Seminar Aims to Improve NATO Language Skills Through Better Testing

Seminar Aims to Improve NATO Language Skills Through Better Testing

Seminar Aims to Improve NATO Language Skills Through Better Testing

By Christine June
Public Affairs Office
George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies

GARMISCH PARTENKIRCHEN, Germany (May 11, 2017) - Language instructors from 13 NATO and partner nations completed a three-week Advanced Language Testing Seminar at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies’ Partner Language Training Center Europe (PLTCE) that will improve communications between English-speaking partners in the NATO alliance.

“The value of standardized testing has been the topic of heated debate for the past few years. But standardized language proficiency testing is imperative to NATO inter-operability. It plays a vital role in the combined operational effectiveness of the military forces of the Alliance,” said Roxanne Harrison, PLTCE program manager.

English is the primary operational language of the NATO alliance and each job assignment is given a required level of proficiency called a standard language profile, or SLP. The SLP is determined through the STANAG 6001 language test. This seminar helped to ensure that SLP test scores from one country are the same as test scores from another country.

"Advanced training of testers at the ALTS is of immense value to the NATO alliance and partners because it helps to standardize language proficiency testing and the understanding of language proficiency levels – particularly at the professional level. Valid and reliable test scores help ensure that the right people get into the right jobs and have the requisite language ability to function effectively in those jobs," said Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) Installation Commander U.S. Army Col. Lee Flemming

During this year’s course, 13 participants from 12 nations attended. Subject matter experts from the USA, Estonia, Croatia, the Netherlands and Slovenia served as adjunct facilitators for the post-graduate level course.

ALTS was developed in 2009 at the request of the Bureau for International Language Coordination (BILC) NATO’s advisory body for matters related to language training and testing. The three-week course includes modules on receptive skills testing (listening and reading), productive skills testing (speaking and writing), test analysis (including statistics and validation), and managerial issues.

“Language training and testing is not a NATO responsibility but a national responsibility. Each nation in the alliance conducts language training to meet NATO requirements. Each alliance nation also has a national STANAG 6001 testing team which is responsible for developing language proficiency examinations to test language proficiency levels of their nation’s military members.   Most of the testing is for the English language, but French is also an official NATO language. Some nations have applied the STANAG 6001 proficiency descriptors to language testing other than French and English, too,” said Harrison.

PLTCE works in close coordination with BILC to train testers to ensure national testing team methods and, more importantly, test scores are comparable from one nation to the next.

Sandrine Plantec is a test developer from France. In addition to the academic material, the ability to work and learn alongside other professionals like herself makes ALTS all the more valuable.

"The ALTS helps me and our team in France to develop standardized STANAG 6001 tests. Having classmates from different countries has been very beneficial because we can learn about testing programs in other countries. I was very interested to learn about Spain's computer-based tests and hope we can one day do the same in France, perhaps. I think ALTS helps us make the NATO alliance stronger by ensuring our STANAG 6001 tests are standard. In another way, the NATO alliance is made stronger by in that we improve our international network of peers, share our experience and share a strong feeling of camaraderie."

Plantec’s Spanish colleague Jose Delgado agreed.

"Attending this course will allow me to improve everything related to testing in my country - and to standardize methods with the rest of the BILC countries,” he said.

Since the course was launched in 2010, PLTCE’s ALTS class has trained 106 testers from 31 nations.

The George C. Marshall European Center’s PLTCE is a NATO Partner Training and Education Centre. The center offers advanced and specialized classroom instruction in Arabic, English, French, Persian-Farsi, and Russian to more than 400 US military and NATO or partner attendees each year. Faculty professional development courses in language testing and classroom instruction such as ALTS is part of PLTCE’s overall mission.