Category Archives: rants

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!)

A rant!

I am going to take a minute to do something different. I’m going to write a “rant.” A rant is when people write or talk about something in an angry way. Usually, they talk about something that bothers them personally. They don’t just yell and scream. They explain why they are upset.

Here is something that really bothers me: Books, websites, and Twitter accounts that teach totally useless or incorrect English.

It’s OK if it’s funny, and the learner knows it’s funny. But when it’s mixed in with normal English, how can you tell?

Here are some phrases that I have seen on “English-teaching” Twitter accounts recently:

  • It just eats up electricity and frosts up really quickly. (I guess it’s about a refrigerator. When would you need to say this, though?)
  • I could make a glitter ball out of tinfoil. (Why?!)
  • I dreamt you chucked me. (What? I’m not even sure what this means.)
  • He was in the true sense of the word culture. (This is just wrong. The correct sentence would be very formal, anyway.)
  • I had my wife die. (Not impossible, but extremely strange and rarely used.)
  • I don’t know both of them. (We don’t say this. It sounds very, very strange. I contacted the account that posted this and asked them about it. They didn’t answer me.)

I guess some of these accounts are using lists of phrases that come from very old books or dictionaries. Some of these sentences might have been OK 100 years ago. They’re not OK now. Other phrases have mistakes in them. I think somebody who’s really fluent in English should check the phrases to make sure they’re correct. It should be someone who has really used English a lot. It shouldn’t be someone who’s just learned English from a book. If you’ve just learned English from books (or Japanese from anime, etc.), then you can’t judge what is OK, realistic, old-fashioned, etc. EDIT: Idiom guides are particularly bad, even ones written in the US or UK. Many of them teach idioms that are almost never used in modern English. Why waste your time trying to memorize them?

I’m not upset about just a couple of mistakes or strange phrases. Everyone makes mistakes sometimes. I’ve probably made mistakes somewhere in this post. I also don’t mean mistakes in #twinglish users’ accounts or English-learners’ accounts or blogs. I am talking about blogs, Twitter accounts, and books are supposed to help you learn English, but that have lots of serious errors or strange phrases that no modern English-speaker would say or write.

I have a travel phrase book from JAL that is full of strange phrases. When I look at English books at Kinokuniya, I see lots of mistakes and strange phrases, too. Some of my Japanese and Taiwanese friends have dozens of books that are totally useless! They must have spent a lot of money on those books. (And yes, that’s true for books about Japanese and so on in America, too! One popular book on Japanese slang is full of words from the 80s!)

This sort of thing drives me crazy (makes me annoyed/angry) because learners often can’t tell what’s useful and what is completely strange or wrong. These writers, bloggers, and tweeters are supposed to be helping you. However, they are actually giving you useless information that wastes your time. These people are taking your time or money, but giving you something bad in return. It’s like they’re selling you rotten food, but you can’t smell it or see it.

Don’t just go to the bookstore or use things you find online. If you can, get a fluent friend to check it out first. Read Amazon.com reviews very carefully. (Reviews that just say “It’s great!” are not helpful. Look for details.) If you have fluent or native-speaker friends online, ask them to look at books/blogs/Twitter accounts and tell you what they think.

Anyway, just memorizing phrases with no context is not very helpful. It’s better to learn them from a novel–even an easy kids’ book–than to just try to memorize them one at a time. If you read them in a story, they’re probably going to be correct. You will also get more information about who says that kind of thing, why, when, if it’s polite or casual or rude, etc. (especially as you read more and see phrases over and over again).

Still, there are some good Twitter accounts, blogs, and phrase books out there. You just have to be careful.

Okay…my rant is over! Phew. :)

If you have any questions or comments, or if you’ve had bad experiences with this kind of thing, please tell me!