This brief review of the DIALANG assessment system is in two parts. The first provides an overview of the development of DIALANG, how someone can use it, and what results of the assessment mean. The second considers my experience when I assessed my listening abilities in three languages in which I have varying proficiency.
What is DIALANG?
DIALANG is a blend of two words: diagnostic and language. Simply put, it is a diagnostic assessment of one of 14 languages. It is a Web-based system of assessment to evaluate 14 different languages in the European Union: Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Icelandic, Irish, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish, and Swedish. DIALANG is financially supported by the European Commission, Directorate General Education and Culture, under the SOCRATES Programme, LINGUA Action D (Alderson, 2005).
DIALANG's intended audience is 'all European citizens who want to obtain reliable information about their proficiency in any of the 14 languages. It will be particularly useful for people who have learnt languages outside of formal education' (DIALANG, 2002). While no reference to the European Language Portfolio was found on the DIALANG website, DIALANG's combination of diagnostic and self-evaluation [End Page 233] assessment and its use of the Common European Framework (CEF) scales — along with its purpose of being an assessment vehicle for those who have learned languages — informally draws a connection between the two. The European Language Portfolio, 'by recording learning experiences of all kinds over a wide range of languages, much of which would be unattested or unrecognized' (Council of Europe, 2001, p. 20) would nicely complement the diagnostic and self-evaluative nature of DIALANG.
DIALANG uses self-assessment statements and diagnostic scales to evaluate an individual's proficiency level. The initial step of the evaluation involves taking the Vocabulary Size Placement Test (VSPT), which is scored on a scale of 1 to 100. This test — together with 18 self-assessment statements for the skills of reading, writing, and listening — forms the basis upon which a user is given one of three levels of test. In this sense, then, the system is test-adaptive but is not yet item-adaptive (Alderson & Huhta, 2005). If users choose not to take any of the self-assessment procedures, they are automatically given the intermediate level test, thereby more or less negating the benefits of using the self-assessment. Alderson and Huhta comment that the VSPT is weighted more heavily when the system decides which test to give the user, because the VSPT appears to be the more reliable predictor of a person's language proficiency.
The self-assessment statements were developed from the Common European Framework of Reference (2001). These statements were formatted for self-assessment by changing 'Can do' statements into 'I can' statements. The diagnostic scales are also based on the CEF's six-band scale that ranges from A1 for a beginner to C2 for an advanced, almost native-like proficiency learner. A concise version of the scales is available to a learner when receiving test results. An elaborated, descriptive version is available to the user who seeks advisory feedback (Council of Europe, 2001).
Upon going to the website www.dialang.org and downloading DIALANG, a user is able to proceed with an overall assessment. A user chooses the language of administration of the test as well as the test and skill area (of reading, writing, listening, grammar, and vocabulary) to assess first. Then the user chooses whether to take the VSPT and self-evaluation questionnaire before proceeding to the diagnostic test itself. All told, the test involves some 30,000 items, most of which have undergone intense scrutiny by expert judges and raters across 14 languages (Alderson & Huhta, 2005).
Once the test is completed, results are provided for all sections of the evaluation that were completed. Users are given a score out [End Page 234] of 100 on the VSPT (not linked to the CEF) (Alderson & Huhta, 2005) as well as an indication of where their self-evaluation ranked them on the DIALANG's diagnostic scales and where their test results placed them. At this point in the assessment, users can spend more time...