Advanced Heritage Language Writers (strengths and weaknesses)

Criteria

The following tables reproduce the ACTFL descriptors for Advanced and Superior writing proficiency. Use them to understand what an Advanced writer can do and what this writer needs to master to become a Superior writer. We recommend you explore the complete publication of the ACTFL Guidelines 2012, available on the ACTFL site as well as the ACTFL Performance Descriptors for Language Learners.

Advanced level

Writers at the Advanced level are characterized by the ability to write routine informal and some formal correspondence, as well as narratives, descriptions, and summaries of a factual nature. They can narrate and describe in the major time frames of past, present, and future, using paraphrasing and elaboration to provide clarity. Advanced-level writers produce connected discourse of paragraph length and structure. At this level, writers show good control of the most frequently used structures and generic vocabulary, allowing them to be understood by those unaccustomed to the writing of non-natives.

Superior level

Writers at the Superior level are able to produce most kinds of formal and informal correspondence, in-depth summaries, reports, and research papers on a variety of social, academic, and professional topics. Their treatment of these issues moves beyond the concrete to the abstract. Writers at the Superior level demonstrate the ability to explain complex matters, and to present and support opinions by developing cogent arguments and hypotheses. Their treatment of the topic is enhanced by the effective use of structure, lexicon, and writing protocols. They organize and prioritize ideas to convey to the reader what is significant. The relationship among ideas is consistently clear, due to organizational and developmental principles (e.g., cause and effect, comparison, chronology). These writers are capable of extended treatment of a topic which typically requires at least a series of paragraphs, but can extend to a number of pages. Writers at the Superior level demonstrate a high degree of control of grammar and syntax, of both general and specialized/professional vocabulary, of spelling or symbol production, of cohesive devices, and of punctuation. Their vocabulary is precise and varied. Writers at this level direct their writing to their audiences; their writing fluency eases the reader’s task. Writers at the Superior level do not typically control target-language cultural, organizational, or stylistic patterns. At the Superior level, writers demonstrate no pattern of error; however, occasional errors may occur, particularly in low-frequency structures. When present, these errors do not interfere with comprehension, and they rarely distract the native reader.

Find here a simplified rendition of the descriptors organized by the four assessment criteria: Functions, Context/Content, Accuracy/Comprehensibility, and Text Type. This table and the profiles that follow are designed to assist in identifying strengths and weaknesses of writers in support of specific pedagogical approaches and interventions. Always keep in mind that proficiency is global, and all criteria develop interdependently—a writer moves to a higher proficiency level only by mastering all criteria (i.e., demonstrating the evidence to sustain all criteria across the topics and tasks of the level all the time).

CriteriaIntermediateAdvanced
Functions-Narrates and describes on topics of a factual nature in all major time frames.-Explains complex matters
-Presents and supports opinions by developing cogent arguments and hypotheses.
-Able to treat issues abstractly
Context/Content-Informal and some formal topics and contexts.-Informal and some formal topics and contexts.
-Most kinds of formal and informal correspondence.
Accuracy-Control of major time frames of past, present, and future.
-Control of the most frequently used structures and generic vocabulary.
-Understood by those unaccustomed to the writing of non-natives.
-Effective use of structure, lexicon, and writing protocols.
-High degree of control of grammar and syntax.
-High degree of control of spelling or symbol production, of cohesive devices, and of punctuation.
-Precise and varied vocabulary.
-No pattern of error.
Text Type-Connected discourse of paragraph length and structure.-Extended discourse.

General Considerations

While considering the profiles that follow, keep in mind that:

  • Proficiency is global, and all criteria develop interdependently—a writer moves to a higher proficiency level only by mastering all criteria (i.e., demonstrating the evidence to sustain all criteria across the topics and tasks of the level all the time).
  • While the elements of proficiency cannot be taught or learned discretely, an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of learners in discrete domains allows instructors to use strengths to scaffold and develop targeted activities to address specific weaknesses.
  • Moving from one sublevel to the next may be a lengthy process; one semester might not be enough to observe such advancement, and as such, instructors and learners must set realistic expectations for both short term and long term growth.
  • Levels (with the exception of Superior) are divided in sublevels: Low (minimal performance at level), Mid (quantity and quality at level), and High (showing ability at the next major level, but unable to sustain it). The strengths and needs of learners at the different sublevels are diverse; and it follows that writers at the High sub-level attempting the functions of the next major level will show less breakdown than their Low and Mid counterparts. These writers might require less time to move to the next major level than their Low and Mid peers. Differentiated instruction—using, for example, an increasing complexity of writing prompts—is essential for a curriculum that is aligned with realistic and equitable goals for growth.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of Advanced heritage Mandarin Chinese writers when they attempt Superior level functions?

CriteriaStrengthsWeaknesses
Functions-Signs of breakdown when attempting to explain complex matters in detail.
-Unable to treat issues abstractly.
-Unable to present and support opinions by developing cogent arguments and hypotheses.
Context/Content-Writing about social, professional, and academic topics.-Formal writing.
Accuracy-No interference from English.-Lack of precise vocabulary.
-Problems with accuracy in linguistic features and orthography.
-Lack of appropriate connective devices.
Text Type-Struggle with extended discourse.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of Advanced heritage Korean writers when they attempt Superior level functions?

CriteriaStrengthsWeaknesses
Functions-No breakdown when attempting description on topics of general interest.-Signs of breakdown when treating issues abstractly.
-Signs of breakdown when presenting and supporting opinions by developing cogent arguments and hypotheses.
Context/Content-Writing about social, professional, and academic topics.-Formal writing.
Accuracy-Robust vocabulary.
-Strong control of grammar.
-No interference from English.
-General decline in quality or quantity under the pressure of Superior-level functions.
Text Type-Struggle with extended discourse.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of Advanced heritage Spanish writers when they attempt Superior level functions?

CriteriaStrengthsWeaknesses
Functions-Successful at explaining complex matters in detail.-Breakdown when attempting description on topics of general interest.
-Breakdown when presenting and supporting opinions by developing cogent arguments and hypotheses.
Context/Content-Writing about social, professional, and academic topics.-Formal writing.
Accuracy-No interference from English.-Lack of precise vocabulary.
-Problems with structural control.
Text Type-Struggle with extended discourse.

Note: For a more extensive discussion, see Gatti, A, O’Neill, T. Writing proficiency profiles of heritage learners of Chinese, Korean, and Spanish. Foreign Language Annals. 2018; 51: 719– 737. https://doi.org/10.1111/flan.12364 (updated 2022)

For all issues: Input is the key to linguistic development. Improvement of all of the identified issues requires rich input at the Advanced level. Selecting the appropriate input activities is key for the success of all pedagogical strategies in the context of linguistic development.

Issues:

  • Difficulty with moving from familiar contexts (Intermediate) to contexts of general interest (Advanced)
  • Correlated issue of accuracy: Lack of vocabulary needed for writing about topics beyond familiar contexts
    • Pedagogical strategy: Develop content-based and/or project-based courses that are organized around topics of general interest, so your HLLs get exposed to non-familiar contexts in a coherent and extended (semester-long) fashion.

Issue: Uneven performance in Advanced-level functions (i.e., able to narrate in major timeframes, but unable to describe)

  • Pedagogical strategy: Use some functions and context/content to scaffold the development of others. For instance, develop prompts that require practicing description (weakness) in the context of familiar topics (strength), and then use the practiced descriptive strategies to work with a topic of general interest.

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