Fluency test goes exactly by the bookOn my English midterm, Question No.1: “Choose the sentence using the infinitive form differently from the others.”
After I looked through the rest of the questions, I had a feeling that this was going to be quite bumpy. I had heard that English exams in Korea used grammatical problems that even native-English speakers found hard to solve, so I thought I was well prepared by reading the text thoroughly.
But this was too much: “Choose the sentence with the wrong intonation; choose the words with ‘th’ that have a different sound.”
At the age of 13, I was able to read, speak and write in English as well as other 13-year-olds Americans, but I wasn’t sure how the words were pronounced differently. What did these questions have anything to do with testing our English skills?
When the test was over, I asked some of my peers what they thought of the questions. They all thought it was pretty easy. So even though I was the one who was able to speak English and watch Disney movies without subtitles, I was going to end up with the bad grade, and as a result, be labeled a poor English student. My friends didn’t even know what a foreigner was saying when he asked them where exit no. 5 was.
I felt that it was really unfair to judge a student’s abilities only through test results. Memorizing pronunciation was this country’s way of evaluating students. Great, now all I had to do was start learning English by the textbook method, which is something I was pretty sure that the textbook company had made up. If you don’t use the exact sentence in the textbook, then you don’t know how to speak English. The end.
I don’t remember the teachers in the United States asking me to correct a specific sentence to see whether I could use English. They asked me questions to see if I had the slightest idea of what they were talking about. When they found out I did, I was allowed to take the regular courses. Students who failed to understand the teacher’s commands had to take special classes.
I’d like to know how knowing the difference between the infinitive and gerund was going to prove that I was fluent in English. Filling in the blanks with the right infinitives and gerunds wasn’t helping the students to open their mouths and let English words come out. They just kept them closed longer, trying to figure out the proper form before opening their mouths to speak.
I bet if foreign students were asked to show their Korean ability in this way, many of them would just freak out.
by Joe Eun-hye