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.
Contrary to Sam Small's statement in "An English problem indeed," (Letters, July 26, page 8), I did not say in my letter (Letters, July 25, page 8) that "there is no problem with the standard of English in Taiwan." I said that there is no evidence that English standards are declining and no evidence that students in Taiwan are significantly worse in English than students in other Asian countries.
Also contrary to Small's statement, the National Education Association (NEA) did not find that Taiwan did worse than all other countries except Japan. The comparison was done by the ETS (Educational Testing Service), not the NEA.
Here are the results for three versions of the TOEFL administered in 2005-2006, for Asian countries in which English is not a common language for everyday communication, and excluding China where a very small percentage take the test:
Paper version: Taiwan = 530; South Korea = 538; Japan = 497;Vietnam = 534; Thailand = 500.
Computer version: Taiwan = 206; South Korea = 218; Japan =192; Vietnam = 207; Thailand = 200.
Internet version: Taiwan = 71; Korea = 72; Japan = 65;Vietnam = 71; Thailand = 72.
It is clear that Taiwan's scores are not remarkably different from those of the other countries, with only South Korea doing noticeably better on two of the three versions. (My claim that Taiwan was second only to South Korea was based on a previous year's test.)
Small suggests that Taiwan students' TOEFL scores might not be an accurate reflection of their abilities, because of cheating. Of course, this deserves investigation, including the question of whether this is more prevalent in Taiwan than in other countries.
I do not doubt that Small and Tseng's observations (Letters, July 24, page 8) are true. To be sure, there are many students who do not do well in English, and the research I cited helps provide at least part of a solution to this problem.
My point, however, is that there is no evidence that things are getting worse, and that Taiwan is worse off than other countries.
China's online change
China looks set to become the world's largest online population by the end of next year, according to a recent report. The Chinese Business News reports that China, whose burgeoning economy generates greater access to computers and the Web, is expected to outnumber the 211 million Internet users in the US next year.
Chances are the growing population of Chinese Web users will turn out to be a driving force for social change in China.
Such Internet boom builds a virtual platform for free expression and brings about a potent "citizen journalism."
Getting rid of the bridle of censorship strictly imposed by the totalitarian Communist state, Chinese Web surfers touch on sensitive political issues and other topics officially considered taboo via online forums and blogs.
Complaints from aggrieved citizens and cases of government corruption and urban unrest are beating their way through the state-controlled press.
Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), concerned that cyberspace would cultivate a seedbed for liberalization and dissidence, wants to "purify" Web use.
The control-conscious communist authorities employ an elaborate system of filters and deploys hundreds of thousands of human monitors to surgically clip "unhealthy content."
However, the borderless virtual territory can hardly be controlled completely. The brick kilns slavery scandal in Shanxi Province and the "Stubborn Nails" protest in Chongqing City are recent striking examples of the superlative potential that the Internet can muster in terms of social reform.
China's attempt to nip the flourishing blossom in the bud is doomed to fail.
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