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Sign languages and the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages

Teacher competences
European Language Portfolio
Pro-sign reference levels
About the CEFR

Assessment of signed language proficiency

The development of assessments to evaluate language learners’ proficiency is the consequence of the teaching and learning of any given signed or spoken second/foreign language. Language tests are a form of assessment. Language tests can follow different procedures such as different test formats. These include self-assessment tests, checklists, observations or highly standardized language tests. We understand the concept of assessment also as a pedagogic tool; for example assessment can mean providing feedback on an in-class assignment for language learners or feedback on an assignment language learners had to complete at home. In summary, we conceptualize assessment in a broader sense to support the learners’ language learning process.


In this section we will provide different examples and provide resources related to sign language testing and assessment, both in a formative and summative framework of assessment which can support test developers, sign language teachers and other professionals involved in sign language teaching and assessment.

The assessment of sign language skills is based on so-called descriptors ("discretionary provisions") in the areas of reception, production, and interaction, adapted to language levels A1-C2 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR).

In this way, it is possible to assess the acquired skills of a learner and, therefore, to make transparent the language learning process as well as the associated development. The assessment can be divided into two areas: summative and formative assessment.

In summative assessment, the language learning process of the learner is seen as a whole. The performance at a specific point in time is analysed and assessed. Here, the progress and development of the learner are not taken into account. It can be compared to a test at the end of a module and it is, therefore, a final assessment.

Formative assessment, in contrast, reflects individual components of the language learning process. It analyses the learner's competences and skills as they are acquired step by step. From time to time, there are small assessments which make the development visible. In this way, the strengths and weaknesses of the learner can be identified. This gives learners and lecturers the opportunity to develop further learning objectives together. On the basis of the results obtained from the continuous assessment, the individual learning methods can be observed and changed if necessary. Formative assessment, therefore, facilitates the optimal elaboration of the various language learning processes.


Assessment of sign-language reception

The objective is to assess the reception skills of the learners at the various levels. To this end, the understanding, perception, and performance when receiving sign language are recorded and assessed based on three major criteria:

1.      understanding the content of sign language expressions and their context

2.      understanding discussions or talks relating to a specific topic

3.      specific strategies used by the learners to understand sign language

The above criteria, then, lead to an overall assessment of the reception performance. In addition, there are various methods for checking the individual criteria.Read more


When assessing reception, there are three challenges that should be considered because they can affect the reception capacity.

1.      Mixing of production and reception

This can happen when received content is supposed to be reproduced using sign language. Thus, the result can be influenced and falsified by possible incorrect sign language production.

2.      Memorising

The tasks should be structured in such a way that they focus on comprehension skills. The individual ability to memorise sign language expressions should have no effect on the result.

3.      Conceptual structure of the assessment

Testing procedures should be user-friendly and take into account existing resources. This includes the practical and easy use for the learner and also an easy implementation of the assessment by the examiner.

Assessment of sign-language production

When assessing production, the focus is on the individual production of expressions in sign-language. This is done on the basis of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), categorised according to content, context, subject and specialisation in line with the respective competence levels (A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2). Through a given stimulus for linguistic production, a monologue is to be produced in the target language. This can be, for example:

  • a report
  • a piece of information
  • a line of argument
  • a narrative
  • Read more

Assessment of sign-language interaction 

In sign-language interaction, the totality of the different competences is captured as a whole. What is assessed is the interplay of all competences taking place simultaneously: reception, production, and interaction.

An important criterion is that interaction always implies a real situation which is taking place directly and live.

The situation should be as authentic, direct, and realistic as possible. Here, the realistic situation can be created with the CEFR competence levels in mind.Read more