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The Pros and Cons of Language Testing

language testing

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Hiring best practices dictate that you verify a candidate’s skill set before you make an offer. When it comes to interpreters, translators, and bilingual employees, that means evaluating language skills. Yet even if you’re fluent in the language pairs, it’s difficult to do this yourself. That’s why many organizations ask candidates to complete a language proficiency exam. However, like most things in life, there are pros and cons to going this route.

Types of Language Testing

Before we dive into the pros and cons, let’s take a look at the most common types of language proficiency exams. These include:

  • Speaking and listening
  • Writing skills
  • Reading comprehension
  • Interpretation
  • Translation

Industry-specific exams focus on the language requirements and terminology a candidate must know to be successful in the role. Industries that rely on specialized testing include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Medical
  • Legal
  • Government
  • Customer service

The Pros of Language Testing

Now that you know a little more about language proficiency exams, let’s take a look at the benefits of using them during the hiring process.

  1. They provide an objective measure of a candidate’s skillset. While degrees, certificates, past experience, and recommendations are useful, test results can help you evaluate someone’s current skill set.
  2. They’re available in over 100 languages. National and state certification exams for industries such as medical and legal are typically only available for a handful of major languages. Testing allows you to evaluate a candidate’s skills when no certification test exists for the language you need.
  3. They’re tailored for various industries. If you’re hiring within an industry without an established certification process, testing will help you evaluate a candidate’s language skills.

The Cons of Language Testing

Although language proficiency exams are a useful tool, they do have a few drawbacks. These include the following.

  1. They can be costly. Language tests are typically administered by a third-party (often a language service provider) and the costs can add up when you test multiple candidates.
  2. They can reduce the diversity of the candidate pool. Asking candidates to provide exam results (and cover the costs themselves) can deter them from applying. People who identify as a racial or ethnic minority or have a disability are more likely to be low income and may be unable to pay for the exam.
  3. They’re time consuming. Testing increases the time it takes to move candidates through the hiring process. And candidates who apply at multiple organizations may be require to keep retaking proficiency exams, depending on hiring policies.

Final Thoughts

Despite a few drawbacks, language proficiency testing is still one of the best ways to determine a candidate’s language skills when no certification process exists. It’s particularly useful for languages of less diffusion and within industries that don’t have a standardized method for evaluating language skills.

Does your organization require candidates to complete a language proficiency exam? If so, how has this impacted the hiring process? Let us know in the comments!

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