Mon, Jul 30, 2007 - Page 8 News List


On the quality of English

I would like to comment on the recent article by Hugo Tseng, "English scores low in college test" (Letters, July 24, page 8).

Professor Tseng rightly points out the terrible writing skills of Taiwanese students -- with 5,000 scoring zero, and only one student out of the 1,800 that he marked getting 19 out of 20. He encountered numerous errors in grammar, vocabulary and spelling. Professor Tseng was absolutely correct in pointing out this seemingly intractable problem, to which I can personally attest, after teaching in Taiwan for 10 years and having identical experiences in correcting college entrance tests.

The vast majority of compositions were left blank or had only a few lines of writing. Most written work was gibberish, with no, or very little, understanding of the most rudimentary rules of writing, spelling, grammar and vocabulary -- let alone style. The only word to describe this level of performance is pathetic.

I was pleased to see a response the following day by Stephen Krashen (Letters, July 25, page 8), as I had heard that he was an international expert on second language acquisition. I looked forward to his contribution, but was very disappointed by his moronic response.

This so-called expert even raised the question "Is there an English problem?"

I have to wonder on which planet Professor Krashen has been living. He trotted out the tired, old complaint of a lack of satisfaction with English writing at Harvard, one of the most prestigious universities in the US, as if it had any relevance to the topic at hand. It didn't.

Poor writing by native English speaking students whose instructors expect a high level of proficiency is one thing, but the garbage produced by Taiwanese students is something else. Comparisons with TOEFL scores in China and Korea are not in the least helpful or relevant. They just confuse the issue. The same is true of comparisons with results attained in other years in Taiwan. Whether or not there has been a decline in writing skills is completely beside the point.

The sad truth is that the vast majority of students in Taiwan simply cannot write proper English compositions. The only relevant, intelligent comment concerned the advantages of reading English in improving writing skills. So much for expert analysis!

Sam Small, who has taught at a number of Taiwanese universities questioned Krashen's simplistic and erroneous conclusions (Letters, July 26, page 8). He wrote that: "even the best students have a minimum understanding of the basics of written English." He ends his article with a few highly intelligent comments.

First, he states: "It is unfortunate that cram schools are allowed to exist" as they have obviously failed to ameliorate the sad state of affairs in spite of raking in hundreds of millions of dollars from desperate parents in Taiwan.

Secondly, he also pointed out that Japan is the only country in Asia ranking under Taiwan according to the NEA. So, Professor Krashen, it seems that there is a real problem with English writing in Taiwan. Isn't it strange that you didn't notice what every other English teacher has?

So much for your vaunted expertise! Personally, I can attest to the fact that Taiwanese students are essentially incapable of writing English compositions, which is proof of the failure of the MOE, educational institutions, teachers of English in Taiwan and cram schools.

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