Better testing equals better resultsI have been in Korea for three and half years now and have taken a close interest in the teaching and learning of English so I feel somewhat qualified to have an opinion on the subject. My headline observations would be that the enthusiasm for learning English is undiminished, the options for how you go about it are widening but there remains a significant shortfall in terms of the outcomes when we consider all the time, money and effort that go into learning English.
When I talk about the right outcomes in language learning, I mean that people should be emerging from years of dedicated language study with the ability to communicate effectively in the language: to be able to use the language in a meaningful way for the purposes of work, study, travel or whatever else they need it for. In broad terms, I do not see that as being the case in Korea or, at least, when people do achieve a communicative competency within the Korean system it is achieved at great cost.
At the core of what we might call the inefficiency of language learning is the way language is tested. The emphasis on rote learning and memorization to prepare for tests which then assess passive knowledge and receptive rather than productive skills has a negative effect on the teaching and learning of English in a number of ways and ends up measuring aspects of language competence which are a poor indicator of a person’s ability to use the language in real life. The English language or indeed any other living language is best treated as a life skill rather than academic discipline; it’s about helping people to be able to use it rather than treating it as an object of study.
There has to be a better match between assessment and how people will use the language (and what employers and academic institutions are looking for). The development of more communicative approaches to assessment such as NEAT (National English Ability Test) is the way forward and its introduction will have a major impact in improving the effectiveness of language learning in Korea.
* Director of British Council Korea
by Roland Davies