The oral proficiency interview in the workplace: The testing and training of heritage advanced speakers of Spanish

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Arts (DA)


Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics


Harold Jones


Oral Proficiency Interview ("OPI") , oral proficiency, training of heritage advanced speakers of Spanish

Subject Categories

Communication | Educational Assessment, Evaluation, and Research | Reading and Language | Spanish Linguistics | Speech and Rhetorical Studies


Since the publication of the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines for Speaking in 1986, the Oral Proficiency Interview ("OPI") has been widely used within the academic community as an organizing principle for curricular planning, to measure student progress, and to establish entrance and graduation requirements. In 1991, the "OPI" was first used in the commercial world as a tool for assessing the linguistic skills of employees who conduct business in more than one language. The level of required proficiency depended upon the job description.

The oral proficiency testing of hundreds of Spanish-English bilinguals, most of them "heritage speakers" of Spanish, reveals that approximately 50% of these speakers are at the Advanced level of speaking proficiency in Spanish. However, task analyses of the positions which they seek establish Advanced high (functions at the Superior level more than 50% of the time) as the minimal level acceptable for the job. This project addresses the issue of raising the oral proficiency level of "heritage speakers" of Spanish from the Advanced (limited working proficiency) to the Advanced high level.

"Proficiency II Spanish Course for Advanced Speakers" is designed to meet the specific needs of one financial company, Household International, seeking to expand its services into the Spanish-speaking markets of the United States. This program uses the functions of the Superior level as the organizing principle. It is self-paced and tutor supported in order to adjust to the time constraints of full-time working professionals. The program recognizes the linguistic strengths of Advanced "heritage speakers" of Spanish and provides opportunities to gain functional competency at the Superior level.

The student is introduced to formal contexts and content areas through listening and reading activities. The vocabulary and discourse of the Superior level are modeled and the complex linguistic structures of the Superior level are explained and practiced. Special attention is given to the cultural aspects of doing business within the Spanish speaking community. There are periodic check-points throughout the program which allow the student to be evaluated on individual Superior level functions prior to the final "OPI".

The results of the "Proficiency II Spanish Course for Advanced Speakers" were encouraging. All participants gained some functional ability in Spanish. The majority succeeded in obtaining the Advanced high rating necessary for their positions within a six month period. The success of this training program has direct implications for the academic community which continues to seek appropriate instructional programs for "heritage speakers" of Spanish who study Spanish in schools and universities.


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