Toward mapping listening skills
on the CEFR: An investigation of
colloquial language
Nigel Downey & Anne Nebel
Center for Applied Linguistics and Language
Studies, Hellenic American University
Athens, Greece
The focus of the study
 A descriptor
of overall listening ability at
C1 level in the CEFR reads as follows:
“Can recognize a wide range of
idiomatic expressions and
colloquialisms.” (CEFR, p. 66)
The focus of the study
 In
attempting to operationalize this cando statement for test development
purposes, two major issues have come
to light:
 Weaknesses
of the CEFR as a tool for test
 Concerns over whose language we are
testing and why
 Terminology:
 Definition
of idioms & colloquial language?
 Operations:
 What
does it mean “to recognize” I & CL?
 Purpose:
 Test development tool: incomplete
 How
are I & CL processed (cognitive load) ?
 How can we best test I & CL (method) ?
(see Alderson et al, 2004, 2006; Weir, 2005)
Whose colloquial language?
 Whose
norms are we using and why?
Standard BrE? AmE? EIL? ELF? Nativized
forms? (see Davies, Hamp-Lyons and Kemp,
2003; Brown, 2004; and Lowenberg, 2002 for
 Who
uses I&CL? When? Where? Why?
“unilateral idiomaticity” (Seidlhofer, 2004: 220)
 WE, ELF developments in testing (Jenkins, 2006)
Formulaic sequences
 Subsumed I & CL
under the larger term
of formulaic structures/sequences (FS)
 What are FS?
 Definition:
 Processing: processing shortcuts
 Purpose: promotion of self (?)
(see Wray 2000; Wray & Perkins 2000)
Testing the living language?
 Native
speaker & non-native speaker
 Creativity
 Influence
 Testing
Formulaic sequences in
testing aiming at C1 level
 Considerations
 Context
& genre
 Frequency
 Distribution
 Duration
Formulaic sequences in the
 Part
of international English language
 The
dollar took a dive
 Negotiations ground to a halt
 Reception
versus production
 Washback effect
 Research
References & resources
Alderson, J.C., Figueras, N., Kuijper, H., Nold, G., Takala, S. and
Tardieu, C. (2004) The development of specifications for item
development and classification within the Common European
Framework of Reference for Languages: learning, teaching,
assessment. Reading and listening. Final report of the Dutch CEF
construct project. Retrieved 27/04/06 from
Alderson, J.C., Figueras, N., Kuijper, H., Nold, G., Takala, S. and
Tardieu, C. (2006) Analyzing tests of reading and listening in relation to
the Common European Framework of Reference: The experience of
the Dutch CEFR construct project. Language Assessment Quarterly 3
(1), 3-30.
Brown, J. D. (2004) What do we mean by bias, Englishes, Englishes in
testing, and English language proficiency? World Englishes 23 (2), 317319.
Buck, G. (2001) Assessing listening. Cambridge University Press.
Council of Europe. (2001) The Common European Framework of
Reference for Languages: Learning, teaching and assessment.
Cambridge University Press.
References & resources
Davies, A., Hamp-Lyons, L. and Kemp, C. (2003). Whose Norms?
International proficiency tests in English. World Englishes, 22 (4) 571584.
Jenkins, J. (2006) Current perspectives on teaching world Englishes and
English as a lingua franca. TESOL Quarterly 40 (1), 157-181.
Lowenberg, P. (2002) Assessing English proficiency in the Expanding
Circle. World Englishes 21(3), 431-435.
Seidlhofer, B. (2004) Research perspectives on teaching English as a
lingua franca. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics 24, 209-239.
Weir, C. (2005) Limitations of the Common European Framework for
developing comparable examinations and tests. Language Testing 22
(3), 281-300.
Wray, A. (2000) Formulaic sequences in second language teaching:
principle and practice. Applied Linguistics 21/4, 463-489.
Wray, A. and Perkins, M. (2000) The functions of formulaic language: an
integrated model. Language & Communication 20, 1-28.
Thank You
Formulaic sequences: a definition
 “a
sequence, continuous or discontinuous,
of words or other meaning elements, which
is, or appears to be, prefabricated: that is,
stored and retrieved whole from memory at
the time of use, rather than being subject to
generation or analysis by the language
grammar” (Wray & Perkins, 2000: 1)
Why focus on FS in listening?
Lack of familiarity with vocabulary causes
problems and misunderstandings. Most
interestingly, perhaps, are cases of ‘unilateral
idiomaticity’ where particularly idiomatic speech
by one participant can be problematic when the
expressions used are not known to the
interlocutors. Characteristics of such unilateral
idiomaticity are, for example, e.g., metaphorical
language use, phrasal verbs, and fixed ENL
expressions such as this drink is on the house or
we can give you a hand (Seidlhofer, 2004: 220).

Toward mapping listening skills on the CEFR: An