In Advanced L2 Reading Proficiency Assessments, Should the Question Language Be in the L1 or the L2?: Does It Make a Difference?

  • Troy L. CoxEmail author
  • Jennifer Bown
  • Teresa R. Bell
Part of the Educational Linguistics book series (EDUL, volume 37)


When investigating foreign language (FL) proficiency in reading in higher education, one must first determine what proficient reading entails and how to operationalize it. The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) proficiency guidelines provide a starting point in this process, but they do not provide instructions for assessing reading. Clifford and Cox (Foreign Lang Ann 46(1):45–61, 2013) define proficient reading as “the active, automatic, far-transfer process of using one’s internalized language and culture expectancy system to efficiently comprehend an authentic text for the purpose for which it was written (p. 50).” According to this definition, reading is an asynchronous, written two-way interaction between author and reader, in which the reader’s primary task is to comprehend the author’s intent. However, since the cognitive processes involved in reading cannot be directly observed, researchers use observable tasks (e.g., answering questions, reading aloud, etc.) to make inferences about the FL learner’s reading proficiency. Shohamy (Lang Test 1(2):147–170, 1984) notes that this reliance on indirect methods of assessment places a “heavy burden on the testing method and therefore may create greater variations in scores obtained as a result of these methods” (p. 149). Thus, researching how test method affects test scores is paramount to ensure that any variance in scores is due to differences in proficiency rather than choice of test method. In designing tasks to assess reading comprehension, the issue of question language (QL) arises. That is, scholars must decide whether the QL should be in the same language as the reading passage—the learners’ second language (L2) or in the native language (L1) of the learner. When the QL is in the L1, it is easier to infer what the reader has understood. When the QL is in the L2, the responses are dependent on the examinees’ comprehension of both the questions and the text. However, as L2 learners gain reading proficiency, they should also better be able to comprehend questions in the L2. The present study sought to fill these gaps in the research literature by examining the effect of QL on the scores of advanced readers of Russian on a criterion-referenced test of reading proficiency. Understanding the effect of QL on readers with Advanced-level proficiency will allow practitioners to make more informed decisions about design of reading assessments in general and of high-stakes, criterion-referenced tests of reading proficiency in particular.


Russian Russian reading proficiency Reading proficiency Question language Reading proficiency test Learner perception 


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Language StudiesBrigham Young UniversityProvoUSA
  2. 2.Department of German and RussianBrigham Young UniversityProvoUSA

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