OPI Test: The Official Guide To The Army Oral Proficiency Interview

Army Oral Proficiency Interview

US Army Lakewood Recruiting Center

We receive a lot of questions from applicants asking about the OPI and what they should expect. This post should help to alleviate some of the stress and better prepare you to successfully pass the OPI the first time. If after reading this you still have questions, feel free to leave a comment below or contact us directly for assistance.

The US Army has several unique programs that require specialized language testing. One of the most dreaded language tests is the Army Oral Proficiency Interview, often referred to as the OPI Test. The OPI is required for applicants applying for the MAVNI Program or as a 09L Interpreter Translator.

What Is The Army Oral Proficiency Interview

The Oral Proficiency Interview, or OPI, is a 30-45 minute live telephone conversation between a certified American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) tester and the candidate. The OPI is a relevant and reliable test that measures how well an applicant speaks a language. The test is standardized, through a series of personalized questions to measure:

  • global spoken language proficiency
  • language production
  • determine patterns of strengths and weaknesses.

The OPI does not measure:

  • The ability to perform job‐specific tasks
  • The specific knowledge of an individual
  • Discrete points, language‐specific knowledge
  • Achievements
  • The education level of an individual

Using a series of personalized questions, applicants responses are measured and rated using the  Inter-Agency Language Roundtable Language Skill Level Descriptors – Speaking.

The OPI was created to collect ratable speech samples. Using a variety of topics, the speech sample must clearly document the “floor” (the highest sustained level of performance), and the “ceiling” (level at which the speaker can no longer continue to perform)

The OPI mirrors and informal conversation, but the tester follows a very strict format during the interview.

Lastly, the OPI can be administered in the following formats:

  • Face-to-face
  • Video conferencing
  • Telephone

What Languages Can I Test In

Afrikaans, Akan-Twi, Albanian, Amharic, Arabic, Armenian, Azerbaijani, Bengali, Bosnian, Bulgarian, Burmese, Cambodian, Cantonese, Cebuano, Chavacano, Chinese-Mandarin, Czech, Dari, Dutch, English, French, Ga, Georgian, German, Greek (Modern), Gujarati, Haitian Creole, Hausa, Hebrew, Hiligaynon, Hindi, Hmong-Mong, Hungarian, Igbo, Ilocano, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Javanese, Kashmiri, Kazakh, Kikongo-Kongo, Korean, Krio, Kurdish, Lao, Malay,  Malayalam, Mandingo-Bambara, Nepali, Pashto, Persian-Farsi, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Romanian, Russian, Serbian/Croatian, Sindhi, Sinhalese, Slovak, Somali, Spanish, Swahili, Swedish, Tagalog, Tajik, Tamil, Tausug, Telugu, Thai, Turkish, Turkmen, Uighur, Ukrainian, Urdu, Uzbek, Vietnamese, Wolof and Yoruba

How Is The OPI Structured

Upon approval to take the OPI, applicants will either receive a face-to-face interview or on the phone with two people. The first will be asking you the questions and the second is called a circumlocutor, whose job is to simplify things for if the applicant fails to understand what is being said.

The OPI starts usually with general questions about you and your background. The purpose of this phase is to know you and know your interests so that they can decide what questions to ask you. They will ask about your family, your life, your work, your interests, what foods you like to eat, etc. They will also ask you about the city you live in and what attractions it has. This phase of the interview is usually short and lasts about 5-10 minutes. After that you will be either asked descriptive questions such as , describe a typical day or describe your town, or a favorite movie, or you will be asked to give your opinion about certain topics either in the national or local news. You will usually be asked about 2 or three topics. If you pass that phase you will be asked to do a ‘role play’ such as pretend you want to book a ticket or a tour to go to Hawaii, or something of that nature. There are usually two role plays in a good interview. If they feel that you pass that level then they will go to very high level things, such as give you a quote from a work of literature and ask you to comment about it.

Each OPI consists of a conversation on a range of topics which are familiar and, in some cases, relatively unfamiliar to the applicant. Role playing within the target cultural setting, which require the use of language that cannot easily be elicited in a conversation and the performance of specific tasks.

The OPI has four distinct phases:

  • Warm up
  • Level checks
  • Probes
  • Wind down

Oral Proficiency Interview

OPI Assesment Criteria

Applicants are assessed using the following criteria:

  • Task – What can the person do in the language?
  • Content/Context – On which topics and in what settings?
  • Accuracy – How well can they do it?opi-scores
  • Text Type – How much language is produced and in what type?

Examinees at a given base level perform ALL the tasks required by that level and minimally meet the criteria of that level. Base levels range from 0-5.

Those applicants that perform with a significant increase in proficiency over the base level or shows evidence of proficiency at the next higher base level, but cannot sustain proficiency at that level will be awarded a plus level. Plus levels range from 0+ to 4+.

OPI Scores or Speaking levels

To qualify for the MAVNI program, applicants need to score a minimum of 2/2 on the exam. All requirements must be completed in the language tested.

The use of English will show a limitation of vocabulary (except for the English OPI).

  • Level 5: Delivery is that of a highly articulate, well-educated native speaker
  • Level 4: Emphasis is on sociolinguistic variation and appropriateness
  • Level 3: Structures are controlled
  • Level 2: Text type is minimally cohesive
  • Level 1: Vocabulary is sufficient for simple conversations on familiar topics
  • Level 0+: Word/phrases are limited to rehearsed utterances to satisfy immediate needs

Level 0: Applicants who score level 0 have no functional ability in the language. They know occasional isolated words, but cannot use them in a functional manner, in other words, they are unable to communicate with the language

Level 0+: Applicants who score level 0+, can communicate with rehearsed and memorized utterances. They have enough comprehension to cover limited topics on immediate survival needs including food, colors, numbers, clothing, weather, days of the week, etc. They possess memorized proficiency and are capable of using a minimum of thirty words in the appropriate context. Speaks with lists of simple fixed rehearsed words or phrases, memorized utterances and will possess a faulty stress, intonation, and tone

Level 1: Applicants who score level 1, can maintain very simple face‐to‐face conversations to satisfy simple daily needs, ask for help, verify comprehension of native speech, ask and answer simple questions. They are capable of simple short conversations, limited role playing, and ask questions to locals. The level 1 speaks with very limited vocabulary to survive immediate personal and accommodation needs, possess random or severely limited structural accuracy and have great difficulty with time concepts and discrete sentences.

Level 2: The level 2 is a more advanced speaker, who can satisfy routine social demands and limited work requirements, describe people, places, and things, narrate in past, present and future time frames, give instructions or directions and deal with non‐routine daily situations. A Level 2 speaks with sufficient vocabulary to confidently talk about high-frequency concrete topics, simple structure, and basic grammatical relations with minimal incohesive utterances.

Level 3: A Level 3 can support opinions on practical, social and professional issues, discuss societal issues, clarify points, hypothesize or speculate on societal issues, deal with unfamiliar situations and justify decisions. A Level 3 speaks with broad vocabulary on practical, social and professional topics, conveying abstract concepts, structural devices flexibly and elaborately but with noticeable imperfections , extended discourse, speaks readily, fills pauses suitably and uses cultural references.

Tips for taking the OPI

Do not use any English words while taking the OPI.

Immerse yourself in the targeted language. Prepare by watching and listening to news and other programs. Read articles and literature out loud, and conversate with others as much as possible.

Only bring up topics you know how to talk about. If you mention a food you like, the interviewer will ask you about its ingredients, taste, how to make it, etc. The first time around I mentioned tennis, was asked how you play tennis and realized I didn’t know fundamental words like racket, boundary, serve, and so on. Don’t worry about taking a second to think about your answer. It’s worth the time so you don’t get yourself stuck searching for a word you don’t know.


About the Author MSG Washington

MSG Washington has served within the ranks of the United States Army since June of 2001. With ten years of recruiting experience, he is an expert on Recruiting Operations, who willingly assists applicants across the Country with their enlistment process.

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