The Oracle

The Oracle debates language testing: Foreign language tests are too biased toward native speakers

The Oracle

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By Leon Cheong:

Graphic by Alvina Yau:

There is a race to get into top colleges, and everyone is going for the finish line. Most students will use any opportunity to prove their worth to admissions officers. A prominent example of this is the Advanced Placement (AP) and SAT II language tests. According to Peterson’s, a company that specializes in researching, aiding students, and in college admissions information, students who are native to a language other than English will usually take their respective language test, which is an easy and helpful bonus in the admissions process. However, this application boost isn’t available to all students. When native speakers take their respective language’s test, they are given an unfair advantage to what should be a balanced scale. Therefore, native speakers should not be able to take their language’s AP or SAT II test, as it is unjust to students speaking only one language.

One popular language test students take is the AP or SAT II Chinese test. According to the Washington Examiner, 88 percent of people who take this test are of Asian descent and are fluent in the language. However, what most people don’t realize is the handicap that this presents to people who do not share the same bilingual ability. Because native speakers find class easy, it rids native speakers of the motivation to take the language class seriously.

In a study by the Washington Examiner in Virginia, about 80 percent of Hispanic students who took the AP Spanish test received a passing grade, while only about 50 percent or other ethnicities passed. Therefore, students who were more likely to speak their language at home scored higher grades than students who only learned the language in school, the gap between native speakers and learning students is immense.

Language tests are structured to be a challenge to students who begin to learn a language in freshman year, which subsequently provides an easy 5 for students who have learned it their whole life and speak that language naturally.

According to a study, students who take a four-year language program do not end up becoming fluent in that language. The students who learn the language later are still presented with a significant challenge, that is much harder than what native speakers have to face. In this sense, the scale is still not balanced, and native speakers still have the advantage.

There are many ways a student can make a college application look more attractive, honest alternatives, such as extracurricular activities or significant awards. However, native speakers taking their language test should not be one of these easy bonuses in the administrative process, as this excludes students who are not given the same opportunity of fluency. In summation, allowing native speakers to  take standard language tests is simply discrimination.

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The Oracle debates language testing: Foreign language tests are too biased toward native speakers