90 Day Push – Pass the German ACTFL Reading Test

This is a quick update for you readers who have been following my progress in German.

At the end of January, I began studying German again for a “possible job opportunity.” The specifics of that “job opportunity” make for a long story, but basically I want to start doing some German translation and I have a foot in the door via an old friend.


Me and my little guy playing mini-golf. Have to remember to make time for family as I continue studying.

Me and my little guy playing mini-golf last year. Have to remember to make time for family as I ramp up my studying.

I’d like to start out part-time and then possibly transition into full-time work as I get better. I’m no stranger to translation work, since I was an Arabic translator for over five years. But switching to a new language is tricky.

The ACTFL and ATA Exams

My next steps are to pass two exams:

  • The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) reading exam for German
  • The American Translators Association German-to-English exam

The ACTFL exam is actually a prerequisite for the ATA exam–at least in my case. There are multiple combinations of education and experience that make you eligible for the exam, and I think I qualify with my past experience alone. But you can also become eligible by passing the ACTFL reading test in your “translate from” language and the ACTFL writing test in your “translate to” language. Since German is a new language for me to be working in, I thought the ACTFL route was the best option. It’s also a reality check as to whether I’m really ready for both the ATA test and the job.

(I also need to pass an ACTFL writing exam in English, but I’m not too worried about that.)

On the ACTFL reading exam, I need at least an “Advanced Low” to pass. This is equivalent to a B2 on the CEFR proficiency scale, or a 2 on the ILR scale.

I’m shooting to take the test in mid December, which is a little less than 90 days away.

Getting Ready

In some ways, my German reading is on point. I have no problem with comic books, Harry Potter, and fitness magazines. I can also get the gist of most articles in Bild, Der Spiegel, and Huffington Post Deutschland. But I still have some significant gaps in my language.

While I might be able to pass the test today, it’d be a struggle. So I’m going to do three things every day:

  • Intensive reading to build vocabulary. I’ll talk about this more in a later post, but I’m finding intensive reading mixed with flashcard drills to be a very effective way to build up my vocabulary fast.
  • Active listening. I’m going to make sure I do at least one active listening activity a day. Readers of Language Master Key know why.
  • Free reading and free listening. The intensive reading and active listening should take care of the “learning,” but I want to make sure I continue to drive acquisition. I’m going to get in at least a half hour of free listening and at least fifteen minutes of free, extensive reading daily.

No speaking, no writing. I might throw in some grammar instruction, but I’m not making it a priority. Shooting to spend two to three hours a day on this.

Wrapping Up

So that’s my focus until the end of the year. I’d love to take the ACTFL test and get an Advanced High or even a Superior level. But really my main goal is to get an Advanced Low so I can be on track for reaching my goal of passing the ATA test and working.


  • http://fluenthistorian.com/ Natalie

    Good luck! I’m sure you’ll do great. Language exams would not help me in my career at all (unfortunately), but I’d still like to take one at some point anyway, since I think it would be a fun experience. (Aside: you know you’re a language nerd when you think the idea of taking a language exam is fun!) I’m looking forward to forthcoming posts about boosting your vocabulary. I feel like my vocab acquisition has stalled recently and I want to ramp up my learning again.

    • http://www.languagesurfer.com/ Ron G.

      Hey, thanks for the encouragement! If nothing else, the goal with a specific date should keep me consistent.

      Reading Dr. Zhivago (or whichever book wins the poll) should definitely help a little with the vocab acquisition. That’s a bear of a project you’ve got going yourself, but I’m sure you can do it.