The Defense Language Proficiency Test (DLPT)

The Defense Language Proficiency Test (or DLPT) is a battery of foreign language tests produced by the Defense Language Institute and used by the United States Department of Defense (DoD).


They are intended to assess the general language proficiency of native English speakers in a specific foreign language, in the skills of reading and listening. An Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI) is sometimes administered to Defense Language Institute students to establish the graduate’s proficiency in speaking following training there, but it is not part of the DLPT.


The tests are meant to measure how well a person can function in real-life situations in a foreign language according to well-defined linguistic tasks and assessment criteria. Originally paper tests, they are increasingly delivered by computer.


The tests are used to assess the skill level of DoD linguists. Linguists are tested once a year in the skills of reading and listening. Test scores determine the amount of Foreign Language Proficiency Pay (FLPP) that a military linguist receives, and also whether they are qualified for certain positions that require language aptitude. DLPT scores may also figure into the readiness rating of a military linguist unit.


Scoring for the current (2007) series of tests, called DLPT5, is, like that for their predecessors, based on the guidelines of the Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR), with the test results stated as levels 0+ through 3 or up to 4 for some languages.


The DLPT5 includes separate tests for reading and listening comprehension. In addition, many languages have both lower-range tests going from level 0+ through 3 and upper-range tests going from level 3 to 4. In the “big” languages (for example, Russian, Chinese and Arabic) the test format will be multiple choice.

The test taker will read or listen to foreign language passages, read questions in English, and provide short answers in English.


DLPT is used to measure both government and military proficiency in the United States, whereas the ACTFL proficiency test is used in academic circles. Below is an equivalency chart:


Novice – Low 0
Novice – Mid 0/0+
Novice – High 0+
Intermediate – Low 1
Intermediate – Mid 1
Intermediate – High 1+
Advanced 2
Advanced – Plus 2+
Superior 3 and above