According to the results of a survey released by the Educational Testing Service recently, 95.9 percent of Taiwan’s top 1,000 companies say that their employees need to use English in their jobs. However, only 27.9 percent of the companies ask to see a score for the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) — a popular English proficiency test — when recruiting employees, while 83.4 percent of Japan’s companies and 100 percent of South Korea’s companies demand a TOEIC score.
Moreover, top companies in Taiwan merely require an average of 550 points on the TOEIC, which is much lower than the 700 points required by South Korea’s companies in the 990-point test. No wonder only 2.4 percent of Taiwanese companies are satisfied with employees’ English communication skills.
As a matter of fact, if we examine TOEIC scores, the average of 542 points in Taiwan is slightly higher than the average of 510 points in Japan, but much lower than South Korea’s average of 626 points. This gives South Korean companies a clear advantage in today’s increasingly globalized world.
To keep up with South Korea, perhaps we can start from several aspects. First, top Taiwanese companies should gradually lift their recruitment threshold to 600 or 650 points. An even higher standard should be adopted for managers or employees responsible for negotiations. By doing so, companies can show their determination to recruit talent with good English skills, while encouraging applicants to constantly improve these skills. Internal training sessions and an English-speaking environment are also helpful.
Some leading Japanese and South Korean companies hold internal meetings in English and require employees to write e-mails only in English. Taiwanese companies can learn from them to prepare employees for possible business situations.
Next, schools should take a more pragmatic approach to providing English courses. Currently, many universities only offer English courses to freshmen and sometimes sophomore students. Also, Taiwan’s private universities of science and technology tend not to pay attention to students’ English proficiency, so their average of 434 points is significantly lower than regular public university students’ average of 638 points and regular private university students’ average of 567 points. To improve this, it is necessary to increase class hours. More importantly, schools should improve curricula by adding useful business-related materials.
Students must be aware of the reality of the workplace and approach it in a serious and pro-active way. Have the Taiwanese youth complaining that their average salaries are inferior to those of their South Korean counterparts taken a good look at what they are doing and resolved to put more effort into their studies?
Last, the government should set an example by attaching great importance to English to promote Taiwan’s internationalization. It should encourage civil servants to take language courses and proficiency tests by providing incentives, and create a friendlier environment for foreigners. One problem that needs to be addressed promptly is the poor quality of the English Web sites of many government agencies.
Take the Ministry of Education for example: The “news” section on its English Web site was last updated more than three months ago. Some government agencies even spell their English names incorrectly or update their English Web sites only once or twice a year.
Only when these measures are put into place may we have a chance to improve employees’ English and prepare them for the global business world.
Chang Sheng-en is an assistant professor in the English Department at Shih Hsin University.