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Testing Speaking Ability in Academic Contexts: Theoretical Considerations TOEFL TSE

Douglas, Dan
Publication Year:
Report Number:
ETS Research Memorandum
Document Type:
Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
English (Second Language), Foreign Students, Language Acquisition, Speech Communication, Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), Test of Spoken English (TSE)


In the North American academic context, international students and teaching assistants need to be able to speak proficiently to accomplish a number of tasks/purposes: they need to get around campus, buy books and materials in the bookstore, get meals in cafeterias and restaurants, ask a friend about a homework assignment, get help in locating a book in the library, tell classmates where they are from and how long they've been on campus. They also need to participate in class discussions, ask and respond to questions in classes, give oral reports, get and give help in office hour sessions, give instructions in labs, conduct tutorials and recitations, give lectures, and so on. In this paper, a theoretical background for the large-scale undergraduate/graduate university admissions, we first discuss the nature of the construct of speaking ability that enables students to carry out the above tasks, arguing that speech production and comprehension are systemically integrated, that language knowledge is multicomponential, and that strategic ability is central to the interpretation of context in the test assessment of speaking ability in the context of TOEFL 2000. We then outline research needed before progress can be made.

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