LTI Seminar

  • Jared Bernstein
  • Ordinate Corporation and Stanford University

Theory-based Spoken Language Assessment: Psycholinguistic Models and Communicative Competence

The theory of spoken language testing has, in the past four decades,become entwined with the practical limits of actual testingprocedures. A social-communication view of language competenceemphasizes that the spoken form of a language is used in socialsettings (according to a set of culture-specific norms) to accomplishexplicit or implicit tasks of many sorts. A psycholinguistic view oflanguage competence emphasizes the development of first and secondlanguage skills and the real-time processes that underlie theperformance of these skills. Using Bachman and Palmer's (1996)"usefulness" criteria, we present a meta-analysis of reported researchon language proficiency interviews and other tests based on a socialcommunication view, as well as tests such as the Noise Test, clozeprocedures, elicited imitation, and other procedures that are based onpsycholinguistic research paradigms. Surprisingly, when makingjudgments of communicative competence, human judges react mainly tostructures at or below the sentence level. The psycholinguistic andsocial-construction approaches will then be compared with reference totheir reliability, construct validity, authenticity, impact, andpracticality. Lastly, the inherent metric qualities of the twotheories are compared with reference to the interpretability of thetest results.Jared Bernstein received his PhD in psycholinguistics from theUniversity of Michigan in 1976, then did postdoctoral research in theSpeech Communication Group at MIT. Since 1985, he has been ConsultingProfessor of Linguistics at Stanford University. In the past tenyears, he has developed computer-based systems for learning spokenEnglish and Japanese, and he designed the first fully automatic system(PhonePass) for testing spoken language performance. Prior tofounding Ordinate Corporation in 1996, Bernstein served as principalscientist in the Speech Technology Laboratory at SRI International.He has served on the editorial boards of several professionaljournals, including Computational Linguistics, the Journal of theInternational Phonetic Association, and the International Journal ofSpeech Technology.
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