Category Archives: news

TOEFL, TOEIC, and jobs

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I want to talk about something that I have talked about on Twitter. On Twitter, it’s hard to explain an idea completely. So I’m going to talk about it here.

The TOEIC is a test that many companies
in Japan, Korea, etc. use to decide if someone’s English is good enough for a job. A few companies use the TOEFL, but this is usually a very bad idea. The TOEFL tests English for university study, not for business communication.

However, I don’t think the TOEIC is very good, either. It tests normal reading, grammar, and listening more than the TOEFL, but it’s still not perfect or very realistic. Also, its focus is business–it’s not a test of general communication. Actually, the TOEFL should be called the “Test of English for Academic Purposes.” The TOEIC should be called the “Test of English for Business Communication.”

I’ve taught many people who have taken the TOEIC. Some of them have even lived in the US for more than two years. Sometimes people with the same TOEIC score have totally different English abilities: One person is easy to talk to in English, and can write understandable and emotional English, even if it’s not perfect. Another person freezes every time she needs to speak, and writes strange-sounding sentences. But they have the same score (or the second person might score higher!).

Companies like the TOEIC because it’s easy to use. They don’t have to spend much time checking each job-hunter. But I think people shouldn’t trust it too much.

  • Test-takers shouldn’t trust it too much. If you think your abilities have gone up, but your score didn’t, don’t worry. Your skills probably did improve. The test does not measure everything.
  • Companies shouldn’t trust it too much. They should consider other measures of a job-hunter’s English abilities, because they want to find the best employees and provide good service in English. The ones with the best scores may not be the best English speakers or the best employees.

In the US, if a company wants to hire someone who speaks another language, sometimes they ask for test scores. But sometimes they do something that’s better: 1) Someone in the company who speaks the language talks with the job-hunter for a few minutes in that language. 2) The job-hunter is asked to do an example of that kind of work. For example, write an e-mail to a company, translate part of a letter, make a simple advertisement, or something like that. This kind of thing lets the company see if you can do the work they need you to do. It takes more time, but it’s very practical. It also helps the job-hunters, because not everyone is good at taking tests. It gives more people a better chance to show their abilities.

I don’t know how much other countries use this kind of measurement. I know that in Japan, sometimes part of the interview is in English. (That sounds really stressful, but if you need to speak English for that job, at least it’s more realistic than just the TOEIC!) I hope they use other measures sometimes. If you need to speak and write English for a job, it’s good if you can find a company who does this kind of thing. It means they may truly care about finding good employees and providing good service.

Okay, I’m glad I got that off my chest! (<--idiom meaning "to finally tell someone about something that has been bothering you")

P. S. I have extended the deadline for the contest! That means that you have more time to enter. There are not enough entries yet…Please think about a way to study English that works well for you. (Even if it’s for the TOEIC!) Talking to people in cafes? A favorite book? Watching TV shows? Listening to music? Karaoke in English? Traveling to Australia every time you have a vacation? Is there a hobby that made you really want to learn English? It can be really specific or really general. If you can write about it, take a picture of it, make a short video about it, or do anything like that, you can enter the contest! Just e-mail me (Tweet me or contact me for my e-mail address) or comment with your entry! I will send a postcard to EVERYONE who 1) enters the contest or has already entered the contest 2) sends me their name and a postal address through DM, e-mail, or the contact form 3) in the NEXT THREE DAYS (till November 14th, US time). English learners who read this blog only! (People who are both English learners and English teachers are fine!)

What’s on the Front Page?

We call the first page of a newspaper the “front page.” Newseum’s Today’s Front Pages website shows front pages from many American newspapers, and a few others from around the world. It’s a good way to read short phrases of English (headlines) and look at photos. Just remember that news English often breaks the rules of standard English grammar! (This is why I don’t recommend magazines and newspapers for your main source of English reading material.)

Today all of the newspapers show President-Elect Barack Obama, of course. What will they show tomorrow? You can tell what’s on people’s minds by what appears on a lot of different newspapers.

(The site is slow right now because so many people are looking at it.)

Vote in the US Election

If you are not a US citizen, of course, you can’t vote in the upcoming US presidential election. But many people around the world care about this election. If you have an opinion about who you would like to vote for, you can go “vote” here:

http://www.betavote.com/

Just choose who you would like to vote for and what country you are from. It’s not a real vote. You’re just giving your opinion. You do not need to give your e-mail address or anything.

Check back later and see who is winning in your country! Even though it’s not a real vote, it’s kind of fun, I think.

Election News

This year, a lot of people around the world are interested in the US presidential election. Americans are very interested in this election too. The person who is elected can make a big difference, both internationally and in the daily lives of Americans. For example, the United States does not have national health care, even though most other major industrial nations do. Some Americans think we really need to have a national health care system. Others think that would be bad for business. Whether we will start a national health care program probably depends on who is elected. For these reasons and others, many Americans have extremely strong feelings about who should be elected. That’s why it is usually considered a bad idea for Americans to discuss politics at work, parties, etc.–people may get very angry with each other.

Anyway, if you can read advanced to intermediate English, the Voice of America has a good website explaining the election process, with news articles, audio of the articles, videos, and more. Just visit the VOA US Election 2008 website.

(P. S. I’m out of town–I’m sorry I haven’t been posting.)

What do other people think about your hometown?

I enjoy reading travel guides, newspaper articles, and blogs about places I would like to visit and places I have visited or lived in myself. I like reading other people’s points of view about where I live. Sometimes they mention things that I didn’t notice. Other times I totally disagree with them. Sometimes I disagree so strongly that I write the author.

Try looking online for stories about your hometown or other places you have lived. The stories may be formal or conversational in style. Look for one that you can read easily enough. Of course, you’ll already know a lot of the words! If you spot an important mistake or if you have useful information to add, you should write a polite e-mail or post a polite comment to the author.

Here is an imaginary note I might send to someone who wrote an article about Fayetteville, the town where I went to college–

Dear Mr. Smith,

I really enjoyed your article about Fayetteville, Arkansas. I consider it one of my hometowns, but it's not well-known. I appreciate your taking the time to write about it. You included several of my favorite places in Fayetteville, like Hugo's (one of my favorite restaurants) and the University of Arkansas (where I went to college).

However, one place that I think should not be overlooked is Wilson Park, which includes the Wilson Park Castle. This is a miniature castle that visitors can walk around in. It's handmade from stone, glass, and concrete. It looks like something from "The Lord of the Rings!" It's a really surprising thing to find in a quiet place like Fayetteville. I hope you will add this to your recommendations. Thanks again for the article!

Basically, I start off with a compliment and end with a compliment or thank-you. I mention my connection to the place so the author knows why I’m writing. Then I add my suggestion or correction.

If you send in a correction such as the location of a restaurant, the correct name of a local food, etc., the author will probably be happy to receive it, if you’re nice about it. On the other hand, if you’re upset, it’s still good to be polite. If I were upset by something in an article, I might have said–

However, I object to your description of Fayetteville as a "country hick town." In fact, although Fayetteville is small and surrounded by countryside, it is relatively cultured. For example, Fayetteville has its own symphony and an arts center which hosts world-famous performers--from rock stars to classical violinists. Fayetteville's university has a respected creative writing program. Former president Bill Clinton used to teach at the university. The atmosphere on Dickson Street, which includes an excellent coffeehouse, a wonderful used book store, a New Age shop, art galleries, and even a safe-sex shop, is not the atmosphere of a "country hick town." It's true that Fayetteville is not as diverse or cosmopolitan as the San Francisco Bay Area, where I currently live, but I still feel that it's unfair to depict Fayetteville as totally unsophisticated.

Today, the San Francisco Chronicle’s website has a series about Seoul, South Korea. There’s the main article about Seoul, an article about food, and a gallery ofphotos. Are you from Seoul? What do you think about the article?

Check out the Chronicle’s Travel page, or the Travel sections of other newspapers, for stories about other places, too.

News! Read all about it.

First, I need to apologize for not posting often enough. I’m trying to finish my master’s thesis, and I only have two weeks left! I hope that by mid-June I’ll be less busy and I can pay more attention to Readable.

Previously, I posted about Learning Resources, a great site featuring news articles. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been updated in over a year. It’s still worth using, but there isn’t anything new being added to it.

A different website that you can try, which is still being updated frequently, is Breaking News English Lessons. This site is aimed at English teachers, but you can use it yourself (for free!). Find an interesting topic under “Latest Lesson” or “Recent Lessons.” Every lesson page includes a fact-based news story, an mp3 of the story being read out loud, activities, and quizzes. You can do the quizzes yourself, and if you have friends who are also studying English, you could even do some of the group activities together. (Answers are included at the bottom of each page.) The author of the site has chosen a wide range of article topics: the current list includes endangered tigers in India, politics in Britain, cars, and more. I hope you can find several stories you’re interested in.

Daily Yomiuri Online English Special

There’s an interesting set of articles about English currently online at website for the Daily Yomiuri, a Japanese newspaper. I agree with many, though not all, of the ideas expressed in the articles. Here are two I particularly liked:

“Forging Paths toward Fluency” by Brian Chapman: “A key element in learning a foreign language well is having the desire and a passion for learning it. The same holds true for teachers, and a passionate teacher will strive to produce what is best for the student to learn–and, more importantly, to communicate.” The writer interviewed a teacher, Stephen Soresi, who uses a special method to get students to talk more. I don’t know how good his method is, but I agree with him that even native speakers don’t speak with perfect grammar–so why pressure students to be perfect? It’s better to help them say anything than to scare them into saying nothing. I also agree with him that the main reason many Japanese people can’t communicate in English even after studying for years has nothing to do with being Japanese. Instead, it’s because of “the way schools, all the way up to the university level, treat English education and entrance examinations.”

In “Business English Fun?”, another teacher has a similar point. Michael Jones tells students “Have the confidence to fail in English!” Research supports this idea: if you don’t experiment with language, it’s hard to progress. Jones also tells teachers “If [students are] communicating, don’t interrupt. If they’re actually speaking, that’s half the struggle–and let them finish.” I totally agree. If you’re looking for a teacher, observe their classes. See if they usually wait long enough for students to complete their thoughts. You don’t want a teacher who is impatient or who interrupts.

Take a look at the other articles, which are all listed on the Language Connection section.