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Updated: February 4, 2013 17:13 IST

Are you fluent in English?

BINCY MATHEW
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CHENNAI: Eric Lane, Senior Manager, Pearson Knowledge Technologies, Menlo Park, California
The hindu CHENNAI: Eric Lane, Senior Manager, Pearson Knowledge Technologies, Menlo Park, California

The Versant English Test (VETI) has been designed by Pearson TalentLens to help an employer gauge a candidate's fluency in spoken English. It has been developed exclusively with Indian test takers in mind, and the need to achieve accurate results from automated testing of spoken English. Eric Lane, Senior Manager, Pearson Knowledge Technologies, California, outlines the details of the test to The Hindu Education Plus.

Can you discuss the features of the test?

VETI has the following elements: Repeats, Short Answer Questions, and Sentence Builds, which can be analysed automatically. These item types provide multiple, fully independent measures that underlie facility with spoken English, including phonological fluency, sentence construction and comprehension, passive and active vocabulary use, listening skill, and pronunciation of rhythmic and segmental units.

How are the results tabulated and reviewed? How does the automated grading work and how reliable is it?

In addition to a performance level score, the score report also includes an explanation of the candidate’s language capabilities, and suggestions for improvement.

In scoring analysis, each incoming response is recognized automatically by a speech recognizer that has been optimized for non-native speech. Two basic types of scores are distinguished which contributes to the overall leveled score: scores relating to the content of what a candidate says (Sentence Mastery and Vocabulary) and scores relating to the quality of the response production (Fluency and Pronunciation). The content of the responses is scored according to the presence or absence of expected correct words in correct sequences. The manner-of-speaking scores (Fluency and Pronunciation, or the control dimension) are calculated by measuring the latency of the response, the rate of speaking, the position and length of pauses, among other things.

The general scoring model has been validated in a series of studies of over 4,000 native and non-native English speakers. The test and retest reliability is 0.97, demonstrating the test is highly reliable.

What is the primary yardstick used to judge a candidate in the test?

The Versant English Test for India measures the candidate’s control of core language processing components, such as lexical access and syntactic encoding. One important factor measured in the test is test-takers’ automaticity in language processing as required in order for the speaker/listener to be able to pay attention to what needs to be said/understood rather than to how the encoded message is to be structured/analyzed.

How are the communication skills of candidates assessed?

The objective behind creating VETI was to assist domestic Indian companies, organizations and learning institutes to assess English as spoken in India. The standards for acceptable proficiency are set by these organizations themselves through simple benchmarking exercises that Pearson can help direct. Therefore, it is not the test itself that determines the calibre of spoken English required for candidates straight out of college, it is individual performance measured against the different expectations set by these organizations.

Can you recommend how students should prepare for VETI?

The best way to prepare for VETI is to increase exposure to the English language. Learners should possess an enthusiastic drive to participate in English conversation in and outside their social circle; listen to English language television and radio programs; read books and newspapers. Only through practice can the learner gain the necessary confidence to speak and engage with new manners of speech and new types of language.

When was the test launched? How useful have the companies found it?

The Versant English Test for India (VETI) was launched September 24, 2012. However, our flagship product (The Versant English Test), which uses the same core technology as VETI, has been available in the Indian market for over 10 years and is the leader for BPO language testing. We have also worked extensively with IT and Consulting who have been early adapters and largest users of our tool.

Would voice prompts in an Indian accent work for Indian employees who have to interact with global clients?

This was precisely the logic behind creating VETI. For Indians communicating with an international or global audience, our longstanding test with international voice prompts, the Versant English Test (VET), is recommended. However, for domestic-based companies that need to evaluate English as it is spoken in India because their staff or membership will largely be working with Indian customers, VETI is recommended. This logic emerged from our market research as well from our existing VET clients in India, who expressed a business need for a test with prompts spoken in exclusively Indian English.

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