Language Assessment to Determine Origin or LADO and the Issues at Stake: Should Applied Linguists or Native Speakers of the Claimed Language Do the Rating?
The current trend of language assessment to determine origin or LADO has occupied much interest in the linguistic field due to the debate over how to administer language assessment tests to best determine the national origin of potential immigrants and political refugees. While the primary means of assessment often involve spoken vocabulary and pronunciation, there is controversy over whether such tests should be administered by applied linguists or native speakers of the language that is in question.
Before going into more details, however, it is best to understand what applied linguistics and native speaking mean. According to Richards and Schmidt (2002),
“[A]pplied linguistics uses information from sociology, psychology, anthropology, and INFORMATION THEORY as well as linguistics in order to develop its own theoretical models of language and language use, and then use this information in practical areas such as… [LADO].” (p. 28)
A native speaker, on the other hand, is a “person who learns a language as a child and continues to use it fluently as a dominant language” (Richards & Schmidt, 2002, p.351). They also “use language grammatically, fluently and appropriately, to identify with a community where it is spoken, and have clear intuitions about what is considered grammatical or ungrammatical in the language” (Richards & Schmidt, 2002, p.351).
This paper focuses on LADO and the assessment issues that are at stake on the controversy that LADO raters should either be applied linguists or native speakers of the claimed language. In the end, it shall be concluded whether applied linguists or native speakers should do the rating, and what step should be done in order to solve this case.
What is LADO?
The LADO or language assessment to determine origin is a spoken language test used in determining the national origins of refugees in order to judge their eligibility to migrate. It focuses more on vocabulary and pronunciation, as it uses discrete-point tests in measuring integrative skills that have something to do with linguistics. Here, the complexities of language are being broken down into isolated segments, which influence “what is tested and how it is tested” (Power, 2008). By using structural contrastive analysis of the L1 and LT from the syntactic to the phonological dimensions, knowledge and capability is being measured with the assumption that “knowledge of the elements of a language is equal to knowledge of that language” (Power, 2008).
What issues are at stake?
To determine whether applied linguists (who are more knowledgeable in sociology, psychology, anthropology, and information theory) or native speakers (who are more on the side of the correct application and culture of a certain language) should do the LADO rating, it is important to lay out first the important issues that are at stake for an effective test result, according to the words of H. Douglas Brown (2004, pp.19-28):
This refers to test characteristic that makes it affordable and not excessively expensive. There are appropriate time constraints associated with taking the test. It is easier to administer; and has an evaluation procedure that is specific and time-efficient. A LADO test is practical if it is sensible and convenient enough.
This refers to test characteristic that makes it consistent and dependable even if taken repeatedly for many times. It should yield similar results, reflecting reliability in relation to the student, the rater, the test administration, and the test (Brown, 2004, pp.21-22). A LADO test is reliable if it leads to less errors and inconsistencies.
This refers to the test characteristic in which “the extent to which inferences made from assessment results are appropriate, meaningful, and useful in terms of the purpose of the assessment” (Brown, 2004, p.22). A LADO test is valid if the activities in the test perfectly correspond to the objective, and the manner of testing the skill or knowledge is in line with measuring the specific capability.
This refers to the test characteristic that makes it as natural as possible; contextualized rather than isolated; with meaningful topics and realistic tasks that follow some thematic organization (Brown, 2004, p.28). A LADO test is authentic if the items display what is supposed to be seen in the real world.
This refers to “the effect of testing on teaching and learning” (Brown, 2004, p.28). It refers to the overall effect of taking the test in relation to the instructions and the subjects or topics to be reviewed. A LADO test is positive in washback if it is informal and interactive by nature, with explanations or opportunities for explanation on what the test should have done to those who have taken it.
Should applied linguists or native speakers do the rating?
From the above, it is evident that the LADO test should be made sensible and practical; secondly, reliable in terms of the student, the rater, the test administration, and the test; thirdly, valid and appropriate; fourthly, authentic and contextualized; and finally, positive in washback and the overall process of teaching and learning.
If applied linguists do the rating of the LADO, they would be more aware of issues that have to do with language use, with the proper training to recognize variations in terms of vocabulary and pronunciation. On the other hand, native speakers would be more aware of the use and propriety of words, as well as the varieties in terms of accent and intonation. If raters would only be applied linguists, they would be successful when it comes to the test’s reliability, validity, and washback, since they are attentive to sociology, psychology, anthropology and information theory. However, if raters would be native speakers, then they would be successful when it comes to practicality, authenticity, and also in washback. Therefore, it would be best for raters to be both applied linguists and native speakers.
It is interesting to know that life and future may depend on the way we pronounce or say a word. It is more tremendous knowing that one person can either be our savior or executer in the world of the linguistics. But should one be the savior while the other one, the executer when we talk of people behind language assessment, such as the LADO?
In the ability to synthesize the linguistic elements by dealing with the proficiency needed to master a specific language, it is plain that the best results come from uniting both parties. LADO raters should, at all costs, be applied linguists and native speakers in unison.
Brown, H.D. (2004). Language assessment: principles and classroom practices. New York, NY: Longman.
McNamara, T. (2005). 21st century Shibboleth: language tests, identity and intergroup conflict. Language Policy, 4, 4, 351-370.
McNamara, T., & Roever, C. (2006). Language testing: the social dimension. Boston, NY: Blackwell Publishing.
Power, T. (2008). Language testing and methods of assessment. Retrieved October 17, 2008, from http://www.btinternet.com/~ted.power/esl0708.html.
Richards, [first name initial], & Schmidt, [first name initial]. Title of book. Place of publication: publisher.