China / Society

English proficiency should be toughened, expert says

By Zhao Xinying ( Updated: 2014-01-15 20:27

The English-language standards for Chinese college students should be raised, not lowered, in any national reform of English education, an expert said.

Citing international research, Cai Jigang, deputy director of the Foreign Language Research Institute of Fudan University in Shanghai, said on Jan 15 that a college student should have a vocabulary of 8,000 to 10,000 English words, and be able to read at least 200 words per minute to function in their academic or vocational lives after graduation.

"However, most college students now must master only about 4,500 words and read 70 to 100 words a minute in the College English Test Band 4."

It is a national English test that evaluates college students’ English proficiency.

"It means that the English ability of those students is hovering at quite a low level," he said.

Cai made the comments at a round-table discussion in Beijing organized by the Test of English for International Communication program under the Educational Testing Service. The round table exchanged opinions among college professors, students and English-test organizers on topics such as English education in college and students' language proficiency.

Cai's remarks were in response to the Beijing Municipal Commission of Education's draft reform plan for English tests in the college entrance exams for 2014. The plan, released late last year, would reduce the required English score from 150 to 100, and the vocabulary from 3,500 words to 3,080. The required vocabulary will decline further in the 2015 exams.

Cai said the new standards are far from adequate and will have an adverse effect on students' ability to study, work and communicate in English. Middle school students in Japan are required to master 5,900 English words, while in Russia, it is 9,000 words he added.

To change the situation, 24 universities in Shanghai jointly released a framework in April for teaching English as a Foreign Language at the tertiary level, raising the requirement for college students. Students must master 8,000 to 10,000 English words, read English academic literature, understand and communicate during English lectures, and write academic papers of 1,500 English words.

The framework is being tested, and it may take some time to see how it works, Cai added.

Zhao Huijie, a postgraduate student at Beijing University of Post and Telecommunications, said taking different kinds of English tests is also an effective way for her and many of her classmates to improve their English.

Zhao, who will graduate with a master's degree in electronics in March, said she took the TOEIC in 2013 and scored 965 out of 990, and she had made great progress in listening, speaking, reading and writing in preparation for the test.

"Thanks to my English ability, I got a good job recently," she said.

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