Original URL: http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/taiwan/archives/2003/11/07/2003074896

Students' English disappoints
The Taipei Times
November 7, 2003

EDUCATION: Academics suggested extending English education at universities and improving the quality of teachers to boost the language abilities of their students

By Cody Yiu
Friday, Nov 07, 2003,Page 2

The English ability of Taiwan's university students is not good enough and they should be forced to study the language throughout their four years at college, academics said yesterday.

"The average TOEFL score among 3,000 sample students was 496," said Yu Min-ning (余民寧), an education professor at the National Chengchi University during a seminar held by the Global Education Association in Taiwan (GEAT).

"As the students did not know the purpose of the test in advance, they took it
without preparing. Therefore, 496 is a realistic representation of the English proficiency among these university students," Yu said.

Yu was responsible for the statistical analysis of the survey.

TOEFL is an English proficiency test for non-native speakers. The test includes three sections: reading comprehension, grammar and listening comprehension.

According to information released by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), the organization that designs TOEFL, a score of between 410 and 489 indicates that the test taker's listening and reading comprehension skills are satisfactory but that writing ability is insufficient to attend academic courses in English.

ETS conducted TOEFL in 20 universities in Taiwan from Sept. 1 to Sept. 30 this year. The 20 universities included nine graduate schools, nine national universities, four private universities, two national technical colleges and three private technical colleges.

"Of the students, 32.2 percent scored below 410, a score equivalent to intermediate-level English level; 8.8 percent of the students scored below 350, which is equivalent to beginner level," said Chen Chao-ming (陳超明), an English professor at National Chengchi University.

According to Chen, a desirable score for a first-year college student would be 500 or higher.

"A score of 500 means that a student has an English vocabulary of 6,000 to 7,000 words," Chen said.

The academics came up with a number of ways to improve the English ability of Taiwanese students.

"The expectation of English proficiency among Taiwanese students needs to be a realistic one. Having a realistic expectation enables educators and students to reach their goals more easily," said Chen Ying-huei (陳英輝), a professor of Western languages and literature at National University of Kaohsiung.

According to Chen Ying-huei, college-level English courses do not necessarily have to be taught by professors who have a Ph.D.

"If practical English is the aim of these courses, the classes should be taught by well-trained English-language teachers, not by professors who specialize in language or literature research," Chen Ying-huei said.

Chen Ying-huei also suggested students be forced to study English beyond the first year of university.

"English education should be made compulsory throughout all four years in college. Furthermore, a comprehensive program should be designed according to the needs of each academic level," Chen Ying-huei said.

Chen Fu-yan (陳甫彥), the CEO of GEAT, suggested taking a long-term approach to improving English standards.

"It is essential that educational data warehouses be established over time, as such data can be used as a basis of education programs in Taiwan, as well as to make comparisons with educational achievements in other countries," Chen Fu-yan said.

Chen Chao-ming suggested that university-level English education should be standardized, either by individual universities or by the Ministry of Education.

"Currently, nobody knows what the standard books or teaching materials are," Chen Chao-ming said.

Chen said that the integration of English for specific purposes, English for academic purposes and instruction in English are necessary for a successful college-level education.

"There should be ways to measure how good a student's English is before graduating from college, as this measurement guides students and recruiting corporations in their hiring process," said Chen Fu-yan.