When you bring your language skills to the CIA, you are supporting a mission of national importance. As threats to our country’s safety continue to evolve, it’s important that our employees have the language abilities and cultural expertise necessary to handle both emerging and current national security challenges.
The CIA places such a high value on foreign language skills that we offer monetary incentives to new and current employees who meet and maintain proficiency requirements. In order to accurately assess foreign language proficiency in job candidates, we use the Interagency Language Roundtables scale or ILR for short.
At Level 0 and 0+, you have no practical ability to use the language. This means that you can only meet your immediate needs by using rehearsed words and phrases. Your vocabulary is severely limited, and you frequently revert to words in your native language to get your point across.
At level 1, you can produce a series of simple sentences on familiar topics such as yourself, daily activities, and survival needs. You can engage in simple conversations and provide basic descriptions or comparisons. However, at this level, you can’t engage in a long conversation or elaborate on ideas.
Your vocabulary is very limited and often inaccurate. You are able to use the present tense to construct simple sentences, but will have frequent errors in basic grammar and other verb tenses. Your speech will be slow with poor pronunciation that often interferes with communication.
At level 2, you can speak in present, past, and future tenses, provide a detailed description or comparison, give directions and instructions, make recommendations, and report facts.
You can handle most normal social situations, including elaborate casual conversations about well-known current events as well as work, family, and topics of personal interest. You have enough familiar vocabulary and basic grammar to elaborate on ideas and speak in short paragraphs. However, your vocabulary is still limited, so your speech may be imprecise and labored at times.
Your pronunciation occasionally interferes with communication, and may require the listener to use context to recover the meaning. You can typically understand the information presented in familiar predictable patterns and straightforward descriptions and instructions. You understand factual content in interviews, broadcast news, telephone calls, and messages.
At level 3, you can speak with sufficient accuracy to perform a number of complex tasks, such as expressing and defending opinions, hypothesizing, analyzing events, giving advice, and providing complex descriptions and comparisons on a variety of abstract concepts. You can speak in well-organized long paragraphs using a wide range of concrete and abstract vocabulary.
At this level, you will demonstrate fully controlled basic grammar as well as have the ability to use some complex grammatical structures such as passive voice and conjunctions, but with frequent errors. You will speak at a normal rate of speech about topics of general knowledge, making appropriate cultural references and using idiomatic expressions.
While you may sound foreign, you are fully understood. You can understand language containing complex grammar and a broad range of vocabulary, including commonly used cultural references. However, you may still need clarification of some uncommon cultural references, nuances, idioms, and slang.
At level 4, you use sophisticated and nuanced language fluently and accurately on a wide range of highly complex topics. You are able to convince, negotiate, advise, handle objections, and advocate a position at length using sophisticated verbal strategies.
At this level, you can produce extensive speech with complexity, precision, and sophistication. Tailoring speech to a variety of audiences and settings. Your dialogue naturally and appropriately includes a wide range of cultural references, literary allusions, figures of speech, and poetry.
Pronunciation, intonation, and stress patterns are used appropriately to add emphasis on certainty and authority. You can understand a broad range of spoken language across a wide variety of literary, philosophical, technical, aesthetic, and cultural subjects that encompass abstract concepts, conjecture, and both literary and popular references.
At level 5, you can speak at the highest socio-linguistic level and produce impromptu language that is highly creative, philosophical, and appealing. You use the language with complete flexibility and intuition, including a breadth and depth of structures, vocabulary, idioms, colloquialisms, rhetoric, and cultural references.
Your speech is like that of a native speaker at the highest level of elegance and sophistication. However, very few native speakers are rated at this level as being a native speaker does not necessarily mean that someone can demonstrate the full range of language registers, including the elegant and sophisticated language required to be rated a five.
While a native speaker’s pronunciation and fluency are likely to be assessed at level five, the breadth and depth of the vocabulary demonstrated, the highly complex sentence structures used, and the highly sophisticated verbal strategies employed are unlikely to be sustained at this level, unless rehearsed for a particular purpose.