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カナダ大学院の記事 (1/1)

TOEICに関する英文エッセイ (大学院の課題)

大学院の課題でTOEICについて書いたレポートをシェアします。

カナダ人の教授はテスト全般に対して否定的なのですが、
あえて『TOEICは日本の社会人英語学習者に役立つ』という肯定的な立場で論じ、新たな提案をしています。

総語数は1500語と長いですが、僕が書いている英文は、英検2級~準1級レベルで、読み易いと思います。
(引用している英文は準1級~1級レベル)

Innovating the traditional is the key to success in adult ELT in Japan

With the waves of globalization increasingly requiring more people to engage in intercultural communication, many Japanese workers find themselves at a significant disadvantage in international business because of their lack of communicative competence. Although a natural solution may seem to be simply introducing CLT (communicative language teaching) to adult ELT, the reality is not that straightforward. Describing “educational conservatism” in the ‘Confucian heritage cultures,’ Beaumont & Chang stated (2011): “The communicative approach to language teaching, particularly in its stronger forms, is frequently seen as radical or innovatory and consequently as challenging the educational status quo and potentially subverting local norms” (p.293). This is true not only for Japan’s English education in general but for adult English learning as well. Japanese workers are highly influenced by Neoliberalism in that they are often forced to focus on achieving higher scores on the TOEIC test in order to gain economic benefits such as getting a job, a promotion, and a chance to work overseas (Rebuck, 2003). The TOEIC has become the de facto standard English test, which has generated numerous related businesses, including schools, textbook publishers and learning app developers, making up a huge industry that employs many people. Under these circumstances, it is not realistic to try to transform this test-oriented tradition or to replace the traditional method with the communicative one. The more viable approach is to supplement the former with aspects of the latter in order to make up for what is missing. In other words, rather than replacing the traditional with the new, the key to success in adult ELT in Japan is innovating the traditional. In this report, I’d like to focus specifically on why it would be better to utilize the TOEIC test to help Japanese business people gain communicative competence, rather paradoxically. There are four major factors to consider: the reality of the situation, learners’ motivation, how to approach the TOEIC, and the gateway to acquiring high proficiency.

First, let’s look at the reality of the situation. “There is an ever-present potential danger that tests themselves with all their inherent limitations will become the purpose of the educational encounter by default” (Henning, 1990, p.380, as quoted by Robb & Ercanbrack, 1999). This is exactly what is happening to so many Japanese adults; that is, the TOEIC test itself has become the main purpose of their English learning. The majority of companies and organizations in Japan set certain TOEIC scores as requirements to meet in a number of selection processes, as “TOEIC scores indicate the proficiency of non-English speaking employees of corporations” (Chapman, 2003), even if it’s just the ostensible aim of the test. Due to their immediate need to achieve their target TOEIC scores, Japanese adults often cannot afford to focus on improving their speaking skills. This is an inevitable fact that cannot be avoided, and the TOEIC is here to stay for years and decades to come, which makes it imperative to come up with a better way to prepare people for the test while at the same time helping them improve their communicative skills.

Learners’ motivation is another big concern. The TOEIC is by far the most popular English test in Japan, taken by 2 million people annually (IIBC, 2020). Naturally, most adult learners are highly motivated to study for this exam. In addition to the Neoliberal benefits that high scores can bring, there are a few reasons for the popularity of the test. One reason is its high frequency. With the TOEIC being held every month, many people sit for the test quite regularly, which gives them an incentive to keep studying English and in turn allows them to become consistent in their effort. Another reason is that there are big communities of TOEIC takers on social media like Twitter. Fellow learners share their test results by posting screenshots of their latest scores, both good and bad, to inspire, encourage and console each other, a unique phenomenon only observed in Japan. Such online camaraderie helps keep their motivation up. Since there is no way around the TOEIC for most adult English learners in Japan, it is better to draw on their enthusiasm about the test and redirect it into developing proficiency as well.

The big question is, how can the TOEIC be approached in such a way that will lead to improved communicative competence? The best place to start is thinking about what learners can do with test-preparation materials. In many cases, test takers only use TOEIC textbooks just to solve multiple-choice questions, which can only get them so far in terms of language acquisition. This view is shared by Robb and Ercanbrack, who reported (1999) that “there is a clear tendency for students, not only in Japan, but around the world, to study for a test by reviewing past tests and concentrating their efforts on the types of language and test items that are known to appear on such tests.” However, the actual TOEIC test as well as official guidebooks based on it are treasure chests of useful business English phrases and expressions. Furthermore, these materials mostly cover general English and do not contain any slang words or idiomatic expressions that might be too casual to use in business settings. Although the way many people study for the test leaves much to be desired, TOEIC materials can actually be utilized, not just for learning standard business English, but also for working on test takers’ speaking skills as well.

In order to make TOEIC studies more practical and effective for proficiency development, an audiolingual approach is essential. While studying for the test, learners can build up the foundation of their speaking skills by reading aloud the text, shadowing and repeating the audio, and orally putting Japanese translations back into English, etc. It’s very important for learners to be aware of the correct pronunciation while doing these audiolingual activities so that they won’t form bad habits. For many Japanese people, English is something that is only studied and never practiced. Therefore, adding the audiolingual method to their TOEIC studies is a huge step forward toward being able to speak the language. From my own experience as a TOEIC instructor, I know that many test takers are reluctant to actually speak or communicate in the language at the beginning because they lack confidence in their ability to do so, but generally, they are much more enthusiastic to practice English with these audiolingual activities. As a matter of fact, some of them do move on to speaking English as a direct result of doing it, so the impact of introducing audiolingualism to Japanese English learners cannot be underestimated.

Some people might raise doubts about the efficacy of utilizing the TOEIC for communicative gains, citing its limitations and defects as a test to measure one’s true English proficiency. In fact, according to Dr. Cunningham (2002), “there is a lack of independent research into whether or not the TOEIC test does indeed measure communicative competence.” Hirai (2002, as quoted by Chapman, 2003) also expressed doubts about the ability of TOEIC to predict individual oral and written English proficiency. Admittedly, the TOEIC is a two-skill test consisting of listening and reading sections, and it’s often pointed out that many test takers can get high scores even if they are not competent users of the language. All this is not the point, however. No matter how flawed and deficient the TOEIC is as a test of English proficiency, the fact remains that it will be used by most companies as an important criterion to select candidates for jobs, promotion and other purposes. Many adult learners will continue to be influenced by the force of Neoliberalism, meaning that they cannot afford to just focus on improving their speaking skills when there is this immediate need to raise their TOEIC score for career advancement and future economic prosperity. As noted above, TOEIC materials are treasure chests of useful business English phrases and expressions, and if test takers put them to good use, namely by incorporating audiolingual activities into their TOEIC preparation, they can build up a solid basis for their speaking ability. In other words, such a practical and effective approach to studying for the TOEIC can be a powerful catalyst for test takers to transform into proficient English users down the road.

In closing, it’s worth noting that most learners will not stay in the same mode forever; that is, many of those who are currently fixated on just doing better on the TOEIC test will likely move on to the next stage of their English learning journey and work on their communicative competence in earnest, once they have achieved their target score. If that is the case, how they go about TOEIC preparation becomes even more important because they should not waste too much time and effort just pursuing the test results, without gaining high English proficiency that they might need eventually. In other words, more practical TOEIC studies can serve as the gateway to acquiring excellent language skills. The situation surrounding adult English learners in Japan is unlikely to change drastically in the foreseeable future for such reasons as the Neoliberal reality and learners’ motivation. However, changing the way they study for the TOEIC test will most likely help them improve their communicative competence, which in turn will enable them to compete better on the global stage. That is why innovating the traditional is the key to success in adult ELT in Japan.


References

Beaumont, M., & Chang, K. S. (2011). Challenging the traditional/communicative dichotomy. ELT journal, 65(3), 291-299.

Chapman, M. (2003). TOEIC: Tried but undertested. Shiken: JALT Testing & Evaluation SIG Newsletter, 7(3), 2-7.

Cunningham, C. R. (2002). The TOEIC test and communicative competence. Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Birmingham, Birmingham, the UK.

Rebuck, M. (2003). The use of TOEIC by companies in Japan. NUCB journal of language culture and communication, 5(1), 23-32.

Robb, T. N., & Ercanbrack, J. (1999). A study of the effect of direct test preparation on the TOEIC scores of Japanese university students. TESL-EJ, 3(4), 1-22.

The Institute for International Business Communication. (2020). TOEIC Program DADA& ANALYSIS

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