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"The Future" Spin-off 1

Imagine that you’re taking a piano lesson. Playing the piano was your long-time dream, and you finally decided to learn how to play it seriously. It’s a 60-minute lesson. The teacher is very enthusiastic, caring, and nice. The problem is that you “read” music notes for 25 minutes, “listen” to teacher’s demonstration for another 25 minutes, and "play the instrument" for only 10 minutes during each lesson. One more issue. Those 10 minutes is almost the only occasion on which you play the instrument, meaning you don’t usually practice outside the lesson. Do you think you’ll eventually be able to play the piano by taking such lessons? Do you think you’re actually learning how to play the piano? What do you think playing the piano really means? Being able to read music notes is prerequisite to playing any instruments for sure, and listening to experts’ demonstration may inspire you musically, but you should never forget that your goal is to be able to "play the instrument”.

What do you say to TOEIC 950 plus holders who rarely speak and write in English, and thus haven’t acquired the speaking/writing fluency that people would conceive for those TOEIC 950 plus holders? What are the differences between such 950ers and those who constantly seek opportunities to speak and write in English at work or in their personal lives, and thus have no hesitation in communicating with people in English, but whose TOEIC scores are around 700 or 800? Who do you think is closer to being proficient in English? What do you think TOEIC 950 plus really means? Being able to read and listen to English is no doubt prerequisite to having a good command of English for sure, and TOEIC measures test takers’ reading/listening comprehension skill. So, what implications would TOEIC scores have to us? What’s the point of improving TOEIC scores from 600 to 800, 900, or 990? What is the best way to achieve those target scores? What do the achieved target scores really mean?

If you’ll suffer enormous social or economic disadvantages from not achieving TOEIC 700 for instance, and TOEIC 700 is the “only” requirement you’re assigned to meet, I strongly recommend that you intensively study solely for the TOEIC test to achieve the target as soon as possible. It actually is possible to achieve TOEIC 700 if you devote yourself to studying authentic, high-quality TOEIC prep books for a couple of months under proper guidance. But if achieving TOEIC 700 is NOT the only target to be achieved, or if you’re expected to acquire a good command of English, or you expect yourself to do so while working on the TOEIC test, you’ll need to approach the issue in a different manner. It’s not the matter of which is better or more meaningful. It totally depends on the orientation of each English language learner.

I consider myself as fortunate in a sense that I’m a late-comer. I took the TOEIC test for the first time 10 years ago, and TOEIC was never as popular as it is now when I was seriously studying English in school settings. Taking EPTs including TOEIC was always an option or something extra for the students. It has been imprinted deep inside me that TOEIC or whatever English proficiency tests (EPTs) is just one form of attempt to demonstrate one’s English ability or make it physically visible to others. Again, I consider myself as fortunate to hold such perspectives and I don’t think they will change. Being an English langauge learner with such view, I seriously contemplate my orientation as a teacher of English. Put my attitude and philosophy toward TOEIC as a learner of English aside, I’m aware that I bear the responsibility as an English teacher to guide the students I teach in a right direction, not to misguide them by way of teaching TOEIC or whatever EPT classes.

Why not practice speaking and writing while working on the TOEIC test? In fact, there is no TOEIC English. English is English. There is no useless practice. Every practice counts for improving your overall English proficiency. It all comes back to you in a good way. Ideally, such practice should involve speaking and writing. You can read your favorite speeches aloud. You can watch DVDs and copy the conversations orally. You can write a short essay or prose, and post it to where other people can read your pieces (I know a good BBS. "Quick Write Forum"). You can talk to other language learners online and teach each other your first languages (Do you know "Shared Talk"?). You can write messages in English on Twitter or Facebook. There are so many tools and means out there for you to practice writing and speaking. Why not "read" music notes for 10 minutes, "listen" to teacher’s demonstration for 10 minutes, and "play the instrument" for 40 minutes? Why not play the piano inside and outside the lesson?


Didn't you know that I used to play the piano?
piano-lesson-books-piano-care1.jpg


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