The following tables reproduce the ACTFL descriptors for Intermediate and Advanced writing proficiency. Use them to understand what an Intermediate writer can do and what this writer needs to master to become an Advanced writer. We recommend you explore the complete publication of the ACTFL Guidelines 2012, available on the ACTFL site as well as the ACTFL Performance Descriptors for Language Learners.
-writes simple messages and letters, requests for information, and notes
-asks and responds to simple questions in writing
-creates with the language
-basic vocabulary and structures
-comprehensible to those accustomed to the writing of non-natives
-control of major time frames of past, present, and future
-control of the most frequently used structures and generic vocabulary
-understood by those unaccustomed to the writing of non-natives
While considering the profiles that follow, keep in mind that
- proficiency is global, and all criteria develop interdependently—a writer moves to a higher proficiency level only by mastering all criteria (i.e., demonstrating the evidence to sustain all criteria across the topics and tasks of the level all the time).
- While the elements of proficiency cannot be taught or learned discretely, an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of learners in discrete domains allows instructors to use strengths to scaffold and develop targeted activities to address specific weaknesses.
- Moving from one sublevel to the next may be a lengthy process; one semester might not be enough to observe such advancement, and as such, instructors and learners must set realistic expectations for both short term and long term growth.
- Levels (with the exception of Superior) are divided in sublevels: Low (minimal performance at level), Mid (quantity and quality at level), and High (showing ability at the next major level, but unable to sustain it). The strengths and needs of learners at the different sublevels are diverse; and it follows that writers at the High sub-level attempting the functions of the next major level will show less breakdown than their Low and Mid counterparts. These writers might require less time to move to the next major level than their Low and Mid peers. Differentiated instruction—using, for example, an increasing complexity of writing prompts—is essential for a curriculum that is aligned with realistic and equitable goals for growth.
-control of the linguistic strategies needed to move between major timeframes
-no lexical interference from English
-deterioration in comprehensibility when moving beyond everyday and autobiographical topics to topics of general interest
-lack of variety of connectors
– no breakdown when attempting description on topics of general interest
– Regarding the function of narration, data was inconclusive: when narrating on topics of a factual nature, half of the Intermediate writers exhibited breakdown, and half did not.
-strong control of the linguistic strategies needed to move between major timeframes
-no breakdown in the control of temporal markers
-morphological errors that interfered with the successful accomplishment of the task
-lack of variety of connectors
-lexical interference from English
-breakdown when attempting description on topics of general interest
-breakdown when presenting and supporting opinions by developing cogent arguments and hypotheses
-lack of precise vocabulary
-problems with structural control
Moving from Intermediate to Advanced: Implications for instruction
Note: For a more extensive discussion, see Gatti, A. and O’Neill, T. (Forthcoming), Writing Proficiency Profiles of Heritage Learners of Chinese, Korean, and Spanish.
For all issues: Input is the key to linguistic development. Improvement of all of the identified issues requires rich input at the Advanced level. Selecting the appropriate input activities is key for the success of all pedagogical strategies in the context of linguistic development.
- Difficulty with moving from familiar contexts (Intermediate) to contexts of general interest (Advanced)
- Correlated issue of accuracy: Lack of vocabulary needed for writing about topics beyond familiar contexts
Pedagogical strategy: Develop content-based and/or project-based courses that are organized around topics of general interest, so your HLLs get exposed to non-familiar contexts in a coherent and extended (semester-long) fashion.
Issue: Uneven performance in Advanced-level functions (i.e., able to narrate in major timeframes, but unable to describe)
Pedagogical strategy: Use some functions and context/content to scaffold the development of others. For instance, develop prompts that require practicing description (weakness) in the context of familiar topics (strength), and then use the practiced descriptive strategies to work with a topic of general interest.
Issue: Difficulty with producing paragraph-length text
Correlated issue of accuracy: Limited use of connective words and phrases
- Scaffold text type development using activities that build paragraphs from the sentence level, where Intermediate writers are comfortable.
- Explicit instruction can help writers understand the difference between strings of sentences, skeletal paragraphs, and paragraphs.
- Paragraph composition benefits from increased time and opportunities to revise and use a variety of resources beyond those stored in memory.
- Provide learners with sample connective words and phrases they can use with working on assignments.