syllabic writing system at the novice mid sub level. They are able to recognise a wide range of contextualised words and phrases which includes cognates and borrowed words and are only occasionally able to understand material that exceeds a single phrase. They often have the need to reread.

Novice low

A limited number of letters, symbols and characters are recognisable by the novice low sub level reader. They can sometimes understand high frequency words and/or phrases when firmly supported by context.

Language Proficiency Performance Description – Writing

These guidelines explain what writers are able to handle at each stage, as well as the content, context, accuracy and discourse types which are required with each writing task. It also states what the writer’s limits are when it comes to writing at the higher levels.

These guidelines can be applied to situations where a written text is either presentational, such as essays, reports, letters, personal messages, instant messages, texting, or communicating over email. They can be applied to writing which is spontaneous. This can be easily achieved, because the guidelines describe the product, rather than the purpose or process of writing.


Writers at the distinguished level are able to carry out various types of formal writing tasks, such as journal articles, official letters and position papers. They can write methodically on professional, academic and social issues. Distinguished level writers can address worldly issues in a highly articulate fashion.

Distinguished writers are able to use persuasive arguments and representational techniques, allowing them to put a view across which might not necessarily be their own. They can communicate in a very subtle way. The distinguished level of writing is quite sophisticated in nature and directed at the sophisticated reader. Writers of distinguished level are able to tailor their language to suit their audience.

Distinguished level of writing is quite dense and complex and characterised by an economy of expression. Crafted in a skilful and organised way, the writing reflects the target culture. Length is not the determining factor at the distinguished level. Text at the distinguished level can be as short as a poem or as long as an essay.

Distinguished level writers have a flair for writing in a complex, grammatical, syntactic and stylish manner. They use discourse structure and punctuation strategically, not only to organise meaning but also to enhance it. Their mode of writing is usually appropriate to the target culture.


Writers of the superior level are able to correspond in great detail on most types of formal and informal writing, and are able to produce in depth summaries, reports, and research papers on a variety of social, academic and professional topics. Their use of such issues goes beyond the concrete to the abstract.

Superior level writers are able to explain complex matters in great details and able to present and support opinions through arguments and hypotheses. Their clever use of structure, lexicon and writing protocols enhances the topic being written about. They are able to show the reader what is significant by prioritising and organising their ideas. They are consistently clear in their ideas, due to their organisational and development philosophy (e.g. cause and effect). These writers are able to write a series of paragraphs on their chosen topic and can extend to a number of pages if necessary.

Superior level writing is distinguished in its control of grammar and syntax, of specialised and professional vocabulary, spelling or symbol production, cohesive devices and punctuation. The vocabulary is varied and to the point. Superior level writers are able to speak to their audiences directly and their style of writing eases their readers’ task.

Writers of the superior level do not usually control target language, culture, organisational or stylistic patterns.  Superior level writers do not demonstrate a pattern of error, although they might make the occasional mistake, especially in low-frequency structures. These mistakes do not hinder with the comprehension of text, and very rarely do they distract the native reader.


Advanced level writers are characterised by their ability to correspond in formal and informal structures, as well as narratives, descriptions and factual summaries. They have the skill to write in past, present and future time frames and use paraphrasing when necessary to provide clarity. At the advanced level, writers have good control of the most frequently used structures and generic vocabulary, which allows those who are unaccustomed to the writing of non-natives to understand.

Advanced High

Writers of the advanced level are able to produce writing of great precision and detail. Being familiar with the appropriate conventions, they are able to handle both formal and informal correspondence. They are able to write summaries and reports of a factual nature. They are also able to write about subjects relating to their particular interest and certain areas of competence even though their writing usually emphasises the concrete aspects of such subjects. Advanced high writers are able to write in the main time frames effortlessly. They are able to handle certain superior level tasks, such as developing arguments and constructing theories, but are not able to sustain this throughout. They are however able to produce super-level writing consistently when treated abstractly or generally. They have a good understanding of grammatical structures and a reasonably wide range of vocabulary. They will often show remarkable ease of expression but cracks may appear when attempting to write at the superior level. Limitations in the advanced level writing abilities may occasionally distract the native reader from the message.

Advanced Mid

Advanced mid level writers are able to achieve a range of academic writing needs. They are capable of writing in all major time frames, and do so with good control. They are able to produce straightforward summaries on subjects of interest to them. They express their thoughts clearly and with some elaboration. This type of writing brings in organisational features of the target language and the writer’s own language and may at times sound like a fluent conversation rather than writing. Advanced mid-level writing is understood by natives who may not be used to the writing on a non-native. When asked to perform tasks or functions at the superior level, advanced mid-level writers will fail to produce writing of both quality and quantity.

Advanced Low

Writers at the advanced low sub level are able to produce basic work or cater to basic academic writing needs. They have the ability to write in the major time frames and with control to detail. They are able to produce simple essays on topics which they are familiar with. Advanced low level writers can combine sentences into texts and paragraph length structure. While being able to satisfy the criteria for the advanced level writer, it may still not be meaningful. Writers of the advanced low level are able to apply a number of cohesive devices to their writing, but may resort to awkward repetition. They rely heavily on patterns of communication and the writing style associated with their first language. They have shown little control of common structures and vocabulary connected to the advanced level. Their audience of natives not familiar with the writing of non-natives will find ease in dealing with their text. When trying to write at the superior level, their writing will decline significantly.


Intermediate level writers are known for their ability to write simple messages, letters, request information and notes. Additionally, they are able to ask and reply to simple questions in writing. Personal interest and social needs are topics which these writers can write about. They tend to write mostly in present time. Writers tend to use basic vocabulary at this level, as well as structures to express what they mean to be able to be understood by those accustomed to the writing of non-natives.

Intermediate High

Intermediate high sub level writers are able to manage all practical writing skills as that of the intermediate level. When writing about everyday events and situations, they are able to narrate and describe in different time frames. This type of descripted writing is often but not always of paragraph length, and they typically show some signs of a breakdown in one or more features of the advanced level. There may be a loss of clarity when using major time markers which shows the inconsistency of the intermediate high writer. The Intermediate high writer’s work, even with a number of significant errors, is normally comprehensible to natives not used to the writing of non-natives, but there are likely to be gaps in the understanding.

Intermediate mid

Writers of the intermediate mid sub level are able to cater to a number of practical writing needs. They can write short simple wordings, requests and compositions in loosely connected texts about personal topics, common events, daily routine and personal preferences. Although they mostly write in the present time frame, they may still contain other time frames. Their writing style is similar to that of oral discourse. Mid sub level writers show clear understanding of basic structure and verb forms. This type of writing is best described as discrete sentences and/or questions loosely put together. There is little show that there is any deliberate organisation. Natives used to the writing of non-natives can understand intermediate mid writers with ease.  Intermediate mid writers attempting to write at advanced level will usually find this a difficult task in which the quality and quantity of their work will decline and the message will be unclear.

Intermediate Low

Writers at the intermediate low sub level are able to manage some practical writing needs. They are able to formulate questions and create statements based on material they are familiar with. Recombination of learned vocabulary and structures is the essence of most of their sentences. Short conversational-style sentences are often based on a repetitive structure. The subject content is highly predictable, consisting of personal information. Elementary needs are expressed with adequate use of vocabulary. They can often be basic in grammar, punctuation, spelling, word choice and in the formation and in the use of non-alphabetic symbols. Natives used to the writing of natives can understand their writing, although some effort may be required. When attempting to perform at the advanced level, their writing will deteriorate dramatically and their message may be left incomplete.


Novice level writers are known for their skill in producing notes and lists, mainly by writing words and phrases. They can construct a limited amount of information on simple forms and documents. They can write simple material in order to convey the simplest of messages. Additionally, they can arrange words and phrases, copy letters of the alphabet or recreate basic disposition with some accuracy.

Novice High

Novice high sub level writers have limited basic practical writing skills and are able to write lists, short messages, postcards and simple notes. Relying mainly on practical materials, they are able to express themselves within the context of which language was learnt. Their writing is based on everyday life occurrences. They are able to create simple sentences on familiar subjects using learnt vocabulary and structures but are unable to carry this level of writing forward consistently. Their lack of vocabulary, and/or grammar, means writing at this level they may not be able to put forward their intentions. The writing of the novice high writer is digestible to natives who are familiar with the work of the non-native writer, but there may often be gaps in their understanding.

Novice Mid

Novice mid writers can recreate writing from memory, using a few words and phrases. They can give simple information on forms and documents, other biographical information, such as names, numbers and nationality. A high degree of accuracy is achieved when writing on well-practised familiar subjects, with the use of formulaic language.  With topics of little familiarity, their accuracy can decline. Spelling error and error in symbols may be frequent. There is not a lot of evidence on functional writing skills. The writing may be difficult to read at this level, even by natives used to the writing on non-natives.

Novice Low

Novice low sub level writers are able to recreate and arrange familiar words or phrases, arrange letters in an alphabetic fashion. Given enough time and familiar subjects, they can reproduce a range of isolated words and familiar words from memory, but errors will be apparent.