You are on page 1of 5

Approaches to Language Testing

Pragmatic approach

- refers to the approach that concerns with the use of language in context

- rooted in Pragmatics & Psycholinguistics

- are concerned with pragmatic mapping

- emphasize correspondence between linguistic & extra-linguistic aspects of language

- involves any tasks that asks students to process sequences of elements in a language
that conform to the normal contextual constraint of that language.

- according to this approach, the meaning of language is best understood not only through
the use of language components such as words, phrases, and sentences but also the
context where non-language factors emerges such as noise, hesitations, gestures, etc.

Characteristics of Test

Pragmatic approach tests tend to:

a. test language in meaningful and natural context

b. test meet the naturalness criteria by requiring learners

- to utilize normal contextual clues in the language

- to comprehend linguistic & extra-linguistic contexts

- to map pragmatically linguistic features with extra- linguistic aspects

c. have learners employ their pragmatic expectancy grammar

Forms of pragmatic tests




Paragraph recognition


Essay Writing
The third language testing trend described by the Damico and Oller (1992) is
referred to as pragmatic language testing. It differs from the integrative approach in
one fundamental way, an ostensible effort is made to link the language testing
situation with the test-taker's experience. As Oller and Damico (1991) state, normal
language use is connected to people, places, events and relations that implicate the
whole continuum of experience and is always constrained by time or temporal
factors. Consequently, pragmatic language tasks are intended to be as "real life" or
authentic as possible.

In contrast to an integrative task, a pragmatic approach to language testing might

require the test-taker to engage in a listening task only under the contextual and
temporal conditions that generally characterize this activity. For example, if the test-
taker is going to listen to a story and then retell the story, the following conditions
might apply. From a pragmatic perspective, language learners do not generally
listen to audiotaped stories; they more commonly listen to adults or competent
readers read stories. In this sense a storyretell listening task which uses a tape-
mediated story falls short of meeting pragmatic criteria.

A pragmatic approach to story retelling might take on the following features:

- normal visual input is provided (e.g., the reader's gestures, the print on the
page, an authentic number of story linked pictures in the text);

- time is managed differently in that the learner may have opportunities to ask
questions, make inferences, or react in a normal way towards the content of
the story; and

- the story, its theme, the reader, and the purpose of the activity form part of
the learner's experience.

Oller and Damico (1991) make an interesting observation regarding the power of
pragmatic language testing. The researchers state:

What was more important about pragmatic tests, and what is

yet to be appreciated fully by theoreticians and practitioners (e.g.,
Spolsky, 1983), is that all of the goals of discrete point items (e.g.,
diagnosis, focus, isolation) are better achieved in the full rich context
of one or more pragmatic tests... As a method of linguistic analysis,
the discrete point approach had some validity, but as a practical
method for assessing language abilities, it was misguided,
counterproductive, and logically impossible. (p. 85)

In other words, if the intent is to measure the learner's proficiency in the areas of
grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation, for example, this is best achieved through
a pragmatic language approach as opposed to a discrete point approach.

Language proficiency testing approaches tend to fall into one or more of the three
trends just described. It is, however, the pragmatic language approach which seems
to meet the demands of educators as set forth by federal education mandates,
state education staff and academicians previously described. Nonetheless,
educators will be limited to the use of currently available tests which may or may
not measure language proficiency in a pragmatic, "real life" manner.


Pragmatic is the dimension of language which is concerned with the appropriate use
of language in social contexts. In other words, pragmatics has to do with the variety
of functions to which language is put (e.g., giving instructions, complaining,
requesting) and how these functions are governed depending on the social context
(e.g., speaking to a teacher versus a student; at school versus at home).

pragmatic expectancy grammar

- features in Oller's conception of language proficiency as unitary, i.e. not differential as

between diverse skills and competences. For him, reception involves matching messages
with expectancies, grammatical and pragmatic, about their nature; production entails
expectancies about decoding. Pragmatic, but not grammatical, expectancies are
transferred to foreign language learning. (See also unitary competence hypothesis .)
( 1976 ). Evidence for a general proficiency factor: an expectancy grammar

The debate over whether or not language ability can be divided up into separately
testable components led to the unitary trait hypothesis, proposed by Oller (1979),
which suggested that language proficiency is more unitary than the discrete point
testers claimed. That is, vocabulary, grammar, phonology, the four language skills,
and other discrete points of language cannot, in fact, be distinguished from each
other. The unitary trait hypothesis contends that there is a general factor of
language proficiency such that all the discrete points do not add up to that whole.

Under this perspectivization, it is believed that one can only comprehend (and
produce) language by means of a process of analysis-by-syntheses, that is, we
comprehend by predicting the message we are encountering, drawing upon our
knowledge of the world, and through pragmatic expectancy grammar, and the
redundancy built into language. The term expectancy grammar, as Oller (1986)
maintains, calls attention to the specificity of sequential organization of language in
actual use. Natural language is perhaps the best-known example of the complex
organization of elements into sequences and classes, and sequences of class which
are composed of other sequences of classes and so forth. The term pragmatic
expectancy grammar further calls attention to the fact that the chains of
elements and hierarchies of them which comprise a language are
accessible to the language user in real life situation because they are
somehow indexed with reference to their appropriateness to extra
linguistic contexts (Oller, 1986).

According to Bachman (1995), the interest of language testers in the construct

validity of language tests was also renewed in the 1970s by John Ollers unitary
trait hypothesis. By analyzing the relationships among scores from a wide variety of
language tests, Oller discovered a G-factor, which he interpreted as a unitary trait,
general language proficiency. Subsequent studies, however, disconfirmed the
unitary trait hypothesis (Farhady, 1980). Oller himself eventually recognized that
the strongest form of the unitary trait hypothesis was wrong (Oller, 1983, cited in
Bachman, 1995). Nevertheless, Ollers work, as well as the research it stimulated,
firmly established construct validation as a central concern of language testing
research, and generated a renewed interest in factor analysis as an analytic


This article tries to show the historical growth of language testing and the
reluctant recognition by the profession of the fact that language tests both drive
and reflect language teaching. The importance of language testing and the
evolution of modern linguistics have made teachers and testers aware of the
significance of a need for a comprehensive analysis of the language under
consideration. On the one hand, teachers are constantly revising their teaching
strategies in the light of advances in modern linguistics and psychology. On the
other hand, testers are trying to improve their techniques to test language ability
more validly and reliability in compliance with advances in teaching. Certainly, not
all innovations in language science have had equal or similar effects upon teaching
and testing; each has paid certain attention to the relative importance of each skill
or component. Thus, it is the responsibility of the teacher to choose the most
appropriate method of estimating learners knowledge or ability, particularly where
learning a second language is concerned.