[Letters] Teach students to communicate, not just score high on tests

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[Letters] Teach students to communicate, not just score high on tests

Most foreign language high schools have English conversation classes, which are, or are supposed to be, different from other classes where skills such as grammar, vocabulary and reading comprehension are taught. Until last year, foreign teachers who came to teach English conversation at our school always told us they enjoyed teaching here. In the first two years of high school, we learned practical English and actually practiced communication skills, which was different from most schools that ignore conversation classes because of the CSAT.

However, students and parents complained to our school that conversation classes were too difficult and stressful.

They believed English conversation classes were like extracurricular activities that should be relaxing and easygoing. They strongly insisted on the use of textbooks for the course so the students could pass the classes easily. Does this make any sense? Why would students prefer to memorize dull textbooks instead of learning English the easy, interesting way?

Many students are used to memorizing vocabulary words and grammar rules, but they cannot use them in actual conversation. This problem comes from students thinking only about superficial scores instead of actual skills, which is actually a result of a basic problem. Korean universities and companies pick their students and employees just by English test scores. Now, everyone believes having high English scores means having excellent English skills.

Look at what’s going on right now. Last year, several students claimed that they couldn’t speak much during the conversation classes in fear of their scores getting lower because of grammar mistakes. Well, think about it. What would have happened to their scores at the end of the year, when they hadn’t learned anything?

Sky-high Toefl or SAT scores do not necessarily mean outstanding English skills. Koreans have high-ranking Toefl scores compared to other countries, but many students who have gone to foreign universities have struggled because they couldn’t even understand the lectures, much less participate in conversations during class.

We are forgetting the sole purpose of learning English. We are not learning this language just to get more questions right. We are learning English to make ourselves and our country competitive in the global world, and to converse with other people. Learning English should not become a device for English test scores.

There should be changes to systems in Korea that value superficial English skills. True English skills should be carefully evaluated, not judged momentarily on numbers just because it is quicker. It is time the government shifts its attention to improving practical communication skills among its citizens.

Until then, are we going to be proud of having high Toefl scores, yet run away from foreigners who ask us questions on the street?

Park Ju-young,

Gimpo Foreign Language High School student
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