The discourse of language testing as a tool for shaping national, global, and transnational identities

Elana Shohamy*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


While much of the work in language testing is concerned with constructing quality tests in order to measure language knowledge in reliable and valid ways, there has been a significant movement in language testing research that examines tests in the context of their use in education and society. This line of research exits from the notion that tests are not isolated events but rather powerful societal tools that are both driven by, and have impact on, ideology, politics, education, and economics. This power also emerges from the discourse of testing, where testers pose questions and assign tasks that the test takers are expected to react to by providing answers and engaging in performances that match these demands. It is this discourse of power that enables the delivery of messages about preferred languages and policies and delegitimacy and marginalization of others. This paper describes three such cases: (1) language tests for citizenship for adult immigrants; (2) national tests for measuring academic achievements of immigrants in schools; and (3) international comparative tests. In each of these widely used tests, language realities are being manipulated towards perpetuating language ideologies that stand in stark contrast to diversity multilingual identities and cultures in various contexts - regional, national, global, and transnational. The paper shows how test takers surrender to the demands of tests, accept the testing discourse as 'the truth,' and comply with it. Proposals are made for the adoption of different types of tests that better reflect multilingual realities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)225-236
Number of pages12
JournalLanguage and Intercultural Communication
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2013


  • identities
  • immigration
  • power
  • proficiency
  • testing
  • transnational


Dive into the research topics of 'The discourse of language testing as a tool for shaping national, global, and transnational identities'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this