Pearson English Roundtable: Creating Global Standards
Creating a single set of standards on the global scale for measuring English language proficiency is indeed a formidable task. Like many other ESL instructors, researchers, administrators, and other stakeholders in the field, I welcome the impetus to create a single English language assessment scale. I want to share a few thoughts on the subject and would love to hear from anyone who is willing to share his or hers.
Creating a global scale of standards may affect standards of teaching, the methods used to teach English everywhere in the world, and in a domino effect, the standards of teacher preparation programs worldwide, as well as the direction the ELT publishing industry will take for years to come. That is why there needs to be a global forum where all stakeholders could voice their opinions.
It is a well-known fact that there is an ever-growing interest in English language worldwide. Teaching English and ELT publishing is a multibillion-dollar industry worldwide. Unfortunately, as the participants of the roundtable mentioned, quality English instruction is not available everywhere, and there are numerous political, social, cultural, and financial considerations that greatly affect the outcome of the ELT process.
I share Diane’s point of view that even though there are many legitimate Englishes in the world today, there needs to be a single common standard of English for people to understand and be understood by others. However, too often the concept of standard English is replaced by correct grammar and extensive vocabulary, and the ability to communicate becomes secondary to the all-important structural knowledge.
There is a very good reason why many ESL and EFL teachers prefer to focus on grammar: a communicative approach is more involved and conversational English is difficult to learn and teach. Even though very complex, grammar has a finite number of components and variables, i.e. verb tenses and forms, morphemes, etc., whereas actual spontaneous conversation with a proficient speaker has limitless unknowns for which there are no “correct” answers at the end of the book.
When I was going through my undergraduate coursework at Kiev State University (Ukraine) almost 30 years ago, I could easily identify, say, instances of Past Perfect Continuous usage, and how a participial gerund was different from an adjective, but was lost in casual conversation with English-speaking visitors to our campus. As far as I can see, little has changed in the methodology used in some parts of the world since then.
An English-speaking acquaintance of mine visited a prestigious private English school in China a few months ago and had to communicate with the head teacher through an interpreter, even though the school is considered one of the best in the province and parents pay a lot of money to have their children schooled there. If the head teacher can’t express herself in English in an intelligible way, how can she teach or supervise the teachers who educate the students in communication skills?
I wholeheartedly support efforts to place language in its functional role at the center of the proposed scale, as it might promote the needed paradigm shift in ELT. Form is certainly important, but only to the extent that it helps facilitate functional performance.
I think it is impossible to learn a foreign language, in the sense that it is impossible to prepare oneself for all possible linguistic and extra linguistic scenarios that can occur within the foreign language context. It is likewise impossible to learn all the structural elements, to the extent that no one can possibly memorize all the words, phrases and dialectal varieties in a language. What can be done is learning enough of the basics of all the structural elements and then employing skills not normally associated with language learning, such as problem solving and critical and analytical thinking, so that the phrase, “How goes it?” is not immediately disregarded for being ungrammatical, and the request, “Shut your eyes” in a hall just before a performance could be correctly interpreted as, “Turn off your i-devices.”
I think that creating a single, universal English language testing scale brings a momentous opportunity to create motivational mechanisms for teachers and teacher trainers worldwide to increase their involvement with ELT methods that do not only give the learners facts about the English language and its structure, but rather give them the tools to adapt to an increasingly fluid English language landscape and succeed in the original–and still the most important in my view–goal of foreign/second language learning: to communicate.
Please share your thoughts!