Does your company need a domain specific language test?
What is a general proficiency assessment?
Language tests are often delivered using a general assessment – meaning they are not customized to any specific industry nor level – in order to allow for as many companies/people to be able to take the test. The way the same general proficiency assessment can be used to test a doctor or a bilingual staff member is by specifying the different levels of proficiency required for the different positions. A language test is assessing various levels of proficiency, so it would make perfect sense that it can assess various levels of employees.
What is a domain specific language test?
Many companies will start their search for a language test by saying something to the effect of “I am looking for Spanish test for Banking.” This is not necessarily wrong, or even not the best idea, but it is important to understand what exactly you are asking for, so you know what you will be getting. If a company were to properly develop a proficiency test for one specific industry, and further, one specific position, technically the test should not be able to be “passed” (if you have the industry and position specified, then the level would also be specified) by someone who does not have intimate knowledge of that position. This test becomes more of a performance test – as it will measure one’s ability to perform in a specific role, within a specific industry. The catch is that, if this was to be done correctly, you would also need the raters to be people with intimate knowledge of the position being tested. The reality is that 99% of the “domain specific language tests” out there simply change the theme of the test. For example, a general proficiency test may ask, “Tell me about the last meeting you had work. Do you think the meeting was productive for all in attendance? If you were to call a meeting, would you do anything differently?” If this were a domain specific test for healthcare administrators, the question could be modified to, “Tell me about the last meeting you had at the hospital. Do you think the meeting was productive for all in attendance? If you were to call a meeting, would you do anything differently?” Do you see how much it changed? Not much.
What is the right test for your company?
While domain specific tests do not make the test any more reliable or valid, they may provide a certain degree of comfort to clients. However, when making a decision as to which testing company you should use, it is recommended to use whichever you determine to be the best test, regardless of whether they offer a domain specific test for your industry, because the reality is the overall test structure and benefits is what will determine the overall success of your program, not the theme of the questions.
A disclaimer of sorts.
Since this blog entry is appearing on Parrot’s website, I thought I should mention that Parrot has no stake in this decision. Parrot does offer domain specific language tests, so they are certainly asking me, the author, to write a persuasive article in either direction. This article was created to simply inform companies looking to develop language testing programs in their businesses what the realities of both options are. If you choose the test that delivers most impressive experience to your users, at the price you want, and with all the tools you need to successfully manage your program, you can be confident that you have chosen the best test for your company!