What type of reading should be on a modern language test?

For me, the purpose of a modern language course  is to teach the modern language so students can use it. Therefore, I become confused when I see a test in which students read a modern language passage  and then have to answer questions about it  in English. I used that type of testing when I took Latin over 50 years ago. I hope that modern language methodology has changed since then. That  type of testing is a translation testing. That type of testing raises some questions:
– Why is it more important for the students to translate than for them to use the modern language?
– Cannot we teach them  reading techniques to be able to read and answer in the modern language?
– Why are we giving them a reading exercise that is harder than reading in the modern language?  If they are answering questions in the modern language, they can look for the same or similar words in the passage to find the answer.  If they are working in English, they have to translate the words into Spanish to find the answer.

I teach my students three simple techniques that allow them to successfully read in the modern language:
1) Answer the question word. If the question word asks “How many…?, they look for a number.
2)  Look for the answers in the passage in order.  First find the answer to question one, then look for the answer to question, etc.  If students know that the answer to question four follows the answer to question three, they can logically find the answer.
3) Look for the same words or similar words  in the question and in the passage.  The writer may use a synonym such as  boy for youth. If the question asks, “When did he eat the hamburger?”, the reader can look for these words in the passage and, probably, if there are two or more of those words, find  the answer.

With these techniques, they can answer literal or factual questions very successfully. With more practice, they can answer higher level reading such as inference and interpretation with the language.

Let’s move to in-language  reading testing instead of  translation reading. Let’s show our students that we believe they can read and understand in the modern language.

My Spanish spontaneous speaking activities (25+) includes Modified Speed Dating (Students ask partner a question from a card-whole class), Structured Speaking (Students substitute in or select words to communicate in pairs), Role Playing (Students talk as people in pictures or drawings from 2-4 people), Speaking Mats (Can talk using a wide variety of nouns, verbs and adjectives to express their ideas- pairs or small group), Spontaneous Speaking (based on visuals or topics in pairs), and Grammar speaking games (pairs or small group). Available for a nominal fee at Teacherspayteachers: http://bit.ly/tpthtuttle. I have a series of modern language visual stories (the beach, the city, school, etc.) for two students to role play; the restaurant role play involves four students. Can use in any language since there are just visuals, no words.

My book, Improving Foreign Language Speaking Through Formative Assessment, and my book, Formative Assessment, Responding to Students, are available at http://is.gd/tbook


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s