Tuesday, February 5, 2008
Korean TOEFL scores: LMFAO.
Old news, but that chart appeared in a Korea Times article yesterday. I'll try not to be too negative here, but that's definitely something to keep in mind when you're scapegoated in the media, or when you're again faced with the myth of the Korean grammar expert. After all, Korean English teachers do most of the heavy lifting in the schools, and obviously aren't getting results. Native speakers' classes are suppressed in the schools in order to better prepare for the TOEFL exam, and foreign teachers are often chastized for not adapting to the "teach for tests" method . . . and after all that, South Korea places 107th out of 143 nations. We always hear about the difficulties in adapting methods of communicative language teaching to Korea, and about how hard it is to develop communicative competence in Asian students. But man, there's a lot more wrong here than just poor spoken English and shitty teachers.
It's fun to make fun, and nice to let off a little steam and redirect some hostility. One of the most ridiculous aspects of all this madness is that it's entirely self-contained. I mean, you have students taking TOEFL exams not to study abroad but to get into high school, to get into a domestic university, or to get an ordinary local job. Just seems absurd that nobody has been able to shut the machine down. Sounds kind of . . . sinister, and commie, but one of the best ways for your nation to avoid such embarassingly low test scores is to stop using the test. No reason to keep doing something you're not good at. That's why my 142-pound ass has never attended the NFL Scouting Combine, and to this day nobody has made fun of me for being a sucky defensive end.
At least reserve the TOEFL for people who will require a high degree of English. I really have no idea why it needs to be a nationwide indicator of intelligence, especially when the general population clearly isn't ready for it. That's just the thing, though . . . the test is used almost exclusively within Korea's own borders, whether to get a job at a top company or to get into a prominent Korean university that doesn't even register as mediocre on the world stage. Yeah, yeah, I know it's a matter of national pride, but amidst the new administration's rethinking of the English question, perhaps they should . . . rethink the English question. For as long as I've been following the messageboards and websites on Korea, I've seen foreigners urging Koreans to ask themselves the basic questions: "Why do we want to learn English?" and "What do we want to use English for?" That's a question I still don't see answered, and one that confounds me as I try to plan the best and most appropriate classes for my students. If you want to know what foreigners think and what we think about, Mr. Lim, how about starting right there.
Interesting bit of trivia because it's late and I'm bored. The text on the chalkboard behind the white guy in the KT article I quoted is the first paragraph of this letter to the editor that ran the same day.