Skip to main content

Objectively Evaluating ESL and EFL Speaking Proficiency With a Rubric

Paul has spent many years teaching English as a foreign and second language. He has taught EFL in Taiwan and Thailand, and ESL in the U.S.



The Need for Objectively Evaluating ESL and EFL Speaking Proficiency

ESL and EFL teachers are often required to evaluate the speaking proficiency of their students. On far too many occasions, instructors conduct this evaluation too subjectively with insufficient measurable data to back up their findings. In objectively evaluating ESL and EFL students' speaking proficiency, teachers must first be aware of the components of speaking proficiency. Next, they must be knowledgeable of the various vehicles to use in conducting the speaking evaluation. Finally, all instructors should know how to use a rubric for effectively evaluating speaking proficiency. This article will address all of the above points in attempting to make the evaluation of ESL and EFL speaking proficiency more objective.

The Ten Components of ESL and EFL Speaking Proficiency

I believe that the speaking proficiency of ESL and EFL students can be measured by looking at the following 10 components of speaking: one, pronunciation; two, stress and intonation; three, usage of vocabulary; four, sentence structure; five, grammatical usage; six, fluency; seven, responses to oral and graphic stimuli; eight, the volume of voice; nine, tone of voice; and ten, kinesthetic expressions while speaking. Let's now briefly look at and define each one of these components as they apply to English.

1. Pronunciation

Pronunciation refers to a speaker's ability to enunciate the various consonants, consonant blends, vowels, and vowel blends in words, words linked together, and words in sentences.

2. Stress and Intonation

Stress refers to the primary accent of multi-syllabic words. For example, in the word "record," the stress is on the first syllable "re" when "record" is used as a noun. When "record" is used as a verb, the stress is on the second syllable "cord." Intonation is about the rising and falling of voice at the end of sentences.

3. Usage of Vocabulary

Word usage is a reflection of the depth of vocabulary and experience of speaking on different occasions. For example, mama and daddy, mother and father, and parents refer to the same but are used at different times. Usage of vocabulary could also apply to the kinds of adjectives used for description.

4. Sentence Structure

This would be related, for example, to putting a subject before a predicate in sentences, adjectives before nouns, and adverbs after verbs or before adjectives.

5. Grammatical Usage

Grammatical usage may refer to using the parts of speech (nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc.) correctly in sentences, using verb tenses accurately, and having the correct agreement between subjects and predicates. For instance, one would say "they were" instead of "they was."

6. Fluency

Fluency means being able to speak continuously by chunking and linking words together. For example, instead of saying very slowly, "I - am - poor. I - have - no - money" like a robot, a fluent speaker would say, "I'm poor because I don't have any money."

7. Responses to Oral and Graphic Stimuli

This component refers to how quickly a speaker can answer an oral question or respond to a query about a picture. It would also be related to the speaker asking questions about a picture.

8. Volume of Voice

This refers too to how loudly or soft a person speaks.

9. Tone of Voice

This is about the emotions speakers express in their speech to show, for example, anger, happiness, surprise, and pain. In English we would use words like "Darn," "Great," "Really?," and "Ouch."

10. Kinesthetic Expressions

This refers to body language when speaking. For example, is the speaker using eye contact, hand gestures, and facial expressions when speaking?

Vehicles Used in Conducting Speaking Evaluations

There are different ways and settings for teachers to conduct speaking evaluations. I like to use the following: one, an interview; two, group role-play; and three, responses to a picture.

1. An Interview

The interview method is most commonly used in speaking evaluations. In this method, the teacher usually first greets the student and then asks him or her about family life, school, and personal hobbies and interests. The drawback to this method is that the student doesn't spontaneously ask enough questions.

2. A Role Play

The role-play is probably the best way of accurately measuring speaking proficiency. In a role-play with a small group of students, the student is placed in a familiar social situation where she or he must naturally and spontaneously interact with peers in generating speech and in asking and answering questions.

3. Responses to a Picture

In response to a picture, the teacher will show a series of pictures to a student in which different speaking tasks can be generated. For instance, after looking at some pictures, the student might be asked to describe what she or he sees and where it is. In other pictures, the student could see different scenes of a story, and then have to tell the story after an opening prompt from the teacher. You could also request that the student asks a question about a picture or pictures.

CPE Speaking Test

Evaluating Speaking Proficiency with a Rubric

Using a rubric is the most objective way of evaluating and measuring speaking proficiency. What is a rubric? A rubric is a standard of performance for a defined population. According to Bernie Dodge and Nancy Pickett, as cited by Wikipedia, common features of a scoring rubric can be distinguished by the following: one, a focus on measuring the stated objective whether it be a performance or behavior; two, using a range to rate performance; and three, it will contain specific performance characteristics arranged at levels indicating the degree to which a standard has been met. Let us now look at a rubric for evaluating ESL and EFL speaking proficiency.

Rubric for Evaluating ESL Speaking Proficiency

0=no ability; 1=extremely limited ability; 2=beginning; 3=upper beginning; 4=lower intermediate; 5=upper intermediate; 6=advanced; 7=upper advanced to native ability

Speaking Profiency ComponentsLowest Proficency 0-1Beginning Proficency 2-3Intermediate Proficency 4-5Advanced to Native Proficency 6-7






Stress and Intonation





Usage of Vocabulary





Sentence Structure





Grammatical Usage










Response to Oral and Graphic Stimuli





Volume of Voice





Tone of Voice





Kinesthetic Expressions





Explanation of Scores Assigned to Rubric

In the rubric for evaluating ESL and EFL speaking proficiency, I have assigned values in the range of 0-7 for the ten components of speaking proficiency as listed. As indicated by the caption on the table, 0-1 denotes the lowest proficiency and 6-7 the highest proficiency. Scores of "3" for pronunciation and stress and intonation were arrived at because the speaker had difficulty pronouncing some consonant and vowel blends, and she or he often made intonation mistakes. Scores of "4" were given in usage of vocabulary, sentence structure, grammatical usage, and fluency because the speaker could use some higher-level vocabulary words and made only occasional errors in sentence structure and grammatical usage. Fluency was occasionally lowered when the speaker couldn't find the correct word or grammatical construction. Scores of "3" were given in responses, volume, tone, and kinesthetic expressions because the speaker was still not that confident in speaking and often was translating English into her or his native language before answering. In arriving at the student's final speaking evaluation, I added all of the scores together and divided them by 10 to get an average score.

The above is only a rough estimate of how I would use the rubric for evaluating speaking proficiency. To be more objective, I would spell out in more detail what exactly the student has to achieve for all of the components of speaking proficiency. The student, of course, would be given a copy of this rubric before she or he was evaluated.


In being fair to teachers, students, parents, and school administrators, evaluating ESL speaking proficiency must be done more objectively. First, this begins by clearly defining speaking proficiency and then using a well-constructed rubric to make the final evaluation less subjective.

ESL Speaking Proficiency

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Paul Richard Kuehn


Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on May 11, 2014:

&Larry Rankin I appreciate your comments and am happy you found this article informative.

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on May 09, 2014:

I've taught a fair number of ESL students. There are a number of ways they perceive the language differently than a native speaker, and teaching methods need to be adjusted to better help them. So many instructors don't bother or don't know how to make these adjustments. A very informative article.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on September 26, 2013:

Dreamer Meg,

Thank you very much for your comments. I'm happy you like this hub and found it interesting.

DreamerMeg from Northern Ireland on September 23, 2013:

Interesting. The rubric is especially interesting. It looks like it would fit well with "competence based assessment", that is, looking at what a person "can do". I think that this is a good way of giving a student confidence in what they can do and ideas of how they can improve.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on August 27, 2013:


Thanks for reading this hub. I'm very happy you found it interesting and I especially appreciate you sharing, pinning, and tweeting this hub.

moonlake from America on August 27, 2013:

Very interesting. Voted up, shared, pinned and tweet.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on August 26, 2013:


I'm glad that you found this hub interesting and useful. I think one must take a lot into consideration when evaluating ESL speaking skills. Thanks for pinning, tweeting, and sharing this article.

Rajan Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on August 25, 2013:

Paul, this is a very interesting and an addition to my knowledge on how ESL teachers are to evaluate speaking skills of the language.

Voted up, useful and interesting. Pinned, tweeted and shared here and on FB.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on August 23, 2013:


Thank you very much for your great comments on this hub. Teaching listening and speaking skills to EFL and ESL students is especially challenging. Thanks for the votes.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on August 23, 2013:

I commend all teachers, but I think that ESL teachers have extra duties teaching the speech portion. Thanks for giving us this insight into the task. Voted Up!

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on August 20, 2013:


Thank you very much for your praise of this hub. I really appreciate it.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on August 19, 2013:

Great hub Objectively Evaluating ESL Speaking Proficiency with a Rubric, an informative, useful and very interesting idea to this hub.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on August 19, 2013:


I'm extremely happy that you liked this hub and found it helpful. Hopefully, my updates to this hub will be even better. Thank you very much for sharing this hub.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on August 19, 2013:

Au fait,

Thank you very much for the great comments. I was motivated to write this piece because I must give my fifth grade students a special speaking proficiency evaluation in September. Thanks for the votes and sharing this hub.

Joan Veronica Robertson from Concepcion, Chile on August 18, 2013:

A great post, for which I thank you! Voted Up, Awesome, Interesting. Also bookmarked and I will share. This is a truly great collections of tips, and I will be using some of them in future (most of them in fact) So once again, thanks! See you!

C E Clark from North Texas on August 18, 2013:

Very helpful to ESL instructors and I think your methods could be adapted to other inventories of student accomplishment in other classes. As always, clear and well written and great recommendations.

Voted up, useful, interesting, and will share.