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  • DIALANG: A Diagnostic Language Assessment System.
  • Su Zhang and Nancy Thompson

DIALANG is a diagnostic language assessment system that offers tests of different language skills in 14 European languages by integrating self-assessments and external assessments. It is computer-based, delivered via the Internet, and can be downloaded free of charge. The purpose of the DIALANG assessment system is to provide users with diagnostic information about their language proficiency, which will help them become aware of their strengths and weaknesses and find ways to develop their language skills. It offers separate assessments in reading, writing, listening, grammatical structures, and vocabulary. The 14 languages featured include the 11 European Union official languages - Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, and Swedish - as well as Irish, Icelandic, and Norwegian.

DIALANG's target group is teenagers and adults who wish to have their foreign language skills diagnosed and evaluated, independent of any formal education system. Specifically, according to DIALANG - Project & System (2000, ¶7), the DIALANG assessment system will be 'immensely useful for all European citizens who want to obtain reliable information about their proficiency in any of the 14 languages.' It may also be of interest to teachers, as an instrument for placement purposes, and to organizations, as a tool for promoting language proficiency among staff. The current version of DIALANG provides tests at three difficulty levels - 'easy,' 'intermediate,' and 'difficult' - allowing learners of different proficiency levels to use the assessment system.

The DIALANG assessment procedure is as follows:

  1. 1. First, the user chooses the language of instructions and feedback; this should be the user's L1 or a language that he or she knows very well.

  2. 2. Then the user chooses the language and the particular skill in which he or she wants to be tested. Before starting the actual language skill test, the user will be given a vocabulary size placement test, in which a collection of 'words' - real and invented verbs - are presented. The user decides whether each 'word' exists in the language being tested. By estimating the user's vocabulary size, DIALANG obtains an indication of the appropriate proficiency level and thus determines which level of test to present. The user will get feedback from taking the placement test. There is only one placement test for any given language. [End Page 290]

  3. 3. If the user chooses a test in listening, writing, or reading, a self-assessment questionnaire is then administered. The results of the questionnaire will help determine the level of the test to be given and will be compared with the user's test results to see whether the self-assessment is realistic. There is only one self-assessment questionnaire for each skill. If a test in grammatical structures or vocabulary is chosen, the system proceeds directly to the next step.

  4. 4. The user will be presented with a test at an appropriate level of difficulty (i.e., easy, intermediate, or difficult) in the chosen skill. There are 30 items in each test. At the present stage, the test methods are limited; only various forms of multiple-choice, gap-filling (cloze), and short-answer questions are available. For each test, the user can choose to receive either immediate or delayed feedback. Throughout the assessment process, the user has the option of skipping the placement test or the self-assessment questionnaire or of exiting a test.

  5. 5. After completing a test in grammatical structures or vocabulary, the user will receive feedback regarding his or her level in the chosen skill on the Common European Framework scale (A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, or C2: A is the basic user level, B independent, and C proficient) and regarding what people can typically do with the language at that proficiency level. Users can also check their answers. If a test is completed in listening, writing, or reading, besides receiving the above feedback, the user will also be informed whether his or her self-assessment in that skill matches the test results and, if there is a mismatch, of possible reasons for this. The user will be provided with information about what typical learners at the different levels can do in the...


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pp. 290-293
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