How I Passed an Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI)

Over the summer I discovered a teaching program in Europe that I was eager to apply for. While I still don’t know the results and I am carefully mapping out all of my options for life post-Korea, I knew I wanted to apply. The only thing I was worried about was that I needed to take an Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI) in German. And I needed to pass with a certain score.

Anyone who has known me for longer than five minutes knows I went to Germany in 2012. I also studied the language throughout high school and for a bit in college. I love German and I never stopped learning it. While my self-study has been on-again, off-again over the years, it’s helped me retain much of what I learned. Or, at least the basics.

So when I realized I needed to take an OPI, I got serious about studying. I invested in German study books on Amazon, and worked on those. When studying, I focused on grammar, since that’s what I’ve lost the most of over the years.

I also used music, TV, and movies as study tools. German pop ended up being one of my top genres of 2019 on Spotify Wrapped. I can’t say I was surprised.

How I Studied

Study books

Study books are the most common way to study. I use Schaumer’s Outlines German Grammar and German Vocabulary. The chapters in these books are divided well. They also provide plenty of practice. If you’re considering learning German, I would not recommend these books to a beginner. Both of these books require the user to have a basic knowledge of the language. If you are a Intermediate/B-Level German learner, I highly recommend these study books.

Leading up to my exam, I used my books every day. I’d study before work and during my lunch break. Sometimes, I would also study after work. I needed to brush up my grammar and refresh more complicated vocabulary before my exam.

Pop Culture

German pop music is now one of my favorite genres of music. I listen to it often, singing along most of the time. My favorite artists are LEA, Madeline Juno, and Mathea. I love listening to new songs, determining what they mean, and then looking at a translation of the lyrics. Usually, I’ve been pretty spot on in meaning, which is a great confidence booster. It also reaffirmed that my listening skills are much higher than my speaking skills.

Netflix also has a great selection of German-language shows, and if you have a VPN, you can watch dubbed versions of English shows through German Netflix. My favorite series is Dark, which I watched in German with English subtitles. I loved it so much I intend to watch it again with German subtitles.

I also enjoyed Er Ist Wieder Da (Look Who’s Back), a dark comedy where Hitler wakes up in present-day Berlin and rises to fame as a comedian. Watching TV and movies in your target language is a great way to hone your listening skills without becoming bored.

Face-to-face speaking practice

Living in a small city in Korea, I truly didn’t think I’d find a German speaker to practice with, but I was wrong. I was so fortunate to meet someone in my city who is a native speaker who was willing to meet with me.

In the weeks leading up to my test, we’d meet every weekend and chat for a few hours. The practice was great, and it was also great to meet someone new in my city. These meetings really helped to prepare me for my interview. After all, I was taking an OPI, so the more speaking practice I got, the better.

So what is an OPI?

The oral proficiency interview is an oral examination that determines how proficient you are in speaking a foreign language. Proficiency is rated on two scales, but both align well. The two most common scales are the CEFR and ACTFL. CEFR ranges from A1-C2, while ACTFL gives concrete titles such as “intermediate” and “superior.” Each level is then broken into sub-levels. The sub-levels provide more information about how proficient you are in speaking the target language.

OPI levels

I did a lot of googling before my OPI. I wanted to know what to expect when I took the test.

Because I live in Korea, my only options were to take the exam early in the morning or late at night. I’m sharpest in the morning, so I opted for a 7 a.m. slot on a Saturday. First, I had to call an online proctor, someone who watched me from a web cam to make sure I wasn’t cheating. Next, I had to call the person giving me my exam. I ran into some issues here, because I wasn’t sure what country code I needed and the proctor couldn’t tell me either. If you’re curious, it was the US. The person giving me my exam lives in Maryland.

Once on the phone, the woman gave me instructions about the nature of the exam. Next, we dove into conversation. I don’t remember much about it, but at the time I was incredibly nervous. Exams aren’t cheap, and I was afraid I might not pass with the score I needed. I tried not to think about that and just keep going. When I forgot a word, I’d describe what I was talking about rather than not answer at all. I only spoke in the target language, taking time to consider my answers rather than rambling on.

Waiting for Results

The exam lasted approximately 30 minutes. Then I waited. I checked my profile every day to see if my scores were posted. I don’t know why I did this, since I knew I’d get an email when they were posted. After about two weeks, I received an email. I was so nervous to look at my results, afraid I failed. I needed to score Intermediate with a mid-level sub-score. This score is the minimum requirement to qualify for a work visa in German-speaking countries.

When I opened my profile, The words Intermediate Mid appeared on the screen. The relief I felt is indescribable. I did it. I hadn’t set foot in a German classroom in six years, but I still knew enough that I was conversational. Exactly where I needed to be.

Since my OPI, I still study German regularly. While I don’t know if I’ll move to Europe, at least I know it is an option. I have the language requirement. All that’s left to do is see where life takes me.

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