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Spotlight on Assessment: Sociolinguistic Literacy

some English Language Teaching (ELT) professionals still associate a noticeable L1 accent with an inability to communicate effectively.

I remember reading a rubric scale for oral assessment recently that included the following descriptor: “The speaker has a noticeable L1 accent, which hinders communication” (or something like that). It made me realise that despite the extensive discussions on what constitutes high language proficiency, some English Language Teaching (ELT) professionals still associate a noticeable L1 accent with an inability to communicate effectively. Is this perspective different nowadays? I have always believed that our accent is an integral part of our identity, and embracing our identity in any additional language we speak is essential for fostering a sense of ownership towards that language. That is why Victor Carreão’s session on “Sociolinguistics as an Ally to Language Assessment Literacy”, delivered at the New Directions LATAM 2023 conference last May, left a huge impression on me. In a conference focused on assessment, this is a topic that should never be overlooked.

Regarding the assessment of oral production and pronunciation, certain language varieties continue to be favoured over others. Carreão encouraged the audience to reflect on the factors that contribute to favoring a particular variety, taking into account geographical and social factors. The speaker emphasised the key concept of intelligibility, which plays a paramount role in pronunciation. However, how does one determine the factors that contribute to intelligibility?

The English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) core (based on data collected by Jenkins, 2000) identified key characteristics, such as the preservation of most consonant clusters, and vowel length especially before voiced or unvoiced consonants. Interestingly, areas that ELT often emphasises in pronunciation, such as word stress or tone, did not appear to be crucial for intelligibility in an ELF context according to Jenkins’ data.

Towards the end of his talk, Carreão advocated for the importance of sociolinguistic literacy in language assessment. It enables efficient identification of L1 sounds that may genuinely interfere with intelligibility and facilitates the design of assessment approaches that do not seek to erase the influence of the speaker’s L1 on the additional language. After all, pronunciation features that contribute to a speaker’s language identity should be celebrated. Are your classes, materials, and assessment systems embracing this perspective?

Akemi is a materials writer, editor, copy editor, and DEI consultant. She holds a postgraduate degree in Neuroscience (UFRJ), a BA in Languages (UFRJ), and has been in ELT for more than 15 years, mainly working with teacher training and materials writing. At Troika, she creates personalized content for a range of ELT publishers and bilingual school systems. She holds the Cambridge C2 Proficiency, the Cambridge Delta Module 1, and she is currently undertaking postgraduate studies in Human Rights and Corporate Social Responsibility (PUCRS). She often writes and talks about the role of education to promote social justice and the paramount importance of representation in class materials.

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