A qualitative analysis of early French immersion students' communicative competence on the New Brunswick oral proficiency interview: where pedagogy meets assessment

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University of New Brunswick


The Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI) is an assessment of second language oral proficiency administered by the New Brunswick Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (NB-EECD) for students enrolled in French second language (FSL) programs, including French immersion (FI). OPI results for 2018-2019 indicate that approximately one-half of Grade 12 early French immersion (EFI) students reached the provincially-set target of Advanced oral proficiency. Another large percentage - 33.5% - reached the Intermediate Plus level, meaning that they possessed many characteristics of Advanced speakers but could not sustain this kind of oral competence throughout the interview. Similar results have been consistently reported over many years of testing using the OPI (NB-EECD, 2019b). This qualitative research of Grade-1-entry-point EFI students' performance on the OPI, through detailed discourse analysis of OPI interviews retrieved from the NB-EECD, illustrates the discursive strengths and limitations of student performance on interviews rated at the Intermediate Plus (N=3) and Advanced (N=3) levels of oral proficiency. Following Celce-Murcia's theory of communicative competence (2007a), these findings can inform teaching practices favouring a holistic approach to teaching (Celce-Murcia, 2007a; Goh & Burns, 2012; Le Bouthillier, 2018b), narrow the divide between practical and theoretical aspects of language learning and assessment (Council of Europe, 2001), and help deconstruct the assessment criteria to guide student discourse toward a higher student achievement at the Advanced level.