“Acquisition requires meaningful interaction in the target language – natural communication – in which speakers are concerned not with the form of their utterances but with the messages they are conveying and understanding." - Stephen Krashen

ACTFL's Glossary of Terms - "functional language ability"


  • A language user's ability to accomplish real world communicative tasks such as handling a simple social transaction or resolving a situation with a complication.

Speaking examples include:

  • Asking and answering simple questions (Novice-Intermediate)
  • Give lists (Novice - i.e., likes, favorites, lists of items, family members)
  • Describing oneself as well as familiar people, places, and objects (Novice-Intermediate)
  • Describing with detail and elaboration (Intermediate - Advanced)
  • Asking for and giving directions (Intermediate)
  • Asking for and giving advice (Intermediate)
  • Give narration - i.e., describe a daily routine or situation (Intermediate)
  • Agree and disagree, give reasons for opinions (Intermediate-Advanced)
  • Able to circumlocute (Intermediate-Advanced)
  • Role-Play scenarios (Intermediate - familiar situation) (Advanced - unfamiliar situation)
  • Describing cultural products (Intermediate)
  • Telling a story in the past (Advanced)
  • Speak in three time frames (Advanced)
  • Describing cultural perspectives (Advanced)

To rate "functional language ability" - ASK:

  1. Did the speaker complete the task?
  2. Did I, the listener, easily grasp the message or did I need to play the role of the "sympathetic" listener? (Pronunciation is only a problem when it interferes with communication)
  3. What "kind of language" did I hear? (vocabulary used, text-type)
  4. Was the language "student-created" or did it consist of highly-practiced, memorized phrases?
  5. What strategies did the speaker use to complete the task? Was the speaker able to circumlocute unknown vocabulary?
  6. How accurate was the language? (applicable only at higher Advanced/Superior levels)