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Evaluating Your User's English-as-a-Second-Language Ability

At my company we've been dreaming of being able to localize our UIs since I started working there. While we have localized here and there for the most part it just doesn't happen. There simply aren't the resources or knowledge.

Instead our employees in all branches are required to speak English. I have no idea how branches determine whether a person's ability is up to standard to be hired. I've never seen any guidelines for branch management to follow and admittedly our industry is one where you have to learn a lot of jargon, too.

I imagine that may other global enterprises are the same way. This means that your users may struggle to understand your UI, especially those newly hired employees. So part of your user research should be pointed at determining at what level your users can understand written English.

Here are guidelines you can use based on the European Framework of Reference for Languages. (See Chapter 9 for more information.) I assigned the reading levels based on this chart at Benchmark Education. This will allow you to use tools like WebpageFX's Readability Test Tool when writing your labels and messaging.

Language Level Reading Level Ability Description
Beginner - A1 K-1
  • Uses familiar everyday phrases and basic phrases to fulfill concrete needs.
  • Can introduce themselves and others.
  • Can ask and answer questions about basic personal details such as where they live, the things they have and people they know.
  • Their interactions are simple and they have to rely on the other person/people to speak slowly and to help with their language.
Beginner - A2 2-3
  • Can understand short sentences and frequently used expressions of immediate relevance such as basic personal information and family information, shopping, local geography and employment.
  • Can communicate while completing simple, familiar routine tasks requiring simple and direct exchange of information.
  • Can simply describe their background, their immediate environment and matters of immediate need.
Intermediate - B1 3-4
  • Can understand the main points of clear and standard language on familiar matters regularly encountered in school, at work or in leisure pursuits.
  • Can deal with most situations most likely to occur while traveling in English speaking countries.
  • Can produce simple connected text on topics which are familiar or of personal interest.
  • Can describe events and experiences, dreams, hopes and ambitions.
  • Can briefly give reasons and explanations for their opinions and plans.
Intermediate - B2 5-6
  • Can understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics including technical discussions in their field of specialization.
  • Can interact with a level of fluency and spontaneity  with native speakers without strain for either party.
  • Can produce clear and detailed text on a wide range of subjects.
  • Can explain their viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantage and disadvantages of various options.
Advanced - C1 6-7
  • Can understand a wide range of demanding longer texts and recognize their implicit meaning.
  • Can express themselves fluently and spontaneity without much obvious searching for expressions.
  • Can flexibly and effectively use language for social, academic and professional purposes.
  • Can produce clear, well-structured and detailed text on complex topics while showing controlled use of organizational patterns, connectors and cohesive devices.
Advanced - C2 8-9+
  • Can understand virtually everything heard or read with ease.
  • Can summarize information from different written and spoken sources.
  • Can reconstruct arguments and accounts in a coherent presentation.
  • Can express themselves spontaneously, very fluently and precisely, differentiating finer shades of meaning even in more complex situations.


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