What is ASLPI?

The American Sign Language Proficiency Interview (ASLPI) is a holistic language evaluation used to determine global ASL proficiency. The basic precept in this type of evaluation is to find out through a face-to-face interview what an individual can do with the target language at a given point in time. The ASLPI is a 20-25 minute video recorded interactive dialogue between the examinee and the interviewer. The interview is rated by a team of evaluators and examinees are awarded an overall proficiency level on a 0-5 rating scale. Language proficiency evaluation was originally developed by the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) of the US Department of State and has been used by the government for decades. Adaptations to the language proficiency evaluation were made with respect to ASL and the ASLPI was born. The ASLPI is utilized by agencies, schools, universities, programs and employers. 

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Laurene Simms

Chief Bilingual Officer

Mechelle Tarbox

Associate ASL Diagnostician

Leticia Arellano

American Sign Language

ASL Proficiency Evaluator

Deborah Peterson

Senior ASL Diagnostician

Loretta Roult

Senior ASLPI Coordinator


Academia Questions

We have two options: live interview at American Sign Language (ASL) Diagnostic and Evaluation Services (ASL-DES) or via videophone from a neutral site. The location of the ASLPI has no bearing on the language skills an examinee is able to demonstrate. If language proficiency exists, an examinee can “show their stuff” no matter the location.
The ASLPI interview process has four phases which include: warm up, level check, probing, cool down. The warm-up phase is brief, but it gives the examinee a few minutes to calm. During the level check phase, familiar topics are raised which provides the evaluator with linguistic information as to what the examinee can do with the target language. The evaluator then moves into the probing phase which is designed to pull the examinee up to his/her highest proficiency level (challenging the examinee across topics). And finally, the cool down brings the examinee back to a comfortable language level before closing the evaluation.
The evaluators do indeed slow down when an examinee is struggling. However, evaluators also have other strategies to bring the examinee to a higher proficiency level which could include finding another way of stating something, so the examinee has an opportunity to demonstrate an increasingly higher proficiency level by “stretching” in their language skills. Simply slowing down and keeping the evaluation at a specific “plateau” or lower proficiency level does not given the examinee a chance to show what s/he can do with the language, thus capping the proficiency level when the examinee might have been able to achieve a higher level.
The ASLPI is not a test for which you study. As with all languages, skills develop over time and that time frame varies from person to person. To improve your American Sign Language (ASL) skills, a combination of formal instruction, diagnostic assessment to identify specific strengths and weaknesses, and interaction with proficient users of the language in a variety of communicative contexts is needed. However, none of these produce “overnight” changes in your skills. As with any test, you are encouraged to do things to reduce test anxiety, such as eating well, exercising, and getting a good night’s sleep before the day of your ASLPI evaluation.
With regard to preparation, consider any language and acquiring that language—English, Spanish, French, etc. Learning, understanding and using any language with proficiency takes time and hard work. It is also important to remember that becoming proficient in any language does not always come as quickly (or as easily) as we would like. Preparation for taking the ASLPI is not like preparing for an exam in a course (i.e., memorizing core information and regurgitating it in the same form on paper). The ASLPI is evaluating what you can do with the target language at a given point in time. Proficiency in a language gives us the ability to discuss a wide range of topics, known or unknown to us. As with all language proficiency evaluations, the focus is on use of language features, the range of language features incorporated, and the accuracy, consistency and building complexity of those language features across a variety of topics. The evaluation is not a focus on what you know about the topics. Becoming proficient in any language happens over time and that time varies from person to person. When you take the ASLPI, you will do your best to demonstrate a range of ASL features, aspects and nuances that you have in your language repertoire. Depending upon where you are in the language acquisition process, you may have full control over some of the features, while others you may have some control, and still others are just emerging (no control). The goal is to show what you CAN DO with the language, no matter the topics discussed. This is not a test of your knowledge. When topics are raised, rely on your life experiences, personal perspectives and opinions to respond. If a question or topic is raised that is unfamiliar, ask for clarification or additional information to gain understanding. Questions are an important language function, and each language has parameters for how to present questions with accuracy (e.g., use of eyebrows, eyes and body movement — grammar indicators). Once you understand the topic or question, respond from your personal perspective. The focus of the evaluation is not on what you know about the topic, but the features and function of the target language (e.g., syntax, grammar, vocabulary, semantics, surrogates, depiction, etc.). Think of the ASLPI in those terms. The challenge is when our language skills are still developing and we are limited with vocabulary, grammar, syntax, etc. in a language and then attempt to demonstrate increasing complexity with accuracy via that language. When you take the ASLPI, put all of your energy into showing what you CAN DO with the language. You will attempt to use features that you might not have full control over. You may also be influenced by a non-target language. Do your best to make every attempt to show what you can do. The ASLPI will evaluate your accuracy, consistency, complexity and flexibility with ASL. Preparation can include but is not limited to: using the language as much as possible so features become part of your natural language repertoire (we lose what we don’t use); continually involve yourself in ongoing formal instruction (classes, workshops, conferences); immerse yourself in social events at which you remain in the target language for extended periods of time; conduct ongoing personal assessments of your language (consciously think about what you are generating: Are you using ASL, or a more English like signing? Are you using correct grammar, semantics for intended meaning, etc.)? Ask proficient users to point out errors when they occur, and incorporate that feedback.
Let’s first consider a language test that requires you to compare and contrast two simple topics. The purpose is not to provide a factual, statistical, research based response, but to simply compare and contrast the topics based on your personal experience, opinion and perspective. Through your discussion of the topics, you will use the following:
  • Range of Vocabulary
  • Grammar
  • Syntax
  • Array of sentence types
  • Structure of information (opening, supporting details, closing)
  • Clear comparison and contrast of the two topics
  • Overall cohesion
Let’s now turn to the ASLPI. Your language skills are evaluated via a range of topics discussed, from familiar to unfamiliar, and concrete to hypothetical. It is beneficial to have confidence with the skills that you have, knowing what you can do with the language, as well as having awareness of language areas that are still in development. Language skills which are still developing will emerge and then evade you. That is the nature of language development, acquisition and proficiency. Once you have mastered specific language features, you gain control over them and will have the ability to demonstrate increasing complexity of language features in your responses. On the day of your interview, demonstrate the skills you have in your language repertoire. Do your best to demonstrate what you can do with the language given the questions and topics discussed. The range of topics are for the purpose of giving you every opportunity to show what you can do with the language. The topics may include something you have signed about before. There may also be topics that you have never signed about before. There is information, events and topics you may feel comfortable signing about because you have practiced and rehearsed them. It is when random topics are raised that true ASL proficiency is identified which reveals skills that are mastered. Random topics will also reveal language aspects that are still emerging, or are not present at all. Remember: The purpose of ASLPI is to capture what you CAN DO with the language.
The Evaluators will typically not provide new vocabulary if it is not known to you. Demonstrating range of vocabulary is a part of the evaluation. Examinees can use other strategies in the interview. How do you handle being in a conversation with someone who says something you don’t understand? We ask for clarification. We might ask, Did you mean…?” All languages have sentence structures from simple to complex. For example, American Sign Language (ASL) has Y/N and WH questions, command statements, rhetorical, if/when statements, etc. Use the features of the language that are available to you. Do remember, though, that the Evaluator will not function in an “”ASL Teacher”” role. S/he will not provide you with signs when you don’t have that vocabulary in your language repertoire. Demonstrate the language that you are able. For newer signers, are you familiar with the “hearing nod” (the deer in head lights feeling) that many of us used early on in the language learning process? That glazed over look with our head nodding yes” when we really didn’t understand what was being signed. When we use our first language in our daily lives, we ask for clarification when we don’t understand something. That is functional language in the works. The goal is to use the language with accuracy (if possible) when asking for clarification. Understanding and being understood is an important part of every language and there are features of every language that serve that purpose. It is also important to realize our current skill level. If you know that comprehension is still developing, then understanding may be a challenge. That is okay. It is where we are at that moment in time. As mentioned above, use features of the language to get clarification and understand what is being discussed.
Let’s look more closely at the word “comfortable” in this question. The ASLPI Evaluators proceed through rigorous training which includes intensive focus on types of questions appropriate for language testing purposes. Sensitive topics are not included in the evaluation. The question above appears to be referring to topics that are not familiar, which in turn might equate to “discomfort” if you have limited vocabulary and limited language use. Don’t let unfamiliarity make you uncomfortable. Use the language features in your repertoire to gain an understanding about the topic and then respond from a personal perspective on the topic. We talk about a wide range of topics daily, many not totally familiar. Increased comfort with topics goes hand in hand with having a wide and flexible range of language features that move us through conversations and discussions. The purpose of the ASLPI is not to simply touch on topics with which you are comfortable and have familiarity (previously signed about them). That would plateau your language proficiency level. The purpose of the ASLPI is to measure your maximum overall proficiency. Proficient users can use language with accuracy, complexity and flexibility across topics. For unfamiliar topics, use language strategies such as, “That is an interesting question. I am not familiar with that, but if I had to deal with that situation, I would ….” The ASLPI is not evaluating your knowledge on any topic. The attempt to answer the question with an array of language features and increasing complexity and consistency raises the language proficiency level. The evaluator probes into linguistic areas through familiar and less familiar topics to identify both the maximum skills (ceiling) and limits (floor) of the examinee’s ability.
The topics vary from evaluation to evaluation depending upon the examinee, his/her interest, and where a topic leads the conversation. It is a very interactive exchange between examinee and evaluator. The evaluator’s goal is to pull out all of the language features that the examinee has to show. As the evaluator moves forward, s/he is looking for language features and the complexity and proficiency to which the examinee is able to use those features. Questions and topics are designed and asked to pull out those features of the language that have not yet been demonstrated.
Evaluators go through extensive training to develop a shared understanding and mental model of each proficiency level from 0-5. The proficiency levels and functional descriptions are posted on the website. Feel free to review them as frequently as you like. The evaluation system has very strong inter- and intra-rater reliability among its evaluator pool. This means that all evaluators have the same knowledge and understanding of each proficiency level, and come to the same rating decision. When the evaluation is completed, individual independent evaluators view the recorded evaluation in its entirety. Each is required to decide on the proficiency level individually before meeting to share their decision. If complete consensus cannot be reached (which is rare), another rating team is assigned.
Something very beneficial prior to taking the ASLPI is simply having self-awareness about your current language skills and proficiency. Many signers have errors unbeknownst to them. Becoming a “conscious” ASL signer and examining everything you are doing with the language is imperative. Taking a close look at the video samples of the proficiency levels on our website can be helpful in comparing them to your own skills and identifying where you currently fall on the scale. Prior to taking the ASLPI, you should know where you are in your language acquisition and the proficiency level you receive should not come as a surprise given the self-awareness you have developed. We recommend that examinees take some time and do video recording in conversation with another person. Do not practice or set an agenda. It is even more helpful if you can identify someone with a language background and high level proficiency who would be willing to work with you. Set up a video recorded free flowing conversation using skills in your natural language repertoire. Do not practice signing about the various topics. Then, review the video recording and look for patterns that are pulling your skills down from the proficiency level you want to achieve. Do you have patterns of “English” (or other non-target language) signing that are popping up and affecting your syntax, vocabulary? Are you incorporating a vast and increasingly complex range of language features? Are you incorporating more English like signing instead of incorporating more complex ASL features? Look closely at your vocabulary, syntax, semantics and overall accuracy.
The evaluation ranges from approximately 20-25 minutes depending upon the skills demonstrated. As the evaluator moves forward, s/he makes every attempt to give the examinee the opportunity to demonstrate a wide range of language features with increasing complexity.
Our classes are small, and our professors use a variety of teaching techniques and technology to engage students. We provide extensive support to deaf and hard of hearing students who are new to American Sign Language (ASL). Most students say that learning ASL helps them communicate better and understand more of what is taught in class.

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American Sign Language Proficiency Interview (ASLPI)

Fowler Hall

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