In School in Germany: Picture Games

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To start off this article, I would like to offer a word of advice to teachers whose passion also includes photography: Take as many pictures as you can and keep as many as you can. You may never know when and how you will need them- especially if you find the best ones for an activity (or several) for your class. 🙂  This principle I’ve followed for years which has led to not only successful activities but also successful articles.

This applies to vacation time, as two thirds of the population of German children are starting school now, with the remaining third still out until September. The same trend applies in the US, where half the schools start in mid-August; the rest after Labor Day. Children gather vast amounts of experiences through travel, summer camps, visits to long-distant relatives and friends, work and other events that add experience and enrich their knowledge of what’s around them. And at the beginning of the school year, they would like to share that experience with other classmates and especially their teacher.

After all, as we would like to look at their interests and get to know them, we can help them along so they can be what they want to be, right?  Be all that you can be, like in the US Army commercial. 😉

 

If you, as a teacher, have some problems coming up with activities to encourage the students to use their language skills and share their experiences with others, there are some activities that can help. Using a collection of photos, you can introduce the following exercises to them to motivate them to speak and be creative. These activities are not only meant to break the ice in terms of establishing communication between the teacher and the students, it is meant to unlock the knowledge that has been sitting in the freezer inside the students’ heads and it just needs to be thawed out. For the first exercise, photos from the teacher are required for use, whereas the second and third activities one can also use the photos from the students, if requested. In the fourth and final exercise, the students should present their photos and images, even if through Powerpoint or a slideshow.

Here’s a look at the photo activities you can use in the classroom (suitable for all ages and language levels):

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Picture This:

Based on an exercise in Baron’s TOEIC Preparatory Book, the object of this game is to look at a picture provided by the presenter to the group, and identify what is seen in there. How students view it and express themselves depends on what the picture has. The picture can be a landscape, a certain scene with people doing activities, a phenomenon, or something totally different. What is seen is what is to be identified. Some people may feel restricted because they have to focus on the picture itself and therefore may have some difficulties finding the right vocabulary for the pictures. Yet by the same token, especially if the activity is done in groups, one can take advantage of learning new words from this game or even refreshing the vocabulary that had been sitting unused for some time.  There are two ways of doing this activity: one is in a large group where each student can find what is in the picture and make a statement on it. The other is in pairs or small groups, where each one receives a picture, analyses it and can present it to the rest of the class. With the second variant, five minutes of preparing and five to ten minutes of presentation total will suffice, pending on the number of students in class.

As a trial run, use the picture above and find out what you see in there. You’ll be amazed at what you will find happening at a place like the Westerhever Lighthouse at the moment of the pic. 😉

 

Finish the Story: 

This activity comes from the film, Out of Africa with Robert Redford and Meryl Streep. Originally in the film (produced and directed by the late Sidney Pollack), the character Karen Dinesen (played by Streep) is a story-teller and in a conversation with Denys Hatton (played by Redford) and others, she explains the concept, where one starts the story with a sentence, where the other finishes the story the way it is seen fit. Like in this example:

While one could adopt this concept in the classroom, if it was a one-to-one training session, in larger groups, it would not be as exciting as it is when each student adds a sentence to the first one given by the teacher, and going through a couple rounds until the entire class feels the story is complete. This concept helps students become creative while at the same time refresh their knowledge of sentence structure and a bit of grammar. While one can try this without pictures, more challenging but exciting would be with pictures, especially from summer break, like the ones presented below. Try these with the following sentences below and complete your own story……. 🙂

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It was afternoon on the North Sea coast and a storm is approaching. It is windy and perfect weather for kite-flying………

 

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It is high tide, and the beach is underwater. Two people sitting in Strandkörbe are taken by surprise……..

 

Make a Story:

 Going further into talking about vacations and things to do in the summer is creating your own story, using a pic provided by the teacher. In groups of two or three, students have five minutes (for those on the beginner or pre-intermediate levels, 7-10 minutes should suffice) to create a story to present to the class. The advantage of this exercise, is that students are able to exchange ideas and knowledge to create a fantastic, rather interesting story to share with the rest of the class. In small groups of six or less, the exercise can also be done individually.  Even when you have pics like these below, which are rather simple, one can create great stories out of it. The whitest and plainest of canvases make for world-class pictures with this game.  Word to the wise  from my former uncle, who was a world-class painter. 😉

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Mini-Presentation:

With time constraints being the thorn in the side of teachers, one has to go by the principle of “Less Means More,” and optimize your class, in order to make learning as effective as possible. Mini-presentations are the best way for students to talk about their vacation in the shortest time possible. With a couple pics as support, each student has 2-3 minutes to talk about their trip.  The downside to this activity is that the student does not have much to talk about. It is possible though to choose one aspect of the vacation that you love the most and would like to talk about. The best aspect always receives the best attention. How it is presented depends on the student’s creative talents. One can focus on a sport the student tried, a wonderful place the student visited, a local food the student tried and loved, or a local event that took place during vacation. It can also include a summer job, summer camp, talent show or even a local festival, such as a parade, county fair or city market. Whatever event was the highlight, the student should have a chance to present it- as long as it does not overlap with another presenter.  🙂

 

There are several more activities which require the use of photos, while an increasing number of them require the use of 2.0 technologies, such as blogs and other interactive platforms, yet these four exercises do not require the use of technology (minus the Powerpoint aspect), but more with your language skills and your creative talents.  While these four activities can be used at any time, with even different themes, such as Christmas or school-related events for example, for the purpose of reactivating their language knowledge and getting (re-)acquainted with the students and teacher, are they perfect for the occasion. By implementing one or more successfully, the class will become so involved, it will appear that the first day in school never happened, and that the class will pick up where it left off before break, without missing a beat.

Even more so, when using photos for classroom use, a teacher can do a lot with them, while the students can benefit from them through their own stories. Therefore, take a lot of pictures and be prepared to use them for your future classes. Your students will thank you for it. 🙂

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In School in Germany/ Genre of the Week: Pelmanism- From the Novel: Don’t Try This at Home by Paul Reizin

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This Genre of the Week looks at a novel that may look ordinary to some readers who go through the whole book (or even half of it before putting it down for another one) and judge it as textbook style- where the protagonist gets caught in a situation where he has to find his way out.

The novel “Don’t Try This At Home,” by Paul Reizin looks at the protagonist from a first person point-of-view, who ends up being entangled in a mafia, getting in trouble with the law, and in bed with several girls in the process. All of these are by accident; all of these despite his attempts of getting himself out of the situation, only to end up digging himself even deeper in a hole until his wit, quick thinking and a little romance got himself out in the end.  How it all happened and what his personal life was like is worth reading and interpreting yourself. 🙂

Yet Reizin’s novel also features a few unconventional games that are worth trying, if you knew how they were played and done it wisely. Pelmanism is one of those games mentioned and described in the novel.

And while in the book Pelmanism had experiments with different types of alcohol while guessing what they were without looking, the game itself can be a useful one that provides the players of all ages with valuable learning experiences in all subjects of study.

Especially, when learning foreign languages!!!! 😀

I’ve been using this game for all my English classes since 2004- most of the time when we have our last course meeting as a group before the semester ends and we part ways for other commitments in life- and the game features words that are sometimes forgotten by some and unknown by others. It also presents some of the typical things and characteristics of some students. All it takes is some guessing what the objects are and who they belong to.

 

The object of the game is simple. You need:

A sheet of paper and a writing utensil

A timer

And a bag with ten personal items- the items should be small enough to fit in a cloth bag (not a see-through plastic one)

 

How the game is played goes like this:

One student grabs a bag and places the contents on the table in the middle, while other students close their eyes and/or look away as the contents are being taken out. Once all the items are on the table, that student signals the rest of the group to open their eyes and look at the table and the objects.  At this point, students have one minute to identify the ten items on the table in their working language, namely the foreign language they are learning. At the same time, they should guess who these objects belong to.

Once the teacher, who runs the timer, says “Stop!”, the students are called on upon random to name the objects and who they belong to. The student, who gets all the objects right as well as the correct person, will be the next one that chooses another bag, and repeats the same procedure.

This whole process continues until all the bags are used up or the teacher ends the game for time reasons.  There is no clear winner, but the objective of the game is to get the students to “reactivate” their brains to remember the words they learned in the past. At the same time, they also have an opportunity to learn new vocabulary- much of which may need to be listed on a sheet of paper with the native language equivalent, should the foreign language level range from beginner to intermediate (A to B level, according to the Common European Framework). In some cases, small devices that are new to the students will need to be explained by the person who brought it with the other objects.

 

I’ve had some weird but interesting examples that warranted explaining, for instance:

A can of deoderant that is actually a capsule for fitting a small object for hiding in geocaching, a pen that functions as a light, laser pointer and hole puncher, small books full of quotes, USB-sticks with company logos, stuffed animals (also as key chains), pieces of raw material (wood, rock, metal), postcards, pictures and poems. If you can think it, you can present it and be genuine at the same time. 😉

As mentioned earlier, Pelmanism can be played by all ages, regardless of language knowledge, and if you can have at least four participants (the more, the better), you can treat yourself to an evening of fun for either the whole family or friends. If you are a teacher in an English class, you will find this useful and fun for the students; especially if you participate in the game yourself.

Pelmanism is one of those games found in a book, where if modified for use in the classroom and mastered properly, it can be a fun experience for those learning new words, especially in a foreign language. It reactivates your brain and gets you reacquainted with words learned in the past (but seldomly used in the present), while at the same time, encourages active learning and acquisition of new words into an ever-expanding vocabulary. It is a fun game for everyone, and if you are as lucky as the protagonist in the story, you might come out with more than what words you learned in the game. 😉 <3

Thanks, Paul!

 

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Can Learning a Second Language Destroy Your Native Tongue?

GUEST COLUMN:

For those who have been living in a country outside your home, and have had problems forgetting some words in your own language, you’re not alone. I’ve had this experience, especially since I’ve been living in Germany for almost 20 years. But so has this guest columnist, and here’s a short explanation for this. You don’t necessarily lose your language, but you integrate it into the one of your current country of residency. Enjoy! 🙂

Source: Can Learning a Second Language Destroy Your Native Tongue?

 

 

The English Corner: Are You Sicher? Bist Du Sure?

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How people are not sure how to use the English form of Sicher

To start off my first post in the series on German versus the English language, I would like to start off with a little word of advice with regards to German-English translations:

When looking up the English equivalent of a German word, never EVER use the first meaning in English without looking at the meaning and context first.

 

Many people translating documents from German into English have done this, and native speakers of English who are correcting the English documents have tried not to cry while laughing at the translations, especially the English equivalent of the German word used that absolutely did not fit the context. Of some of the blunders I’ve seen over the years, I can list the top five that comes to my mind:

1. Wassereinbruch-   The translated version was water burglary! 😀 Yet the actual meaning is water break-in or leak if referring to an underwater pipe or cable.

2. Landstation-  On the same document about underwater pipes, this person translated it as country station!!  😀  Now if you were a country music fan, you would know what a country radio station sounds like, right?  For a station on land, we keep the English translation as is, just separating the words into two.

3. Nicht auf dem letzten Drucker machen– The English equivalent performed as a pun by one of my students at the university was “Don’t do it to the last printer!”  However, we do have one word to shorten this phrase, which is “to procrastinate.”

4. Ich kann schreien-  In a presentation when asked to speak up, the presenter responded with “I could cry?” Response from a predominantly American audience: “Well, don’t do that.” I could just scream when I hear this. Oh, did I forget that scream was the right equivalent?

5. Sicherstellen- Many students have made this mistake, which is to be discussed here. They always say to make it secure. But are you sure it means to make something safe?

There are many word pairings where one German word has several different English meanings. For the fifth example, we will look at the word Sicher and the English equivalents that features three different words: sure, secure and safe. With these, we also have for each English equivalent, a different meaning.

 

Sure:

If we use this word, then it refers to the process of making sure that every promise, fact, statement and proof is doubt-free. In other words, you are asking someone whether he is telling the truth or not, thus bringing a famous German statement you will find in many supermarkets selling tobacco and public places that have age restrictions: “Sagen ist gut, Beweis ist besser-” saying something is good, proof and/or evidence is better.

Example sentence:

Judy: Are you sure you can make it to the airport on time?

Jules: Yes my dear, I’ll make it with no problem.

Here, Judy is not sure whether her husband Jules will catch his flight out of the airport because of possible problems with traffic and/or his car.

 

Secure:

If we use this word, it has two different meanings. The first one means the same as reserving or claiming something to be yours for a specific purpose.

Example sentence:

Brad secured three places for us for the concert in May.

Here one can replace secure with reserve as they both mean the same- booking a place for an event                                                                                                                                                                                 so that no one else can take it.

 

The second meaning of secure is the process of protecting tangible assets from potential theft or damages. Here you can use the noun form security or even the adjective form securely or secured.

Example sentences:

  1.  Please make sure the seatbelt is  securely fastened.    This means that the seatbelt in the car must be snug but tight enough to make sure the driver or passenger does not fly                                                                                                                                             out of the car in the event of an accident.

 

  1. This is a secure place. There are over 100 cops in this building. (This in reference to a police station).     This means that the police station has many police officers protecting                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       the building and its belongings (persons included) from any potential                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     harm, which unless the threat comes from a Terminator, almost never                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     happens.

 

Safe:

If we use this word, it means protecting the most important assets in our lives from harm- in particular people.

Example sentences:

(Scene from Dante’s Peak). Harry and Rachel kept the kids safe while exploring the hot springs.  This scene speaks for itsself.

Also to note, safe is used as another equivalent to the aforementioned German quote regarding proof as “Better Safe than Sorry,” meaning taking extra-precautionary measures avoid potential disasters. This was used later in the movie, when Rachel (the mayor) orders a preemptive evacuation of Dante’s Peak on the eve of a volcanic eruption, which Harry predicted would happen, despite opposition from city leaders, an investor and even his own people.

 

Tip:

Now for people who really have problems telling the difference, here’s a tip for you to try at home. When you want to use the English equivalent of sicher, write down the equivalents and make a mind map for each word, making a word association with each of the three. Then write a sentence in your native tongue, have a look at the mindmap associated with the three words and choose the word that best fits the sentence and context. Nine times out of ten you will find the right word using this mind map.

 

There are many cases where one word has many equivalents in another language, as we see here with Sicher versus Safe, Secure and Sure. However one needs to find the equivalent that best makes sense in terms of definition and context. Sometimes even the tiniest doubt in the usage of words can help avoid mistakes based on assumptions. So when coming across a translation of a word you are trying to use both written and orally, look at them carefully- even using the dictionary if necessary, and ask yourself when choosing the right word “Are you sicher, bist du sure?” This expression my wife uses often, and albeit it is funny at first, it has a deeper meaning inside. Better safe than sorry, eh? 🙂

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Author’s Note:

The answer key to the questions about Schleswig-Holstein as well as the questions about the next (city-) state of Hamburg are available on the Flensburg Files’ website. This is in connection with the series on Germany at 25. To access them, please click on the symbol below and compare the answers to what you have. You can also comment on them doubt them to the author if needed. The answers to the Hamburg questions will come on 3 April, Good Friday. Have fun and good luck! 🙂

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In School in Germany: English Exams

 

To start off this entry, here is a question for all educators teaching foreign languages: Does your school offer foreign language proficiency exams? If so, for which grades (Germ.: Klasse) and what do these exams consist of?  For those who do not have a foreign language exam, should schools offer it and if yes, for which foreign languages and why?

As part of the European Union, it is expected that students learn at least English and French in addition to their native language. Germany is no exception as the two languages are stressed in the classroom as early as possible. And with that, tests (sometimes with certificates) are administered to test the knowledge of the foreign language as well as the skills developed during their time in school and later in college- namely, listening, reading, oral, and written. Grammar serves as a bridge connecting these skills and is only taught and tested in the classroom.

I have had the privilege to participate in every single English proficiency exam, both as an administrator as well as an observer, looking at the degree of difficulty, the structure and other elements that are either beneficial or a setback to the success of the students. In other words, I have been around the block. For teachers who are about to enter the field of foreign languages at school or at the university, and for students who are going to school or to the university in Germany, here are the exams that you will most likely expect to face while in Germany. Please keep in mind, these exams are meant to foster the development of the students and are not meant to pass or fail them, yet there are some differences that you should keep in mind, speaking from experience.

Besondere Leistungsfeststellung (BLF):  This exam was introduced in 2004 in response to the massacre that had occurred at the Guttenberg Gymnasium in Erfurt two years earlier. There, the person instigating the shooting spree (where 16 people were killed before he took his own life), left school without a degree, one of many reasons for his revenge. The massacre resulted in massive reforms in the education system and with that, the introduction of stringent requirements, including the BLF Exam. This exam can be found in Thuringia, Hesse and Saxony, but will most likely be found in other German states in the future. The BLF applies to subjects in German, Math, Science and a Foreign Language, in particular, English.  Students in the tenth grade are required to take the BLF exam and have the entire year to prepare for it through classes and other work. This includes a year of intensive English classes, where they have the opportunity to focus on current events and cultural issues and improve on their writing, reading, listening and speaking skills.  When the exam occurs close to the end of the school year, students are assigned to their examiners, and the dates are chosen by the administrators. Most of the time, they will be assigned in groups of two or three and are given 30 minutes of preparation time before the exam, as they will be given a topic to do their presentation in. These topics are sometimes based on their preferences in the class, so one can expect a presentation on US culture-related themes, for example because of their preference.

The exam is orally based and consists of three parts: The first part is small talk, where the examiner asks the students some questions about school life, their future and their favorite interests. The second part features a presentation from each student of the group of 2-3, based on the topic given for preparing. And in the third part, the students are given a scene where they play out a scene. The exam takes 30 minutes and students are given a grade in the end. That grade will represent half of the total grade for the subject for that particular year.  Judging by the observations, students taking this exam are more flexible in the first part than in the rest as they have the ability to use the vocabulary and speak freely than in the other two parts. Most mistake-prone is in the second part with the presentations, where they are forced to stick to the topic and use the vocabulary pertaining to it. Add the grammar to that and for a tenth grader, it can be very difficult if there are some areas lacking.

 

Abitur English:  Going up a notch is the Abitur exam, taken by those in the 12th or 13th grade who are on their way out of the Gymnasium and heading to college or the real world. The oral portion exam is structured like the BLF- meaning three parts with one of the parts requiring  preparation time of 30 minutes before the time of the exam. In that part, the student is given a text to prepare. This usually goes first as a way of “dumping him/her into icy cold water.” Well, it is not that cruel, but the student has  to answer the (unexpected) questions provided by the examiner that have to coincide with the text to test the reading comprehension- and with own words.  The second and third parts of the exam comprises of conversation testing listening and oral skills, with the second part focusing on current events and the third part focusing on personal questions, etc. This includes future plans, high school life and other topics dealing with one’s life.  The grade of the oral exam is combined with the grade of the written exam, which is usually given prior to the oral part. Students have a chance to choose which subject to do the Abitur, yet the final grades will influence the decision of the universities in Germany to admit or reject the applications. In other words, be aware of the Numerus Clausus when you want to apply for a degree program at the university, for if you do not have a 1,3 or better, you may not be admitted to the program of your choice.  One more thing: The Abitur Exam means A-level exams in English and are applicable in Germany.

 

UNICERT:   Developed by the Technical University of Dresden, the UNICERT exam applies to college students studying in the field of business, sciences, law and humanities. Students can receive the certificate with the grade level of I-IV, pending on which university offers what level of UNICERT certificates and what level of difficulty for languages. That means level I applies to A-B1 language niveau according to the European Language Reference, whereas level IV is up to C2 level.  For example, the University of Bayreuth (Bavaria), where I taught English for a couple years offers UNICERT up to level four, whereas the University of Halle (Saxony-Anhalt) only offers UNICERT up to level two.  The UNICERT is perhaps one of the most rigorous of exams, for in order to receive a UNICERT Certificate, students not only have to attend certain numbers of accredited English classes and pass the courses, but as soon as they obtained enough credits for the UNICERT exams, they have to achieve the highest possible score for the four-part exam, each part featuring reading comprehension, listening comprehension, oral communication, and essay writing based on a given theme.  While both reading and listening feature questions to answer, in listening comprehension, you listen to the audio clip twice before answering the questions. In oral communication, the format is the same as in the Abitur and BLF Exams- 30 minutes of preparation time with a text with possible questions to be answered followed by 30 minutes of small talk, text questions and current event questions.  Speaking from experience, while students think the UNICERT is really difficult, the teachers find preparing each and every theme for the given parts to be really difficult, for the themes must fit to the students’ field of study as well as the current events, especially if the theme suggestions are rejected, altered or accepted with reservations by other members of the language institute. But that is a different topic to be saved for a lousy day of teaching.  UNICERT exams are found at many German universities, as well as those in Austria, Switzerland, France and the Czech Republic, yet they are frowned upon as being insufficient for proof of language skills for the future jobs. That is why one will see UNICERT-accredited universities mostly in the southern half of Germany, as well as Saxony, Hesse and Berlin, but are rejected in the  northern half in states, like  Hamburg, Lower Saxony Mecklenburg-Pommerania and Schleswig-Holstein, cities like Cologne, Frankfurt and Dusseldorf, and at almost every technical university and university of applied sciences (Fachhochschulen).  But it does not mean that at these institutions where UNICERT does not exist that there are no exams to test the language proficiency of the students, as will be seen with the TOEIC.

 

TOEIC: TOEIC, which stands for the Test of International Communication is the most internationally recognized exam to be administered both in academia as well as in the business environment. It was first developed in the 1970s by the US-based Educational Testing Services and features two part: The Listening-Reading Test and the Speaking and Writing Test. The former features multiple choice questions and live conversations with people of different cultural backgrounds and speaking different dialects. The exam lasts 2 hours and a person can receive up to 900 points. The latter features 20 minutes of oral communication and 60 minutes of writing, and the person can receive up to 400 points. The exams are ordered by the institutions and as soon as the exams are completed, they are sent to the language testing center, where they are corrected and evaluated, and the certificates are sent to the institutions and/or examinees. Yet prior to the exam, preparation classes are required, where materials pertaining to TOEIC are used almost exclusively. One can present additional materials to class as long as they are relevant to the subjects that are covered for the exam. This makes the TOEIC the most centralized of exams and also the strictest, for guidelines must be met in order for the exam and the certificates to be valid. This is speaking from experience of a teacher who has a TOEIC Examiner License for over 4 years now.  Unlike UNICERT, teachers wanting to administer TOEIC must complete training at a language center and take some additional courses to update your knowledge of TOEIC. These can cost some money, but the training is worth it. TOEIC can be found at almost all the Fachhochschulen, universities that do not have UNICERT, and several business institutions. They are open for both students and adults alike, including those who are unemployed and are changing careers.

Note: TOEIC rivals the exams administered by Cambridge University and Trinity School of London as they follow similar guidelines, yet these exams can be found at the universities and institutions of continuing education (Volkshochschulen). More information about the TOEIC can be found here

 

So which exams are the toughest? Speaking from experience as a teacher, the exams can be compared to a flight of stairs a person has to go up in order to succeed. That means for students, the BLF is perhaps the easiest and the first step, whereas the UNICERT is the most difficult. Abitur and TOEIC are right in the middle. But this is in regards to the degree of difficulty that is expected. However, from the teacher’s point of view, the TOEIC is perhaps the easiest as there is little preparation time and the materials are provided. It is just a matter of following the units and ensure that you have an agenda to follow for the students in order to achieve the unit. The UNICERT is the most difficult for you need to develop the test and course curriculum yourself. While the course portion is not a problem if you are doing that individually and develop your own guidelines that fits the UNICERT requirements, when you work together with your colleagues at the university, you can run into several conflicts which can turn a harmonious relation into guerrilla warfare, which could make working together be a discord, and most times, the students taking the exam suffer in the end. But if asked which certificate would be most suitable for any job after school, then clearly the TOEIC would be the choice, for the Abitur is only a bridge to entering college and may be difficult to be accepted by the employer, and the UNICERT is restricted to Germany and the European stage.  But before proving your knowledge of a foreign language like English through certificates, it is best to work with the language so that you have enough confidence and skills mustered to pursue the Abitur, UNICERT or TOEIC. It is given that a proficiency exam, like the BLF will be given in the 10th grade. But for the others, the best way to master this success is interaction with others with native-speaker knowledge or even the native speaker him/herself. Sometimes a trip to that country for half a year will do the trick. 😉

 

What about other foreign language proficiency exams in the schools? Apart from BLF, what other exams exist in the German Bundesländern? Place your comments here or in the Files’ facebook page or send the author a line at flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com. Don’t forget to share your thoughts about foreign language proficiency exams in the US, as mentioned at the beginning of this article.