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Imagine I played you a podcast in the language you are learning and I slapped you every time you heard a word you do not know. On average, how often would I slap you?

 

What a weird question to begin with, right? It may not be obvious yet, but the answer to that question is a very good way of measuring your language abilities. If I were cocky, I would even say it’s the best method.

 

“Okay, Mr (not so cocky) Frank, prove it,” I hear you say. “My pleasure”, I respond.

 

The measuring of language abilities has at least one thing in common with the measuring of rainfall. With rainfall, you first need to choose or specify the part of the world whose rainfall you want to measure. With language abilities, you first need to specify the environment against which language abilities need to be assessed. Let me use an example to demonstrate what I mean.

 

Hiroshi is a Japanese high school student who is studying English so he can study Philosophy in Australia. ASR is a good method for measuring Hiroshi’s English abilities for this purpose. I’ll get to what ASR stands for in a minute. The environment in the case of Hiroshi is that of a Philosophy student in Australia. The first step of ASR is to sample the environment. Australia already has Philosophy students and sampling the environment would simple consist of recording the speech and language interactions of Philosophy students in Australia. We find some Philosophy students (say, 5 or so), then stick recording devices on them and record all the English they are exposed to for a semester. This will include everything they say, hear, read and write. The second step of the ASR method is the most fun (for us, the assessors).

 

Having compiled a recording that is representative of the language environment of Australian Philosophy students, we assess Hiroshi against it. We play the recording and whenever Hiroshi is exposed to a word he is not familiar with, we slap him. Not only that, we keep track of the frequency we slap Hiroshi. When Hiroshi is still beginner, we would be slapping him at a high rate, e.g. 200 slaps a minute. As Hiroshi’s English abilities improve, the rate reduces also. After Hiroshi’s abilities have improved to a level where we would consider him proficient, the slap rate will be low, e.g. 5 slaps an hour. Oh, ASR stands for Average Slap Rate. 

 

The beauty of ASR and why the cocky version of me would call it the best method is that it is exact. It gives you an exact figure which describes your abilities. The figure changes as your abilities change and there is no subjectivity involved. Hiroshi is not asked to describe how good he himself thinks he is. His abilities are measured in a way that is independent of his subjective perceptions. Another way ASR is exact is in how it measures you up against the exact uses/environment relevant to why you are learning a language. 

There is more where this came from

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