Tue, Nov 23, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Students need better proficiency in English

By Su Han-lin蘇翰霖

Junior high school proficiency exams have never tested writing skills, such as translating between Chinese and English, making sentences or writing compositions. As a result, most students in junior high school and even elementary school pay less and less attention to their writing ability and language performance. It goes without saying that their English writing might go from bad to worse. And it could also lead the younger generation to embarrassment, resulting from using unacceptable writing expressions on the worldwide stage. The younger generation's international competitiveness will be weakened year after year from neglecting writing in their youth.

Theoretically speaking, speaking and writing are both productive skills of a language. Speaking is the output of sounds while the output of writing is letters. With no writing test, young students will quit practicing writing English, and lose the opportunity and pleasure of expressing a language through the written word. Meanwhile, it is difficult to reach a complete understanding of the English language, even as we emphasize its importance.

To my knowledge, more and more students taking the English proficiency exam tend to prefer the reading test to the multiple choice test. Some of them say the answers in the reading test can be found easily, even though they haven't studied grammar or sentence patterns very well.

So for a foreign language student, it seems unnecessary to have a good command of syntactic rules. How ridiculous an idea that is! Aren't junior high school students going to attend senior high school? Aren't senior high school students going to attend college or university? Aren't college students going to find a job?

College entrance examinations have two or three sections with a writing test, including a 120-word essay. How can students do a good job on such a test, without having established a foundation in the previous stage of language learning? I think that is why more and more people criticize the English skills of college students today -- they seem worse in English than ever before.

Without realistic demands in English writing, the younger generation develops a kind of modern subculture in communication, a fast food of words. They create strange communication signs with only a couple of letters, numbers or figures, often found on the Internet or SMS. Their language is no longer made of meaningful vocabulary or sentences, only things like TKS, KTV, or CU5.

While using this popular language, they are losing their interest in cultivating a literary appreciation. They are moving in the opposite direction, while their value is declining in a highly competitive world. How cruel is it to help push the young generation toward a predictable failure?

Testing has a great influence on teaching. The lack of a writing assessment in the basic proficiency test leads to misguided English teaching in junior high school, causing a terrible situation: the undermining of the younger generation's social and international competitiveness.

Su Han-lin is an English teacher at a junior high school in Kaohsiung.

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