The Art of Non-conversation

A Reexamination of the Validity of the Oral Proficiency Interview

Marysia Johnson

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The Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI) is a widely accepted instrument for assessing second and foreign language ability. It is used by the Foreign Language Institute, the Defense Language Institute, Educational Testing Service, the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, and at many universities in the United States. The Art of Non-Conversation examines the components of speaking ability and asks whether the OPI is a valid instrument for assessing them.

Marysia Johnson applies the latest insights from discourse and conversational analysis to determine the nature of the OPI’s communicative speech event and investigate its construct validity within Messick’s definition of validity. She discusses models of speaking ability—several communicative competence models, an interactional competence model, and a model of spoken interaction based on Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory of learning. Finally she proposes a new model to test language proficiency drawn from sociocultural theory, one that considers language ability to be reflective of the sociocultural and institutional contexts in which the language has been acquired.

Marysia Johnson is assistant professor in the department of English, Linguistics/TESL Program, Arizona State University.

“This important book offers a long overdue model of how to use the insights from discourse analysis in order to evaluate the OPI assessment of second-language speakers.”—Andrea Tyler, Georgetown University

“Readers will greatly benefit from Johnson’s insightful presentation of the issues related to using interview-format speaking tests and from understanding the complexities inherent in the design and use of such assessment instruments. Educators and researchers will look forward to hearing more about future applications of her POLA model to real-life contexts. This will hopefully reflect the development of more meaningful and valid assessment practices.”—David Ishii 

“An interesting discussion of a far-reaching test. The book provides an excellent picture of the strengths and weakness of using the OPI in the mid-1990s and suggests many possible improvements for the test. It also presents a thorough set of principles for oral proficiency test development.”—Margaret E. Malone, Language Testing

ISBN: 9780300090024
Publication Date: September 10, 2001
256 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4
10 charts/graphs

Table of Contents (PDF)