Oct 5, 2015 at 12:00am ET By Elizabeth Koprowski

Spanish is one of the most prevalent languages in the world. Over five hundred million people use Spanish as their first language, and the number of Spanish-speakers is expected to increase to ten percent of the global total in the next four generations. Spanish-speaking countries are also some of the fastest growing economies, and the ability to speak and understand Spanish is an increasingly valuable skill. However, until recently officials and educators lacked a comprehensive and flexible way to assess individual's Spanish proficiency. This past July several Spanish-language institutions announced the establishment of a new Spanish-language proficiency exam, which officials intend as a universal standard along the lines of the English TOEFL and IELTS.

The test, known as Servicio Internacional de Evaluación de la Lengua Española (SIELE), was unveiled in Mexico City by King Felipe VI of Spain. The computer-based test will examine Spanish-speakers in reading, writing, speaking, and listening in testing centers around the world. The first centers will open in China, Brazil, and the USA, with the intention of opening additional centers in countries in Europe and West Africa with high concentrations of Spanish-learners.

Credit: El PaísThe SIELE examination is based on its English-language counterparts, but differs from the TOEFL or the Cambridge Exams in that it takes into consideration the wide variety of Spanish spoken throughout the world. King Felipe praised the SIELE exam as “pan-hispanic” and expressed his hope that the test would help promote and preserve the heritage of Spanish language. The new test will not replace the existing Spanish-proficiency exam, Diplomas de Español como Lengua Extranjera (DELE), which will continue to be offered in conjunction with the SIELE. Unlike the DELE, which does not expire, the SIELE will need to be renewed after two years.

The new SIELE test is a great opportunity for students of Spanish. Spanish-language proficiency is already recognized as a necessary skill in many global markets, and demand for Spanish-language speakers is growing. Officials hope that the ability to study in Spanish will encourage students to seek higher education in Spanish-speaking countries which often offer affordable tuition rates.

Read more about top rated Spanish courses.

Elizabeth Koprowski is an American writer and travel historian. She has worked in the higher education system with international students both in Europe and in the USA.

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