WHY IS THE STANAG LEVEL 3 SPEAKING SO DIFFICULT?
If you are interested in passing STANAG 6001 level 3, you have probably already heard how difficult it is.
So, why is it so difficult? And what to do to overcome these difficulties?
The thing is that all the elements of your speaking are evaluated separately, so the exam does not only check if you can communicate in English. It is only one of many elements of the assessment.
IS IT ENOUGH TO BE COMMUNICATIVE?
Contemporary language education focuses on communicativeness – so the most important aspect is to get your message across, understand what people say and be able to respond. It doesn’t matter so much how correct or advanced what you are saying is.
If you ask native speakers, they will often tell you that your English is great – which means that they can understand you 🙂
That is why, many people believe that if they can communicate, their English is fine, no matter how many grammatical mistakes they make and how simple vocabulary they use.
And there is a second group, people who are so afraid to make a mistake that they would rather not say anything, just to avoid a situation in which what they say is not perfectly correct.
Neither of these strategies will bring you success at the exam.
LEVEL 3 – PROFESSIONAL
The thing is that the STANAG 6001 level 3 exam is the so called professional level, which means that it is the level which should allow you to use English professionally, that is in more or less formal situations, which require that you should be easily understood and sound professional. And you cannot sound professional if you keep making grammatical mistakes and use a limited number of grammatical forms and vocabulary.
To be more specific, I will quote the STANAG 6001 NTG (EDITION 3) – LANGUAGE PROFICIENCY LEVELS of 20 February 2009 of the NATO Standardisation Agency where it describes the level 3 speaking. I use bullet points for clarity.
Level 3 – Professional
Able to participate effectively in most formal and informal conversations on practical, social, and professional topics.
Can discuss particular interests and special fields of competence with considerable ease.
Can use the language to perform such common professional tasks as answering objections, clarifying points, justifying decisions, responding to challenges, supporting opinion, stating and defending policy.
Can demonstrate language competence when conducting meetings, delivering briefings or other extended and elaborate monologues, hypothesising, and dealing with unfamiliar subjects and situations.
Can reliably elicit information and informed opinion from native speakers.
Can convey abstract concepts in discussions of such topics as economics, culture, science, technology, philosophy as well as his/her professional field.
Produces extended discourse and conveys meaning correctly and effectively. Use of structural devices is flexible and elaborate.
Speaks readily and in a way that is appropriate to the situation. Without searching for words or phrases, can use the language clearly and relatively naturally to elaborate on concepts freely and make ideas easily understandable to native speakers.
May not fully understand some cultural references, proverbs, and allusions, as well as implications of nuances and idioms, but can easily repair the conversation.
Pronunciation may be obviously foreign.
Errors may occur in low frequency or highly complex structures characteristic of a formal style of speech. However, occasional errors in pronunciation, grammar, or vocabulary are not serious enough to distort meaning, and rarely disturb the native speaker.
WHAT IS EVALUATED?
That is why, the exam evaluates many aspects of speaking, and only one of them is the so-called communicativeness which contemporary language learning and teaching emphasise so much. It is a step further as other aspects that are evaluated include:
fluency (how smoothly your speech flows)
language resources and accuracy (grammatical correctness and range of vocabulary and grammatical structures)
pronunciation (pronouncing words in a way that does not hinder understanding)
production (clear and logical structure of your speech)
task achievement (covering all points, relevance, argumentation, language functions, eg. hypothesising, justifying, clarifying).
So, as you can see this exam is not only about whether you can communicate fluently, it’s also about the quality of your arguments, logic of what you say and how sophisticated your language is, not to mention correctness which seems to be an underlying factor.
If you want to know more about how the points are counted, see the blog post dedicated to this problem: https://www.stanagexpert.com/marking-criteria-speaking/
SO WHAT LEVEL IS IT?
As far as I know, the STANAG 6001 language proficiency levels are not officially compared to other exams. However, it is believed among instructors and researchers that the level 3 corresponds with B2+/C1 (according to the Common European Framework) with passive skills (listening and reading) being closer to C1 and active skills (speaking and writing) to B2+. B2+, in turn, is the EU nomenclature for the upper-intermediate+ and C1 for the advanced level. If you want to go into details, you can compare the requirements for those exams and levels.
To try to tackle the problem of the difficulty level, next week I will write about typical mistakes made by candidates at the speaking exam and how to avoid them.
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