Student Guide to Improving Language Proficiency

Writing and Speaking

The following tables outline general skills or abilities at each level and suggest actions that will help you attain higher levels.

Novice Low – STAMP Level 1

At this level, I am able to create individual words that have no extended meaning. I can share some simple vocabulary, which deals with the prompt/task/situation, but I tend to struggle to connect those words to create meaning.

Do these things to Power Up to Novice-Mid

Text Type (Novice-Mid) Phrases:

  • Work on increasing vocabulary, including verbs that cover a variety of topics that are at the Novice level. These are topics that you generally experience each day in your every-day life: self, home, friends, school, weather, clothing, food, time, pets/animals, etc...

  • Try to connect words to create complete thoughts and generate simple sentences where possible.

Functions/Structures (Grammar):

  • Increase vocabulary connections to verbs. This helps to create more meaning in language production

Novice Mid - STAMP Level 2

At this level, I am beginning to develop the ability to create meaning by grammatically connecting words. Specifically, I can connect some basic subjects and verbs or verbs and objects, but I may be inconsistent at doing this. I am often limited in my vocabulary to Novice level topics that I experience in my every-day life or that I have recently learned.

Do these things to Power Up to Novice-High

Text Type (Novice-High) Simple Sentences:

  • Work on connecting words that create very simple sentences.

  • Focus on creating simple meaning with the use of different verbs that deal with a wider variety of topics or that address different aspects of a task.

  • Try to re-create and reorganize simple sentences using your own language.

Functions/Structures (Grammar):

  • Know what it means to create a simple sentence. (What is a subject? What is a verb? What is an object? Learn these terms and know why these terms are important.)


  • Don’t be afraid of making errors! Focus on the meaning you wish to convey in your sentences and give all of the language that you can. Accuracy will increase naturally as you move into the next level.

Novice High - STAMP Level 3

At this level, I can create simple sentences with very basic grammatical control and accuracy. There are often errors in my responses, while at the same time I might have good control with some very simple structures and functions of the language that I have just learned or studied. At the Novice levels, errors are expected as I try to create simple sentences. Generally, the sentences that I am able to create are very basic and simple with few, if any, added details.

Do these things to Power Up to Intermediate-Low

Text Type (Intermediate-Low) Strings of Sentences:

  • Work on increasing the amount of language you add to each sentence to create greater depth of meaning and begin to string sentences together.

  • Expand vocabulary beyond your every-day life to topics like: travel, occupations, health, shopping, local community etc...

Functions/Structures (Grammar):

  • Understand what constitutes Added Detail (details that add depth and clarity to the language: descriptive words, prepositional phrases, basic use of helping verbs, adverbs and more specific vocabulary...yes, learning these terms is important.)


  • Understand how different forms of Added Detail can help create a bigger picture.

  • Don’t be afraid of making errors! Use all of the language that you can to create more detail in your writing and speaking.

Intermediate Low - STAMP Level 4

At this level, I can create simple sentences with some added detail; such sentences help create VARIETY. At the Intermediate Low level, simple sentences are enhanced by use of prepositional phrases, helping verb usage, as well as some adverbs and a variety of adjectives. I generally create independent sentences (ideas) that can be moved around without affecting the overall meaning of the response. There are still a number of errors in my response, but I have fairly good control of more basic sentences. I am feeling more confident in using different structures and expanding vocabulary and taking more risks with my responses.

Do these things to Power Up to Intermediate-Mid

Text Type (Intermediate-Mid) Connected Sentences basic:

  • Increase the amount of language you use to address different aspects of the prompt, which helps create groupings of ideas which helps increase connectedness.

  • Continue to increase use of extended and expanding vocabulary with less common topics.

Functions/Structures (Grammar):

  • Strive to use different forms of and Added Detail, creating greater clarity and richness in your sentences.

  • Try to add elements of complexity to your sentence structures. There are many ways you can add complexity! Use of other tense forms that are beyond the simple ‘present tense”. Also, consider how you can create longer sentences, which demonstrate complex structures. Increase your use of dependent and independent clauses - not just compound sentences using ‘and’, ‘but’ or ‘because’.


  • Make a point to speak or write every day using the new vocabulary intermixed with what you are more confident about. The more you use the new vocabulary, the more natural it will become for you.

  • Don’t be afraid of making errors! (Yes, this is a constant reminder. Errors show that you are stretching and trying new things at this level.)

Intermediate Mid - STAMP Level 5

At this level, I can now create enough language to show groupings of ideas. My thoughts are loosely connected and cannot be moved around without affecting meaning. I can also create a few sentences with complexity and am able to use some transition words. I am also able to use more than just simple present tense, but often make mistakes when I try to use other tenses. My vocabulary use is expanding and I am able to use more than the usual, high frequency or most common vocabulary. I feel that I am able to create new language on my own and communicate my everyday needs without too much difficulty.

Do these things to Power Up to Intermediate-High

Text Type (Intermediate-High) Connected Sentences:

  • Continue to work on increasing vocabulary breadth and variety.

  • Increase use of complex structures in your response including, but not limited to dependent clauses.

  • Focus on creating connections throughout your writing and speaking responses. This will generate a natural flow from beginning, to middle, to end and will bring your ideas together.

  • Strive to include as many details and descriptive language as possible to create a clear picture of the situation that you are writing or speaking about.

  • Use a variety of transitional words and phrases and use them more often to link and connect your thoughts and ideas.

Functions/Structures (Grammar):

  • Use a greater variety of sentence lengths and types.

  • Use more transition words and phrases to help increase connectedness throughout the response.

  • Increase your use of a variety of verb tenses. Be aware of the variety of conjugations used as well as how you develop the ability to switch from one time frame to the next with increased accuracy.


  • Don’t be afraid of making errors with new structures. However, at this level, errors should begin to diminish with most basic time frames.

Can Do Statements

In order to get a sense of where your level is, you can use this quick self-evaluation to showcase what you are currently able to do and help direct you to move to higher levels.

Directions: Read each Can Do Statement and place a check in the column titled “My Level” that best identifies your ability with that mode and domain. You may want to write the date of this evaluation and do this again in several months to monitor growth in these areas.

Interpretive Mode - LISTENING (Understanding Spoken Language)

ACTFL Level My Level Can Do Statements
Novice-Low I can understand only a few clearly spoken words.
Novice-Mid I can understand familiar names, words, and very basic phrases concerning my family, my immediate surroundings, and myself when people speak slowly and clearly.
Novice-High I can understand many phrases and commonly used vocabulary related to areas of personal relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local area, school etc.). I can catch the main point in short, clear, simple messages and announcements.
Intermediate-Low I can understand very basic sentences with topics surrounding my immediate surroundings like home, school and friends when the language is clear and slow. I can catch the main point in short, clear, simple messages and announcements.
Intermediate-Mid I can understand some main points in a conversation on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc. I can understand some main points of many radio or TV programs on current affairs or topics of high interest when the delivery is relatively slow and clear.
Intermediate-High I can understand some extended speech and discussions and follow more complex lines of argument provided the topic is reasonably familiar. I can understand most TV news and current affairs programs. I can understand the majority of films in standard language.
Advanced-Low I can understand extended speech even when it is not clearly structured and when relationships are only implied and not signaled explicitly. I can understand most television programs and films without too much effort.

Interpretive Mode – READING (Understanding Written Language)

ACTFL Level My Level Can Do Statements
Novice-Low I can understand only a few very common words.
Novice-Mid I can understand some familiar names, words, and very simple phrases, for example on notes, memos, emails, posters or in catalogs.
Novice-High I can read very short, simple, sentence length texts. I can find specific, predictable information in simple everyday material such as advertisements, menus, and schedules and I can understand some short simple personal notes and email greetings.
Intermediate-Low I can understand very basic strings of sentences with topics surrounding my immediate surroundings like home, school and friends. I can catch the main points in short, non- complicated, emails, letters, advertisements, announcements and some short stories.
Intermediate-Mid I can understand most main points in texts regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc. I can understand the main points of most daily news stories and magazine articles with areas/topics where I have an interest or some experience.
Intermediate-High I can read longer texts like short stories and simple novels and understand most of the main ideas. I am able to guess meaning of many new words from context.
Advanced-Low I can read articles and reports concerned with contemporary problems in which the writers adopt particular attitudes or viewpoints. I can understand contemporary literary prose. I can understand specialized articles and longer technical instructions.

Interpersonal Mode – SPEAKING (Speaking with another person)

ACTFL Level My Level Can Do Statements
Novice-Low I can say only a few common words or set phrases, like: hello, goodbye, my name is, etc.
Novice-Mid I can interact in a simple way provided the other person is prepared to repeat or rephrase things at a slower rate of speech and help me formulate what I am trying to say. I can answer simple questions about my immediate surroundings using some simple phrases.
Novice-High I can communicate about routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar topics and activities. I can handle very short social exchanges, even though I cannot usually understand enough to keep the conversation going myself beyond basic memorized exchanges.
Intermediate-Low I can communicate in some unstructured exchanges of information on familiar topics and activities. I can easily handle short social exchanges and keep the conversation going by asking and responding to basic questions.
Intermediate-Mid I can deal with most situations likely to arise when traveling in an area where the language is spoken. I can enter unprepared into conversations on topics that are very familiar, of personal interest, or pertinent to everyday life (e.g. family, school, hobbies, work, travel and current events).
Intermediate-High I can interact with an increasing degree of fluency that makes regular interaction with native speakers possible even though I still need some help formulating more complex thoughts. I can use circumlocution to express ideas with some effort. I can take an active part in discussions in familiar contexts.
Advanced-Low I can express myself fluently and spontaneously without obviously searching for expressions. I can use language flexibly and effectively for most social and academic purposes. I can formulate ideas and opinions and relate my contribution skillfully to other speakers.

Presentational Mode – SPEAKING (Speaking to another person or audience)

ACTFL Level My Level Can Do Statements
Novice-Low I can say only a few common words or set phrases.
Novice-Mid I can use simple words and phrases to describe myself, where I live and other basic language about my immediate environment.
Novice-High I can use a series of learned phrases and basic sentences to describe my family and other people, my immediate surroundings and general weather conditions. I am also able to state simple likes and interests associated with food, beverages and personal interests.
Intermediate-Low I can use a series of basic sentences to describe themes and topics connected with my every-day life experience. I am also able to formulate more extended questions and use more details in my language.
Intermediate-Mid I can connect sentences in a simple way in order to describe experiences and events, my dreams, hopes and ambitions. I can briefly give basic reasons and explanations and I can narrate a short story or relate the plot of a short story or summarize a simple news report.
Intermediate-High I can present clear, detailed descriptions on a wide range of subjects. I can explain a process on a topic or event that I am very familiar with and include extended details. I can link main ideas together using basic transition or linking words.
Advanced-Low I can present clear, detailed descriptions of complex subjects integrating sub-themes, developing particular points and formulating an appropriate conclusion. I can present a clear, smoothly flowing description or argument in a style appropriate to the context with an effective logical structure which helps the recipient notice and remember significant points.

Presentational Mode – Writing (Writing to another person or audience)

ACTFL Level My Level Can Do Statements
Novice-Low I can write only a few common words or set phrases or copy a few characters.
Novice-Mid I can write a few short, simple phrases. I can fill in forms with personal details, for example entering my name, nationality and address on a hotel registration form. I can write a few characters in a character-based language.
Novice-High I can write a few short and simple sentences about those things most familiar to me. These sentences have little or no added detail and follow very formulaic structures. Spelling and grammar errors occur often. I can write several characters in a character-based language related with the most frequently used characters or vocabulary.
Intermediate-Low I can write series of basic sentences to describe themes and topics connected with my every-day life experience. I am also able to formulate more extended questions and use more details. Errors in spelling and usage are common in my writing. I can write many characters in a character-based language, using keyboard input skills to assist in the writing process.
Intermediate-Mid I can connect sentences in a simple way in order to describe experiences and events in my everyday life at home, school and in my community. I can give basic reasons and explanations as I write more extended emails and personal notes. Character-based languages can accomplish the same tasks, using keyboard input processes to assist in completing the task.
Intermediate-High I can write clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects related to my interests. I can write a basic single paragraph essay or report that conveys information. I can write letters highlighting the personal significance of events and experiences in my life. Character- based languages can accomplish the same tasks, using keyboard input processes to assist in completing the task.
Advanced-Low I can express myself in clear, well-structured text, expressing points of view at some length. I can write about complex subjects in a letter, an essay or a report, underlining what I consider to be the key issues. I can select a style appropriate to the reader in mind. Character-based languages can accomplish the same tasks, using keyboard input processes to assist in completing the task.

Teacher Guide to Improving Language Proficiency in the Classroom

Reading and Listening

Reading and Listening behave a bit differently from the Writing and Speaking domains when it comes to what a learner can do to improve or Power Up with these skills. Often referred to as the “Black Box” skills (not easily observed), these comprehension based domains require more exposure to written and spoken material along with application of specific strategies to aid in expanding comprehension (increase ability). While text type (text length and genre) and language complexity do play a role in comprehension, it is often more about how well the reader or listener can “guess” meaning from what they are able to extract from the chunks of language that they encounter. Unlike the productive skills, where application of specific structures and verb conjugations are clear indicators of higher levels of writing and speaking ability, receptive skills require much more language processing and “critical thinking” to determine what the author intended in their message, with even small chunks of language. Creating with the language (writing and speaking) allows the writer or speaker full control over the language that they can use/produce and is easy to observe and measure. Comprehension, on the other hand, is much more internal to the reader/listener and there are limited ways to check understanding, making clear levels of ability more difficult to identify and assign without some formal means of evaluation or comprehension checking.

Therefore, our approach in addressing these challenge areas is to share the core skills that are required to accomplish these critical comprehension tasks and give several strategies that can be used to increase ability with these domains on a consistent manner across all levels. The most critical take away from this is that it is necessary to teach both reading and listening in direct ways, showing how to apply strategies (modeling) that will aid in achieving higher levels of comprehension. Another critical point to consider is the amount of exposure that learners need to have with realia-based written material and audio samples, which simulate what happens in the every-day world around any given learner. In the following tables, we have outlined critical definitions of what each skill really entails and have included several strategies that learners should use to help increase skill and ability with these domains. You can share this information with the students as you feel it will be helpful for them.

General Guidelines and Teaching Strategies

1. Make it a point to include on-demand comprehension activities with both written and spoken passages/audio of realiabased reading and listening tasks on a (more) regular basis.

2. Model, Model, Model. Take time to model what good readers and good listeners do. This will allow you to teach strategies, rather than just rote memorization of vocabulary and structures.

3. Teach learners the power of metacognition and why it will help them retain learning better.

  • Think aloud protocol (TAP): learners talk about what they know and don’t know as they engage in comprehension based activities. In this sharing, they come to recognize natural strategies that are used to facilitate and assist in comprehension.

  • Word mapping: learners can generate word maps that will build connections with previously learned and new vocabulary and expand their depth and breadth of vocabulary.

  • Research other metacognition strategies and implement those with your students.

4. Assess reading and listening on a regular basis:

  • Comprehension check: Ask questions that address the critical details of the text addressing: who, what, where, when, why, and how type questions.

  • Have learners write summaries of what they have read or heard. Simple lists of details are fine for lower levels and this can be done in either English for lower level learners or in the target language for students at higher levels.


The following table outlines general skills or abilities with Reading and suggests actions that will help attain higher levels.

What is Reading?

Reading is a skill-based activity that requires the ability to:

  • SKIM (quick observation of the text to look for known vocabulary, general topics and formatting/organization of the text)

  • SCAN (looking for some specific details inside of the text, answering who, what, when, where, why and how, and using contextual clues)

  • Read for Deeper Comprehension (understanding main ideas, points of view, author’s purpose and direct facts in the text. Generally, able to comprehend at least 70% of the text or above – “Lexile approach”)

  • Apply Critical Thinking (reading between the lines and making inferences, based on author’s implied meaning)

Reading is NOT decoding or translation. Translation is a much more complex and complicated task. Do not translate word for word, but rather, use the skills listed above to initially interact with the texts and identify all that you already know.

Strategies for Improving Reading Skills

  • Reading is NOT a passive activity. Always read with a purpose or specific focus in mind.

  • In tests like the STAMP test, read the context and the questions FIRST and then skim and scan the text to locate the answer.

  • Build meaning on what you KNOW in the text and let that knowledge direct your understanding.

  • Guess the meaning or answer from what you KNOW. It is ok to guess when it comes to reading. We call this “educated guessing” because it is based on those things that you do know from the text and helps to give meaning to those things that you do not feel that you know for sure in the text.

  • Slow down and think about the context and consider the types of things that you might encounter in that context. For example, if you see a context that states, “An advertisement in a newspaper,” you should consider the types of advertisements that might be found in a newspaper. This focus will allow you to activate specific vocabulary/topics in your mind and be better prepared for the text.


The following table outlines general skills or abilities with Listening and suggests actions that will help attain higher levels.

What is Listening?

Listening is a skill based activity that requires the ability to:

  • Hear input stimulus (audible sound/language)

  • Identify sounds in terms of words, phrases and sentences or in other words “Language”

  • Comprehend the language spoken or presented

*Listening is usually the strongest skill for immersion students and the weakest skill for traditional language learning students due to exposure to extended listening passages or tasks.

Strategies for Improving Listening Skills

  • Listening requires focus and attention.

  • Listening requires much practice to be able to differentiate word boundaries and deal with different accents and pronunciation elements.

  • In tests like the STAMP test, read the context and the questions FIRST and then listen for the specific answer. You are able to listen to the audio sample two times in the test.

  • Practice eavesdropping (listening to spoken language live or via media.) Take notes on what you do know compared to what you do not know as you ‘eavesdrop’. Select specific vocabulary to study and use in your own language or teach someone else the things you learned.

The elements that make listening difficult, and that you MAY be able to control are:

Rate of Speech – asking someone to slow down when speaking may help you better focus on word boundaries and assist in understanding.

Background Noise – eliminating background noises or distractions will help. If you are in a loud environment move to a more quiet location or ask for music or other sounds to be minimized.

Repetition – asking someone to repeat something will allow you one more opportunity to listen for specific details. However, if you ask them to repeat something more than one time, the speaker may change what they are saying to make it “easier,” when in reality it has now complicated things because they are adding new information. Also, be specific in your request and let them know that you did not understand a specific word or section rather than having them repeat the entire statement. This lets them know where the problem was for you and they can then just deliver that word or section.

The Avant STAMP Scoring Rubric

Benchmark Level Text Type Characteristics Language Control
Produces words in target language with no connection. Does not have enough vocabulary or the ability necessary to formulate even simple phrases to address the prompt. Limited language control. Inability to create more than individual words. L1 (first language) influence may be strong. Errors are expected at this level, but the student must be able to produce at least two comprehensible words.
Language production is beyond individual words but clearly shows the lack of ability to construct more than phrases. May include one simple sentence, but incapable of showing more. May make frequent errors, but usually comprehensible to a sympathetic reader/listener. L1 (first language) influence may be present.
Short, common expressions or memorized statements that may be combined together. Able to create at least 2 different simple sentences. Good accuracy for high frequency expressions. Usually comprehensible to a sympathetic reader/listener. Grammatical (syntax, spelling, conjugation) errors are expected at this level but sentences must make sense to be acceptable.
Variety of sentences that utilize different verbs to create independent thoughts, mostly composed of a recombination of learned simple sentences with added detail in the form or prepositional phrases and verbal phrases. Good accuracy with formulaic sentences with some added detail. Errors may occur as student attempts higher level skills. Good Language Control is expected with the majority of the response.
Logical organization of ideas and flow of sentences or statements. Contains at least 2 unique and non-formulaic sentences intermixed with a variety of sentences creating ‘groupings of sentences showing connectedness. Good accuracy evident with possible errors that don’t affect the overall meaning. Delivery may be somewhat choppy. May have repetitive use of concrete vocabulary with occasional use of expanding terms. Accuracy for complex sentences is emerging.
Able to demonstrate an Intermediate-High control of the language. Complexity is evident. Transition words and connectors are used correctly and efficiently a majority of the time to create a flow within the response. Groups of sentences focus on different aspects of the prompt and include transition words or phrases to introduce next concept. Does not have Advanced vocabulary or language to move into the Advanced level. Response is well written and constructed. Intermediate-High sentence structures can be found throughout response. Demonstrates beginning ability to create a coherent response with increased use of complexity as well as transition words and phrases. No evidence of advanced vocabulary.
A paragraph response with advanced language with complexity, syntactical and grammatical control transitional words and phrases found within the text creating a natural flow. Demonstrates a connection of thoughts that create a coherent and extended discourse. Language is error-free a majority of the time with familiar topics. If errors exist, they are patterned and do not hinder overall meaning. Delivery is mostly fluent with only occasional hesitancy. Some abstract and precise use of vocabulary and terms with familiar topics is evident.
Variety of cohesive devices and organizational patterns are evident throughout response. Vocabulary is clear, specific and natural. Language is smooth and native-like in delivery and without noticeable errors. Language is presented with limited errors, if any. Ability to create complex language using precise and extensive vocabulary. Control of the abstract as well as ease of use in idiomatic phrases and concepts. Clear sequential ordering evident (if required) and accurately follows target language conventions.