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ASp 79, March 2021: Certifying English language skills in specialised contexts


As the French higher education system is being called upon by the government to implement large-scale certification tests – a decree issued on July 30, 2018 makes the formal assessment of language competence mandatory at Bachelor’s degree level – we find it useful to reflect upon language certifications in English-speaking specialised contexts. Not only does this issue raise many debates, but many issues remain unsolved.

We therefore invite scholars to share their reflections about the following questions:

1. What are the defining elements of specialised language certifications (format stability over time, reliability, standardisation, selection and design of tested competencies)?

2. How can general English, off-the-shelf certification tests be articulated with the specialised needs of students receiving ESP instruction at university level?

3. How can the teaching staff preserve their pedagogical freedom as they train their students to either general or specialised certification tests?

4. How can we make sure that the development of language certification will improve the general quality of language teaching?

5. How can certified language competence levels be designed, tested, and accurately benchmarked?

6. Should language certification tests necessarily be based on the CEFR, or, since it was published nearly twenty years ago, should new frameworks be designed to measure competence levels?

7.What is the actual quality of specialised certification tests that are available in commerce, more particularly in legal, medical and aeronautical English? “Every book and article on language testing deals to some extent with validity”. This introductory sentence from Language Testing and Assessment (Fulcher & Davidson 2015: 3) is likely to raise, among ESP specialists in particular, the issue of objectivity in the measurement of criterion-based tests which assess performance from which competence may only be inferred.

8. Is designing certification tests that meet the specialised needs of all disciplines and all university degrees possible and/ or useful?

9. Which methodological protocols should be used for creating and developing new certification tests in ESP?

10. When a language certification test is implemented in a particular graduate or undergraduate program, should it be entirely tailored to its employment outcomes?

11. How can staff in charge of appraising skills and competencies be formally trained and certified to implement certification tests?

12. How can the costs of certification tests be contained, when one considers the financial situation of French public universities?

13. History of specialised certification tests. This history shows that specialised certification developed more particularly in high-stake professional contexts. One example is the TRAB examination developed by the British General Medical Council in 1975 and which is now called the “Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board test”, see Another example is the case of civil aviation in which many certification tests are available, notably the EPALC test (“English Language Proficiency for Aeronautical Communication”, see which measures the language competence of air traffic controllers.

This list is by no means limited and any other relevant research question or issue may be considered.

Once reviewed and selected by ASp’s editorial and scientific boards, articles will be published in the 78th issue of ASp (due November 2020). Manuscripts may be full-length articles or pedagogical notes.

Please send your manuscript to

Important dates

Submission deadline: 15 September 2020
Response to authors: by December 2020
Publication date: March 2021


Alderson, J. Charles. 2010. “A survey of aviation English tests.” Language Testing 27/1, 51–72. <>.

Filcher, Glenn & Fred Davidson. 2007. Language Testing and Assessment: A Resource Book. Londres & New York: Routledge. DOI: 10.4324/9780203449066

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