Understanding the Construct

James P. Lantolf, William Frawley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Scopus citations


In this article we argue against a definitional approach to oral proficiency and in favor of a principled approach based on sound theoretical considerations. We first identify four problematic trends in the oral proficiency movement as it is currently conceived: the tail wagging the dog, false authenticity, premature institutionalization, and the psychometric posture. Thereafter, we offer the rudiments of a principled theory of oral proficiency, based on the theory of higher forms of human cognitive activity developed by the Vygotskyan school of psycholinguistics. The theory compels us to bring into focus such factors as open systems, the individual speaker, functional systems, and intersubjectivity. From this perspective, we argue that if the construct of oral proficiency is to have any significance at all for language teaching and testing, researchers must come to understand what it means for real speakers (natives as well as nonnatives) to interact with other real speakers in the everyday world of human activity rather than in the world circumscribed by language tests.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)181-195
Number of pages15
JournalStudies in Second Language Acquisition
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 1988

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Education
  • Linguistics and Language


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