Page Header

Unscrambling jumbled sentences: An authentic task for English language assessment?

Betty Lanteigne



Jumbled sentence items in language assessment have been criticized by some authors as inauthentic. However, unscrambling jumbled sentences is a common occurrence in real-world communication in English as a lingua franca. Naturalistic inquiry identified 54 instances of jumbled sentence use in daily life in Dubai/Sharjah, where English is widely used as a lingua franca. Thus it is seen that jumbled sentence test items can reflect real-world language use. To evaluate scrambled sentence test items, eight test item types developed from one jumbled sentence instance (“Want taxi Dubai you?”) were analyzed in terms of interactivity and authenticity. Items ranged from being completely decontextualized, non-interactive, and inauthentic to being fully contextualized, interactive, and authentic. To determine appropriate assessment standards for English tests in schools in this region, the English language standards for schools and English language requirements for university admission in the UAE were analyzed. Schools in Dubai/Sharjah use Inner Circle English varieties of English (e.g., British or American English) as the standard for evaluation, as well as non-native-English-speaker varieties (e.g., Indian English(es)). Also, students applying to English-medium universities in the UAE must meet the required scores on standardized English tests including the IELTS and TOEFL. Standards for evaluation of communication in English involving tasks of jumbled sentences in classroom tests must reflect the language learning goals of the school and community. Thus standards for classroom assessment of English in Dubai/Sharjah are determined by local schools’ and universities’ policies.


English as a lingua franca; language assessment; authentic; interactive; jumbled sentences

Full Text:


Admission tests. (n.d.). University of Sharjah. Retrieved from

American University of Sharjah undergraduate catalogue. (2015-2016). American University of Sharjah. Retrieved from

Bachman, L. F. (1990). Fundamental considerations in language testing. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Bachman, L. F., & Palmer, A. S. (1996). Language testing in practice. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Bachman, L. F., & Palmer, A. S. (2010). Language assessment in practice. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Blackboard. (1997-2015). Blackboard Inc. Retrieved from

Bolton, K. (2004). World Englishes. In A. Davies & C. Elder (Eds.), The handbook of applied linguistics (pp. 367-396). Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Butler, G. (2009). The design of a postgraduate test of academic literacy: Accommodating student and supervisor perceptions. Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies, 27(3), 291-300.

Canagarajah, S. (2006). An interview with Suresh Canagarajah. In R. Rubdy & M. Saraceni (Eds.), English in the world (pp. 200-212). London: Continuum.

CEPA – English. (2011-2012). National Admissions and Placement Office. Retrieved from

Chapelle, C. A., Chung, Y-R, Hegelheimer, V., Pendar, N., & Xu, J. (2010). Towards a computer-delivered test of productive grammatical ability. Language Testing, 27(4), 443-469.

Chun, C. W. (2006). Commentary: An analysis of a language test for employment: The authenticity of the PhonePass test. Language Assessment Quarterly, 3(3), 295-306.

CIA world factbook. (n.d.). Central Intelligence Agency. Retrieved from

Connect series. (1995-2015). Retrieved from

Davidson, F., Turner, C. E., & Huhta, A. (1997). Language testing standards. In C. Clapham, & D. Corson (Eds.), Encyclopedia of language and education, Volume 7: Language testing and assessment (pp. 303-311). Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

EIU country reports and profiles. (2012). Economist intelligence unit. Retrieved from

Elder, C., & Davies, A. (2006). Assessing English as a lingua franca. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 26, 282-301.

Ellis, R. (1997). Second language acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

ELT Laura. (2013, May 12). Lexical Teaching Conference [Blog message]. Retrieved from

English language requirements. (2016). University of Wollongong-Dubai. Retrieved from

Eslami, Z. R., & Mirzaei, A. (2012). Assessment of second language pragmatics. In C. Coombe, P. Davidson, B. O’Sullivan, & S. Stoynoff (Eds.), The Cambridge guide to second language assessment (pp. 198-208). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Firth, A. (1996). The discursive accomplishment of normality. On “lingua franca” English and conversation analysis. Journal of Pragmatics, 26, 237-259.

Firth, A. (2009). Doing not being a foreign language learner: English as a lingua franca in the workplace and (some) implications for SLA. IRAL, 47(1), 127-156.

Firth, A., & Wagner, J. (1997). On discourse, communication and (some) fundamental concepts in SLA research. Modern Language Journal, 81, 285-300.

Fishman, J. A. (1972). Domains and the relationship between micro- and macrosociolinguistics. In J. Gumperz, & D. Hymes (Eds.), Directions in sociolinguistics (pp. 435-453). Oxford: Blackwell.

Friedrich, P., & Matsuda, A. (2010). When five words are not enough. Journal of Multilingual Research, 4(1), 20-30.

Gilmore, A. (2007). Authentic materials and authenticity in foreign language learning. Language Teaching, 40(2), 97-118.

Gulf news picture. (n.d.).

Hot PotatoesTM. (n.d.). Hot Potatoes home page. Retrieved from

Jenkins, J. (2006). The spread of EIL: A testing time for testers. ELT Journal, 60(1), 42-50.

Jumbled sentence worksheets. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Killgallon, D. (1997). Sentence composing for middle school: A worktext on sentence variety and maturity. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook.

Lexical Teaching Conference. (2013). Retrieved from

Lloyd, D., & Davidson, P. (2005). Optimizing students’ success on high-stakes examinations. In P. Davidson, C. Coombe, & W. Jones (Eds.), Assessment in the Arab world (pp. 323-336). Dubai: TESOL Arabia.

McKay, S. L. (2011). English as an international lingua franca pedagogy. In E. Hinkel (Ed.), Handbook of research in second language teaching and learning (pp. 122-139). New York: Routledge.

Mukundan, J. (2011). Modal auxiliary verbs in prescribed Malaysian English textbooks. English Language Teaching, 4(1), 79-89.

Ockey, G. (2009). Developments and challenges in the use of computer-based testing for assessing second language ability. Modern Language Journal, 93, 836-847.

Randall, M., & Samimi, M. A. (2010). The status of English in Dubai: Transition from Arabic to English as a lingua franca. English Today 101, 26(1), 43-50. doi:10.1017/S0266078409990617

Rearranging jumbled words to make sentences. (2015). Retrieved from

Sailaja, P. (2009). Indian English. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Shohamy, E. (2006). Language policy: Hidden agendas and new approaches. New York: Routledge.

Sifakis, N. C. (2004). Teaching EIL – International or Intercultural English? What teachers should know. System, 32, 237-250.

Smith, L. E., & Bisazza, J. A. (1982). The comprehensibility of three varieties of English for college students in seven countries. Language Learning, 32, 259-70.

The UAE has the highest number of international schools globally. (2015, August 17). UAE Interact. Retrieved from

Timmis, I. (2002). Native-speaker norms and international English: A classroom view. ELT Journal, 56(3), 241-249.

TOEFL. (2012). Educational Testing Service. Retrieved from

TOEFL iBT® test questions. (2015). Educational Testing Service. Retrieved from

Undergraduate admissions. (2016). American University in Dubai. Retrieved from

VersantTM English Test: Test description and validation summary. (2011). Pearson Education. Retrieved from

Watterson, M. (2008). Repair of non-understanding in English in international communication. World Englishes, 27(3/4), 378-406.

Wen, Q. (2012). English as a lingua franca: A pedagogical perspective. Journal of English as a Lingua Franca, 2, 371-378.

Yeh, H-C., & Yang, Y-F. (2011). Metacognitive process in online text construction. Educational Technology & Society, 14(3), 82-101.


Abstract - 54 PDF - 58



  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2017

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.