Russian Language Journal


lexical complexity, oral descriptions, Russian, proficiency


In this case study I will analyze the lexical complexity of oral descriptions produced by learners of Russian in two different but related kinds of oral proficiency interviews, the Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI) and the Simulated Oral Proficiency Interview (SOPI). The OPI is a face-to-face or telephone interview of a speaker of a foreign language conducted by a tester certified by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL). In the OPI, description is elicited by the examiner in the context of live interaction. The description is thus in interpersonal mode, as defined by the National Standards for Foreign Language Learning, because the testee and tester interact as they negotiate the communication of information in the testee's responses to the tester's questions . The SOPI is a test administered by the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) in which the student being tested is given a test booklet and a tape with oral prompts. The test booklet contains instructions and visual prompts for each task. The student then records his or her speech in response to the oral prompts; students' responses must fit in the predetermined time allotted each prompt. There is no live interaction component in the SOPI and therefore speech elicited by the SOPI would be classified as presentational in mode according to the definitions of the National Standards for Foreign Language Learning. Raters certified by CAL receive the tape and assess the speech production for each of the prompts in accordance with criteria corresponding to the ACTFL Oral Proficiency Guidelines. National Standards for Foreign Language Learning distinguish between interpersonal and presentational modes of communication; therefore, the two testing formats may actually be assessing two different kinds of communication.