[LETTERS TO THE EDITOR]English and real life

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[LETTERS TO THE EDITOR]English and real life

David Woelke makes valid points in his May 25 letter (“Functional English”), and he reminds us of the gap between English in the classroom and English in “real life.”
As Mr. Woelke and many of us are aware, “volumes have been written on this problem and so much more needs to be said.” What’s frustrating is that, despite all that’s been written, the same problems arise again and again.
Problems such as Mr. Woelke’s conflict of form versus function amount to a lengthy and complicated debate that deserves serious attention. The gap between, say, TOEIC scores and “real life” communication skills is but one angle.
The TOEIC is both the means and the end of the instrumental motivations cited by Korean learners studying English. Within South Korea, these scores are a symbol of prestige, and the test is a vital gatekeeper when it comes to a student’s chances of getting into a well-known university or landing a high-paying job. Internationally, test scores are considered the marker of a “good” English learner/user.
But what is the value of this “good” English? Certainly the idea of “communicative competence” that’s held as a goal for English learners might be considered good, but is rote memorization of vocabulary or of Shakespeare good?
I wouldn’t think so, especially since an encyclopedic knowledge of Shakespeare ranks pretty low on a native speaker’s list of priorities. So what kind of communication is going on if “how are you today” gets a blank stare, or if a high-traffic Web site contains indecipherable English? Who, really, is the audience?
This last question is a big one. I agree with Mr. Woelke that students need to view English more as a life skill than as another requirement.
But since English is a requirement, and a heavily-weighted one at that, we should encourage students to rethink how this requirement can work in “real life.”

by Brian Deutsch
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