Sun, Feb 20, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Changes are needed in language education

By Chang Sheng-en張聖恩

During an educational meeting on Feb. 16, most officials and scholars reached a consensus on banning children under 12 from taking the controversial General English Proficiency Test (GEPT). Although this decision is strongly criticized by cram schools and some parents who are eager to prove their children's English ability, it will help stop "GEPT fever" among Taiwan's elementary and even kindergarten students.

The GEPT was designed to promote life-long learning, as well as to encourage the public to study English. But the average age of test takers has constantly dropped due to parents' excessive expectations. Some even characterize the latest elementary-level test as a joint entrance examination for elementary students because of the massive number of children who take the test.

The biggest problem lies in children's learning goals and styles. For most learners, the main purpose of studying English is to learn real-life communication skills, not to score high in tests. How can children acquire a language well if they are forced to learn it in order to pass proficiency tests?

The best way for children to learn a language is to gradually acquire it through a series of activities -- including story-telling, songs and games. They usually have lower anxiety about the target language by doing so.

According to some newspaper reports, many test takers are so young that they do not even know how to take the test. Some also suffer from serious stomachaches and nightmares when preparing for and during a test.

By setting the age threshold, our kids will not have to mechanically focus on test-taking at an early stage, and may have a better chance to naturally and enjoyably learn English.

Apart from the GEPT fever, another major warning sign in the nation's English language education is that the results for the English section of the basic competency test for senior high graduates have repeatedly peaked at each end of the performance spectrum in the past few years -- meaning that most students either did very well or very poorly.

To reduce this so-called "twin peaks" phenomenon, I suggest that schools put students into different levels of English classes in accordance with their proficiency, rather than mixing them together.

Meanwhile, teachers can try different methods in order to arouse students' interest. For example, instructors can link students' learning to the real world through magazines, newspapers, music, videos, and even the Internet.

Recently, the Ministry of Education (MOE) encouraged senior high schools to make foreign language classes in languages other than English compulsory, so that more students can acquire at least a "second foreign language" -- such as French, German, Japanese, or Spanish. In fact, ever since the MOE launched a five-year second foreign language program, the number of senior high students learning a second foreign language has increased greatly, from 11,500 to 21,294 during the five-year period between 1999 and 2004.

This is surely a plus if Taiwan wants to "get on track" with the rest of the world. Still, whether such selective courses should be made compulsory is questionable. For those who are poor in English, or not that interested in foreign language studies, making a second foreign language course compulsory will only make their lives even more miserable.

This story has been viewed 4805 times.

Comments will be moderated. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned.

TOP top