By Phillip Charlier
For many years, media reports about English education in Taiwan have focused on the problems of test scores. Every year the TOEIC, TOEFL and IELTS scores of Taiwanese students are analyzed and compared with other Asian countries. Much weeping and gnashing of teeth ensues. . One can scour the newspaper archives back to the last century and find the same article recycled over and over again every few months: “TOEFL Scores Woeful,“Taiwan vs. Mars for Second Last in TOEIC”
In fact, English language education in Taiwan is undergoing a quiet revolution. Behind the facade of the aggregate data of test-scores, actual improvements have been made in the way English is learned, taught and tested in Taiwan.
When learning English today, students are not limited to classrooms, text-books, Voice of America shortwave radio broadcasts and smuggled newspapers from the outside world. Today, learners have cable TV, Media On Demand and a range of local English language newspapers and media outlets, as well as the good old Internet. Lazy or unmotivated students can still depend on classrooms and teachers, of course, but their peers are light-years ahead.
Teachers have all of the above and more. Information and communications technology makes teaching easier and more efficient. Researching, seeking new ideas and designing and delivering good course content is vastly facilitated by the global information network.
Communication with other education professionals and access to the world’s best standard in teaching practice and materials is just a couple of mouse-clicks or a search query away. Authentic English can be cut and paste from just about any media source in the world for relevant, up-to-date and authentic classroom content with the target language as the source of communication for real, engaging and essential information.
Information is no longer limited to text but comes in an array of media formats including audio, video and artificial intelligence. Even teachers with low levels of English proficiency can provide up-to-date, engaging, relevant input for listening and speaking practice.
There are a wide variety of English proficiency tests to choose from. Tests have been designed for academic, commercial, general proficiency and specific occupational needs.
All of the major English proficiency tests around the world have been systematically improved over the last few years and aligned with the Common European Framework of Reference for Language Learning, Teaching and Assessment (CEF/CEFR).
The English component of Taiwan’s college entrance examination has become communication-oriented as well. No more is it required that students acquire arcane knowledge of grammatical constructs as a substitute for communicating in the real world.
Low aggregate test-scores may be a reflection of a test-oriented culture where low proficiency and unmotivated students are forced to take high-level tests by parents, employers and educational institutions.
Motivated beginner and intermediate students are also motivated to take higher-level tests just for practice, to ‘see how they go’ and also as a goal-setting and measurement device. Their attitude is ‘I might just score 200 but next time I might just score 250 and that’s an improvement’.
One must go beyond test scores to assess the real English language environment in Taiwan.