Adapted FSI Proficiency Interview

Adapted FSI Proficiency Interview

Performance Measurement Procedure Curriculum Design Process FSI Interview Overview Assessment Differences Level Descriptions

What is the Adapted FSI Proficiency Interview?

The original FSI interview was designed to evaluate the language proficiency of members of the United States Foreign Service who were to be sent abroad as official representatives of the United States Government. It was also used to measure the language proficiency of foreign employees who worked for the U.S. government and embassies.  The FSI interview was unique in that it evaluated not only language proficiency, but also communication and interpersonal skills as well as understanding of cultural references.

Perhaps what is more interesting is that the FSI is even used to assess native speakers of the target language and US scholars of the English language have continued to use the FSI to assess the language and communication skills of US presidents since Richard Nixon. The US State Department’s initial benchmark was Henry Kissinger, who was rated at 3.0. Other well-known assessments include former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

The FSI interview has since been adopted and adapted by the corporate sector as it has proven to be one of the most accurate predictors of “real life” communication capabilities.  Most global firms use the FSI to ascertain how well their local employees and managers can communicate in a professional, business–like manner at a level that would be necessary for them to fulfill their job requirements in demanding settings with their English speaking counterparts or on an overseas assignment.

Moreover, the FSI interview has become the criterion against which the majority of other oral proficiency tests have been validated and many scholars have done extensive research on the FSI interview. Most scholars and studies on language testing agree that one of the areas of most persistent difficulty and controversy in language testing continues to be the measurement of oral proficiency. Based on a joint study by Professor Lyle F. Bachnan of the University of Illinois and Professor Adrian Palmer of the University of Utah, they found the Direct tests as more valid than Indirect tests and the FSI was found as the most significant advances in direct testing. This claim has been supported by several other independent studies (see Issues in Language Testing by John W. Oller, Jr by Newbury House 1983).

This is why Phoenix Consulting has adopted the FSI for its corporate clients and today 99% of our clients use the FSI assessment to determine their employees’ English communication skills and some of the clients have established an FSI benchmark for specific job functions, short overseas business trips and extensive overseas assignments.

Getting started with Adapted FSI Proficiency Interview

Performance Measurement Procedure

FSI Interviewees’ English communication skills are measured accurately and consistently by a team of highly experienced, certified evaluators. This ensures that the programs developed (based on the FSI interview results) meet the needs and levels of the interviewees.

Even though our evaluators have been trained on all the criterion of measurement for direct tests, Phoenix Consulting employs the Construct Validation Method in assessing the levels. The necessity of construct validation, particularly in the absence of a fully valid criterion to resolve some of the criticisms leveled at the FSI and other direct tests, has been exclusively discussed (Cronbach, 1971). Both Prof Bachnan and Prof Palmer argue that “the most valid criterion for measurement is the construct validation paradigm, which is the classic multitrait and multimethod matrix”. This method has distinct advantages over other validation procedures because it enables the raters to examine both convergent(regular employee) and discriminant (new hire or new graduate) validity.

Performance measurement is, therefore, a specialized system that entails a wide range of factors. While some questions may be considered easy or simple (Where were you born?), the answer (in Tokyo) may not be as simple as the interviewee may think, as the evaluators expect more descriptive depth without any prompting by the examiner/interviewer.

Curriculum Design Process

FSI Interview Overview

What is It?

  • 20 minutes one-on-one interview
  • Funnel type interview format
  • Tape Recorded

What is being Measured and Description of Categories?

Language Proficiency

Vocabulary: including semantically appropriate word choice, control of idiomatic English and subject-specific vocabulary
Grammar: including the morphology and syntax of English
Pronunciation: including vowel and consonant sounds, syllable stress and intonation patterns
Flow of Speech: smoothness of expression, including rate and ease of speech
Listening Comprehension: including clear understanding of information, netting the message and active listening skills


Eye Contact: looking at the interviewer during explanation
Other Nonverbal Aspects: including gestures, facial expressions, posture, freedom from distracting behaviors, etc.
Confidence in Manner: apparent degree of comfort or nervousness in conveying information
Presence: apparent degree of animation and enthusiasm, as reflected in part by voice quality; may include humor

Communication Skills

Development of Explanation: degree of which ideas are coherent, logically ordered, and complete
Use of Supporting Evidence: including spontaneous use of example, detail, illustration, analogy, and/or definition
Clarity of Expression: including use of synonym, paraphrasing, and appropriate transitions
Ability to relate to Interviewer (listener/Audience): including apparent willingness to share information, flexibility in responding to questions, and monitoring of interviewer’s understanding

Assessment Differences

2.0 General Working Proficiency
  • Grammar
  • Vocabulary
  • Listening Comprehension
  • Stress / Rhythm
  • Structure
  • Confidence
1.0 Elementary Proficiency (Higher Level 1.2 – 1.3)
3.0 General Professional Proficiency(Higher Level)
  • Assertiveness
  • Getting your message across
  • Communication style
  • Active listening
  • Logic and reasoning
  • Cultural inferences
  • Physical skills
  • Vocabulary recall and word choice
  • Complex structures
2.5 General Professional Proficiency (Base Level)

Level Descriptions

0.0 No Proficiency
Isolated words
Unable to function in spoken language
0.5 Memorized Proficiency
Rehearsed phrases
Immediate Survival needs
1.0 Elementary Proficiency (Base Level)
Simple face to face
Narrow range of Vocabulary
Give facts on standard/ predictable details such as office hours, basic procedures & personal information
1.0+ Elementary Proficiency (Higher Level 1.2 – 1.3)
Predictable face to face conversations ie greetings, travel bookings
Short, discrete utterances
Limited ability to describe and give precise information
1.5 Basic Working Proficiency
Understands most day-to-day general conversation regarding : personal details, current events, work
Difficulty with specialized knowledge
General Working Proficiency
Able to satisfy most work requirements
Strong grammar or vocabulary (Not both)
Conversations disjointed
Ease of speech but deteriorates under pressure
2.5 General Professional Proficiency(Base Level)
Able to participate in formal and informal conversations
Combines grammar and vocabulary well
Face to face with native speaker = high level of comprehension
Can normally:
・discuss special fields of competence with ease
・Conduct meetings, deliver briefings/ presentations; give informative monologues
3.0 General Professional Proficiency(Higher Level)
Can use language to deal with sophisticated and demanding tasks
Can present ideas clearly and concisely.
Can assess audience and adapt to change in needs
3.5 Advanced Professional Proficiency(Base Level)
Speaks effortlessly and smoothly
High degree of effectiveness, reliability and precision within personal and professional context
Can act as informal interpreter
Effectiverole in:
・Conferences, Lecture
・Debates, Negotiations, Maters of disagreement
4.0 Advanced Professional Proficiency(Higher Level)
Speaking usually equivalent to native speaker
Not necessarily perceived as culturally native
5.0 Functionally Native Proficiency
Speaking equivalent of a well-educated native speaker
Complete flexibility and intuition so that fully accepted by native speakers
Pronunciation generally neutral

CampaignHR(Human Resources)Free Trial

For a limited time! A free trial of the Adapted FSI Proficiency interview is available for the Human Resources Department (HR).

PCI has three OPI certified evaluators with extensive training and experience who work tediously hard to ensure that all ratings are consistent and accurate. This ensures that the programs developed (based on the FSI interview results) meet the needs and levels of the interviewees.

Please apply at this opportunity.


Please contact us for more details.

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