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[Eye on English] ‘English exam should change to focus on communication’

An English education expert called for a major change in the English section of the 2-decade-old state college entrance exam to encourage test-takers to focus more on their communication skills.

Kim Tae-young, a professor at Chung-Ang University, stressed the change is vital, particularly when Korea is transforming into a creative participant in global affairs from a passive follower of what advanced countries have already imposed on the world.

“The current college entrance exam does not test speaking and writing skills, which are crucial for Koreans to disseminate their creative ideas to the world through the Internet and other high-tech means,” Kim said in a recent interview with The Korea Herald.

“Although we are moving toward the future in this 21st century where everyone can easily communicate through social networking services and other online tools, the English test platform is still stuck in the old paradigm.”

Kim Tae-young, a professor at Chung-Ang University (Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)
Kim Tae-young, a professor at Chung-Ang University (Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)

Well aware of the need to overhaul the evaluation method, experts and government officials have floated a variety of fresh ideas including incorporating speaking and writing tests into the annual college entrance exam.

But the efforts to realize those ideas have often petered out amid controversy over their administrative implementation and technical viabilities, and public concerns that they would hinder efforts to curb the bloated private education market.

The latest attempt at revamping the examination system was to have the National English Ability Test evaluate all four aspects of applicants’ language proficiency: reading, speaking, writing and listening. But it also foundered after the change of government last year.

“There should be consistency in English education policy given that the development of a new exam requires a huge amount of money and time,” said Kim.

Touching on inefficient public school education, Kim noted students’ deepening distrust toward English teachers.

Saddled with a host of administrative work, most teachers lack time to do sufficient research for their classes. They also find it difficult to offer specialized education to their students of various proficiency levels, which would, in turn, exacerbate students’ mistrust toward public education, Kim noted.

Despite the structural problems associated with Korea’s public education system, students can make their language learning process successful, as long as they keep themselves intrinsically motivated.

Setting “self-imposed goals” helps learners stay motivated, Kim advised.

“You need to set both short- and long-term goals and try to picture what kind of person you would become with your improved English skills. Then, you take concrete steps one by one to realize those goals,” said Kim.

“But you should be the one who sets your own goal. If a goal is forcibly imposed onto you by someone else, mostly your parents, then you are likely to lose interest in learning the language.”

By Song Sang-ho +(