Learning English - China, Japan, South Korea
In this blog post I will look at the different approaches to learning English in China, Japan, South Korea and other countries.
There has been much debate in a great number of countries if their approach to teaching English is useful or not. I have been researching different teaching methods used, particularly in Asian countries such as China, Japan and South Korea. Before I look in more detail at the approaches to teaching, I will firstly look at the main types of English exams taken by students in schools and universities.
English Exams in China, Japan and South Korea
In China one of the most popular exams is the CET 4 or CET 6. These exams are well established in China and it has existed for more than a quarter of a century. It tests the language level of school children, undergraduates and postgraduates. The number of students sitting this exam annually is upwards of 18 million. This shows the importance of learning English in China, especially when considering that IELTS, which is one of, if not the most well-known English exam globally, only has 2-3 million test takers annually around the world.
In Japan the most well-known exam is EIKEN or STEP EIKEN. Japanese students have sat this exam since 1963 and it has a similar number of test takers to the IELTS. This exam is for school students of all ages. Other countries see EIKEN as a good model exam to follow. In South Korea they are supposedly developing a new English test, using EIKEN as a base. At the moment most South Korean universities look at CSAT (College Scholastic Ability Test) or Suneung marks when admitting students. You can find more universal tests such as: IELTS, TOEIC, TOEFL in China, Japan and South Korea too.
The Chinese CET 4 exam has a highest possible mark of 710. The test comprises a Writing section, two reading sections, a vocabulary related exercise, a translation exercise and a Listening section. There is a separate speaking section, but students can only take this if they achieve a score of 550 or more in the main part.
This CET 4 seems strange to me. I would have thought that speaking should be incorporated or set aside as a different section for all students. Regardless of what mark they have achieved in the rest of the exam. I have met many students who have had better Speaking skills than any other aspect of the language. This throws into question what the main purpose of this test is. It is almost categorising the most important elements of the language. Does this suggest that speaking is less important than other key language skills?
The EIKEN test is similar to the CET 4. In EIKEN you have to pass the writing, reading, vocabulary and listening sections before moving on to take the speaking test at a later stage. Again, I don’t know the reason why this is the case. It seems to me that it would be beneficial for students to see how well they perform in the speaking part of the test. Even if they don’t pass the rest of the exam. In England the Cambridge exams (FCE, CAE, IELTS, etc.) often have the speaking sections on a different day to the rest of the exam. However, there is no pre-requisite for sitting them, they are all part of the same exam.
South Korea - CSAT and Speaking
In South Korea the CSAT exam consists of 45 multiple choice questions, the first 17 questions are listening comprehension and the rest are based around reading and comprehension. The exam does not test students’ speaking skills. Similar to China and Japan, this shows more weighting towards other aspects of language learning as opposed to speaking. One study showed that in Korea, a native Englishman scored 76 out of 100 on the CSAT, while 2 Korean students scored 96 and 100 respectively. Nevertheless, the Englishman maintained that while the Korean students had outstanding scores on the test, they were unable to have or maintain a basic conversation with him in English. This study was used to highlight that although Korean students may be very well trained and good at passing tests, when it comes to learning English, these marks do not necessarily translate into having good language skills.
If you would like to find useful information for common language difficulties, see some of our recent posts: language topics.