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Why English Proficiency Matters

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Key findings of the Education First – English Proficiency Index (EF EPI) have strengthened further the position of the English language as the world’s lingua franca. The world becoming increasingly globalized made it necessary that people from different parts of the world speak a common language. English emerged as that common language. There may be more native speakers of Mandarin and Spanish than English but people living in most countries from the world’s different continents have English as their second language. What contributed to this were the facts that the United Kingdom, where the original Anglo-Saxon language evolved into the modern English language that it is now,  used to be a colonial power that ruled many parts of Asia, Africa, and South America and the rise of English speaking countries, particularly the United States, to political and economic prominence when the colonial period ended. But as Borzykowski1 asserted, “English is for everyone. The shift [to English] is not a throwback to colonialism or a play for cultural superiority.”

The EF EPI ranks countries (annually since 2011)  by the average level of English language skills among those adults who volunteered to take the EF tests. Critics have dismissed the results of the EF EPI saying that they are not credible and reliable.  They (the critics) cited methodical flaws and sampling bias as the primary reasons why they are questioning the results. But this initiative of the Education First, an international education company that specializes in language training, educational travel, academic degree programs, and cultural exchange, is more than just ranking the English proficiency of participating countries. What could be considered as a more important objective of the endeavor is  finding out the correlation between English proficiency and several economic, political, and social factors.

The annual ranking can be ignored (by those who disagree with it) but the key findings Education First would present after conducting the surveys are difficult to disregard. The said findings explain why becoming proficient in the English language is a must.

As reported in  EF EPI’s  2011 edition, recruiters and HR managers around the world disclosed in a survey that preference is accorded to candidates with English skills above the local average and receive salaries  30-50% higher than similarly-qualified candidates without English skills2. This means that employees prefer to hire applicants who are more proficient in English and that they receive better salaries. These findings are supported by several studies that have established the correlation between English proficiency and employability and income3,4,5 & 6.

Highlights of the findings of the  2012 edition of EF EPI include the following: “English is a key component of economic wellbeing, both nationally and individually. Better English proficiency goes hand in hand with higher incomes, more exports, an easier environment for doing business, and more innovation7.” The following year (2103), results pointed out that while those with proficient English earn more, people who are poor at English may be passed over for promotion8. This is how important and necessary English proficiency has become.

Key findings of the succeeding editions of the EF EPI (from 2013 to 2017) have consistently shown the same – “that there exist  strong correlations between English proficiency and income, quality of life, ease of doing business, Internet usage, and years of schooling.  The 2017 edition specifically cited that “countries with higher levels of English proficiency tend to have more service exports, better Internet access, and more investment in research and development than countries with lower English proficiency9.” The report added that such strong correlations have been consistent across the 2011 to 2017 editions of the EF EPI.

The last two editions of EF EPI (2018 and 2019) have presented more reasons why English proficiency should be taken seriously.

The 2018 edition of EF EPI revealed that more scientific  journals are published in English and cited a report that close to sixty percent of all multinational organizations already operate in English10. This serves as a confirmation that English is indeed the leading language not only in business but also in education.  Proficiency in the language then is required not only to catch up to the competition but also to gain access to information, particularly important research findings. Therefore, in order to become (and remain competitive) in the business world and in the academe, it is important  to gain proficiency in what has become the academic and corporate language – English.

In addition, the latest (2019) EF EPI stated that “English is the principal language of international collaboration11.” It is by speaking a lingua franca that would allow a manager or an employee from a particular country to work with other managers and employees from other countries. This edition of the EF EPI asserted that “English-speaking  teams are able to attract  more diverse talent and access ideas from around the world12.” It also cited  recent studies showing that “companies with managers from many countries earn more of their revenues  from innovation than their less diverse competitors13.” The more diverse are the nationalities of managers and employees of a company the more innovations are possible. But collaboration among those who speak different native languages would only be possible if they speak a common second language. This is the reason that, as reported by Borzykowski, “a growing number of global firms are using English as their main language – even if they are based in Japan or France14.”

What has been consistently mentioned across all the editions of the EF EPI  is not only how English proficiency correlates to certain economic factors and education but also to various measures of investment in research and development (R&D). The significance of R&D to any areas of human existence is something that does not require further elaboration.

All of the foregoing discussions about why English proficiency is important and how necessary it is are things that professionals in any field of endeavors and university students preparing for any career in the future should take into serious consideration. But it should be noted that there is no shortcut to gaining proficiency in English. The 2019 edition of EF EPI debunked the “quick and easy way of becoming proficient in English” which blog and vlog posts in the Internet are trying to impress upon people. “The reality is that an adult who does not speak English will need at least 600 hours of high-quality instruction and 600 hours of speaking practice to master English well enough for the average workplace15.” The required number of hours could be more, the report added, for people whose native language is very different from English.

A study on the relationship between time spent on learning English and proficiency in the language verified that the number of years studying English significantly predict English ability16. On the other hand, the lack of time to study the language is considered a barrier in attaining proficiency in the language17.

REFERENCES

  1. https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20170317-the-international-companies-using-only-english
  2. EF EPI 2011 – ef.com
  3. L. Blake, S.  Mcleod, S. Verdon,  F. Fuller, “The relationship between English proficiency and participation  in  higher  education, employment and income” Int J Speech Lang Pathol.,  20(3), 202-215, 2018.https://doi:10.1080/1754907.2016.1229031
  4. H. Ting, E. Marzuki, K.M. Chuah, J. Misieng, C.Jerome, “Employers’ views on the importance of English proficiency and communication skill for employability in Malaysia  Indonesian Journal of  Applied Linguis- tic, 7(2), 315-327, 2017. https://doi:dx.doi.org/10.17509/ijal.v7i2.8132.
  5. Zhen, “The effects of English proficiency on earnings of U.S.  foreign-born Migrants:  Does  Gender  matter?”  Journal  of  Finance  and  Economics, 1(1), 2013. https://doi:10.12735/jfe.vlilp27
  6. Tam, K.W., Page, , “Effects  of  language  proficiency on labor, social and health outcomes of immigrants in Australia” Economic, Analysis & Policy 2015, https://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.eap.2016. 08.003
  7. EF EPI 2012 – ef.com
  8. EF EPI 2013 – ef.com
  9. EF EPI 2017 – ef.com
  10. EF EPI 2018 – ef.com
  11. EF EPI 2019 – ef.com
  12. EF EPI 2019 – ef.com
  13. EF EPI 2019 – ef.com
  14. https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20170317-the-international-companies-using-only-english
  15. EF EPI 2019 – ef.com
  16. Magno, “Korean Students’ Language Learning Strategies  and  Years of  Studying English as Predictors of  Proficiency in English” Teaching  English to Speakers of Languages Journal, 2 (1): 39-61, 2008.https://doi.  org/10.1111/j.1944-9720.1997.tb02343.x
  17. S. Ibrahim, M.A. Hassali, F. Saleem,  H. Aljadhey, “Perceptions and  barriers towards English language proficiency among pharmacy under- graduates at  Universiti  Sains,  Malaysia” Pharmacy Education 13 (1), 151-156, 2013.https://doi:10.1016/j.sapharm.2014.07.098

Getting Through The First Day Of Class

(A Personal Essay)

AAEach meeting with my students is important but it’s the first day that I consider very special – the most strategically important. It’s the day that I would attempt to accomplish one of the hardest things to do in education – to shatter the students’ image of the classroom as a prison cell, with them as  prisoners and the teachers as nasty prison guards. It’s the day when I begin to lay the foundations of what every teacher should endeavor to forge between them and their students – a good rapport.

The entire semester is a long haul and I know that winning their hearts  would make our journey together as enjoyable and productive as it could be. If I succeed in making them trust me during the first day, half-of-the battle is already won. Earning the trust of my Korean students is very important to me as an expat teacher teaching English. What makes that task  of earning their trust not only necessary but also (doubly) challenging  is the fact that I yes I am  an ESL teacher with the proper qualifications and training but I am not from any of their preferred native English speaking countries.

There’s nothing very special about the way I conduct my first meeting with my new students here in South Korea. It’s just a bit unconventional.

My introduction would always include telling my students the nickname which I adopted with the intention of eliciting laughter whenever I deliver a talk – Tonitonipoponibananananapoponinomimayfofoni. (Inspired by Laura Branigan’s song entitled “Name Game.”) Amazingly, when I tell my students that and jokingly threaten them to memorize it if not they would fail in my subject, they would try very hard to repeat it after me and laugh at themselves if they wouldn’t be able to say it.

Then I would add, “Whoever could say my nickname correctly will get an A+.” I don’t mean it of course. Luckily, up until this time, no one among those who tried succeeded. It was me who would always succeed – in getting their attention.

From there, I would give them the necessary information about me as their teacher. The most significant of those information (as far as I am concerned) is the number of years I have been teaching. It currently stands at (a few months more than) 30 years. The point I wish to drive home for highlighting to my students how long I have been teaching is – I wouldn’t stay this long in the academe if I don’t love my job.

The next part of my first-day-of-class script would touch the boundaries of philosophy.

I would be delivering something like an“eve-of-battle” speech. The way they do it in movies.

I would ask my first question: “Why am I teacher?”

Puzzled, the students would grope for an answer.

I would give follow-up questions after that – Would you call a woman a mother without a son or a daughter? Are your mothers and fathers mothers and fathers without you as their children?

Amid their “aahs” and nods I would then say, “I am a teacher because of the students. My reason for being a teacher is each of you. Without you, I am just a person – not a teacher.”

That’s my way of telling my students that the most important stakeholder in a school are them. Schools exist because of them. School administrators and teachers have work because of them.

That’s my way of telling them that I exist (as a teacher) to serve their interests.

I would end that part with the following statement: “Thank you for having me as your teacher.”

After that I would show them a video clip from the movie “Collateral Beauty” – that part where Howard Inlet, the character played by Will Smith, delivered a speech in a gathering of his employees at the beginning of the movie.

  • “What is your why? Why did you even get out of the bed this morning? Why did you eat what you ate? Why did you wear what you wore? Why did you come here?”

I would pause the video clip after each question and would ask them to give an answer.

Then I would ask them follow-up questions. (These were the only questions I asked when I was not yet using that movie clip.)

A

Why are you here in school?

Why do you want to finish your studies?

The last question I would ask – Why did you enroll in this class?

I never failed to ask the said questions because I want my students to understand that for them to succeed not only in their studies but in all their present and future endeavors, they need to set goals. They ought to know their whys. They must know the reasons why they do what they do, say what they say, and think what they think.

I would tell them also that the worst “why” to have for studying is to get A+  – that grades are not the be-all and end-all of schooling.

All of the foregoing would be finished in twenty to thirty minutes.

I would then ask the student to introduce themselves.

After all of the foregoing , I would proceed to the presentation of  the course syllabus – explain the course objectives, give the topics to be discussed weekly, and tell them what activities will be done in the class and how are they going to be graded.

In explaining discipline in the class, I would simply ask this question – “Are you small children?” They would of course say “NO.” Then I would tell them this – “I therefore expect you not to speak and behave like small children.”

Then we proceed to the finale – presentation of course requirements.

It’s not surprising to see the students frown when they see the course requirements on the last page of the syllabus. That’s the time that I would deliver the last part of my “eve-of-battle” speech.

I would ask – “Is learning fun?”

As expected, majority would say “no.”

My next question would be – “Is work fun?”

Of course the students would say “no” again. And every time I would ask that, one or two would say “There were many times I heard my father complained about his job.”

Then I would go on and tell them the following:

“Nothing is to be given to you in a silver platter. You need to work hard to achieve your dreams. Studying and working would require effort – you have to exert mentally, emotionally and physically. But something could make studying and working fun – your attitude. Your attitude towards studying will be dictated by your whys. Your whys put together is your philosophy.”

I would spend another minute or two to explain something about “personal philosophy.” At the end I would tell them that each teacher has a personal teaching philosophy and mine is as follows:

“The classroom is my playground. The students are my playmates. The subject is our toy.”

How surprised they would be whenever I say that when I come to class I don’t work, I play. Work is hard. Play is fun.

As we end the first meeting I would tell them, “Come back next week and let’s play.”

The Work Attitude of (Some) Expat Teachers

perfect university(A PERSONAL ESSAY)

I started teaching here in South Korea in 2013. For six years now (going 7) that I have been working with expat teachers from different parts of the world, mostly from countries where English is the native language. Rarely do South Korean universities hire Asian ESL teachers (like me).

Those years I worked with my fellow expat teachers gave me the opportunity to witness first hand their brand of professionalism (or the lack of it). I saw them work, I heard them talk, and I witnessed how they behave as persons and as professionals. My being given by the university where I am teaching now the privilege to be a head professor for three (3) semesters a few years back allowed me also to have an access to information about them. In addition, for the past four years, I have been a member of the university’s   hiring committee and I have literally gone over hundreds of résumés of ESL job applicants. A few of those applicants were first-timers and the majority were attempting to transfer from other universities here. That enabled me to scrutinize their academic and employment background. I discovered that MANY of those moving  from other universities are not teachers by profession and it was their first time to teach when they were hired as ESL teachers here in South Korea. In the job interviews where I was assigned to be a member of the panel of interviewers, I came to know more about the expat teachers.

Sometimes, even without me asking, tactless birds from the grapevine would tweet to me a thing or two about my fellow expat teachers. I am also a member of an organization of Filipino professors teaching in different universities here in South Korea and during our meetings I would be getting more information about ESL teachers from different countries in their respective workplaces which kind of confirmed my overall perception and observation about them.

I have become so awkwardly familiar with my fellow expat teachers’ behavior in the workplace. I can describe vividly their work attitude. And this personal essay is exactly that – an exposé about the work attitude of some expat teachers here in South Korea.

Anyway, these are just my personal observations. I may be wrong. But what if I am right?

Before I proceed though, let me just clarify that MOST of the expat teachers I worked with in the past years (and those who are still with me where I am currently teaching) are very good ones – personally and professionally. But as you may have noticed, I used MOST, not ALL, for the obvious reason that there are a FEW bad apples.

Yes, there are a FEW bad apples. And you know how the saying goes – “One rotten apple spoils the whole barrel.” For the bad decisions they make as persons and professionals, there is a possibility that employers will think that all expat teachers are like them. That’s my worry.

I hope that Koreans wouldn’t think that expat teachers are alike. MANY of us are serious with our work as ESL teachers here but those FEW who don’t might be creating a negative perception about us.

I witnessed how certain policies were changed in my workplace in response to the bad decisions some of my former colleagues did. Remember that when school administrators implement a new policy or amend an existing one in response to the wrongdoings of one bad apple, the changes will affect all expat teachers and not only the one who did something wrong.

There are expat teachers everywhere who complain a lot about what they perceive as imperfections of the universities where they belong. Some of them would say things like “In my country, this is not the way we do things.” Others would make some unnecessary comments about this country and its people as if they themselves, their respective countries and their countrymen  are perfect and blameless. If that is the case, why did they decide to leave their countries and work here? If the universities back in their countries are the best and most ideal why didn’t they apply for teaching jobs there? Why are they here in South Korea? Did they come here to whine?

This reminds me of what one of my former colleagues from the US said sometime ago when he got so frustrated about the complaints of our fellow expat teachers – “Why can’t this people accept the fact that the reason they are here working as ESL teachers is because they couldn’t get a decent job back in their own countries.”

The problem with the expat teachers who have a lot of complaints about the policies in their universities, and granting that their complaints are valid,  is that when their employers offer them a contract for the next school year they would sign their names on the dotted lines. They would come back and still teach in the universities that they malign so much.

Is that a dignified thing to do?

If these expat teachers think that the system in the universities where they are currently working is rotten, why do they keep coming back? (I personally know some of them.) Is salary the reason? Is it the reality that back in their countries they will not be able to earn the money they are being paid here? Would they even qualify to teach in their universities (or are competent enough to be chosen among qualified applicants)? Is it the fear that should they not accept the contract their present university is offering them they may not be able to convince another university to hire them?

These expat teachers claim that they are complaining because they want to change the system. Really? When will the  Don Quixotes  stop fighting the windmills? Okay, if they insist, here is my advice – They should request a meeting with their respective university Presidents and present to them their complaints and the reforms they want to implement. Let’s see what happens. If they are really the idealists that they are seemingly trying to  project themselves to be, they should do this.

These expat teachers should express their grievances and suggest the reforms they want, not to their colleagues during meetings, but directly to university officials who have the power to implement changes. Or better yet, go either to the Ministry of Education or the Ministry of Labor and file a complaint against whatever is it that they think their university is doing wrong. That is if aside from barking they are also capable of biting. That is if they got balls. If none, they’d better keep quiet and just work. They should not waste the time of their colleagues listening to their whinges and whines.

One thing that I have noticed that most of the expat teachers I met who are fond of complaining are the teachers who are not “trained to teach” but are “forced to teach.” They are not “real teachers” but “pretenders.” Please click this link if you want to know how I differentiated the “real teachers” from the “pretenders.

The way they conduct themselves as professionals, deliver instruction, treat their students, and comply with the requirements of the job are telltale signs that they have no formal training as teachers. And truth be told – SOME expat teachers here in South Korea were not trained to teach. They have no degrees in education. They were lucky to have been hired. Well, they trained as teachers on the job. Hopefully, they eventually became “real teachers,” no longer “pretenders,” after a year or two. But wait… did they?

What is so frustrating is the ones complaining a lot are not doing their job the way they ought to. They do not comply with all the requirements. And with some of the tasks perennially performed by teachers, they still had to bother their colleagues for assistance. I  witnessed how SOME of them sweep  their incompetence under the rugs of their complaints. They thought that they could hide their inability to perform and deliver by verbally attacking school policies and administrators who are not present to defend themselves. There were times that I had to call the attention of a few of my fellow expat teachers for taking the floor too long during meetings to needlessly complain about something. The exchange between us would usually get heated. I had to do it to prevent meetings from dragging too long.

How surprised was I when one time a few of my fellow expat teachers complained about reading long (job-related) emails. Let’s say that it would take an extra 5 minutes to read an email that is longer than usual. What is an extra 5 minutes when compared to the more or less 5 months in a year that we get paid while vacationing and doing almost nothing job-related?

I have some colleagues who voice their discontent about policies but at the same time perform their functions as best as they could.  Their students never complained about being shortchanged. They know that whatever disagreement they have with policies, it’s between them and the school administrators. The students should never be caught in the crossfire. They help in solving issues that could be remedied.   They are professionals and I admire them. I listen when they talk. They were times that I disagreed with them and had a healthy discussion.

I could go on and on and say a lot more about the work attitude of SOME expat teachers here is South Korea, but I need to stop at this point.

Let me just give the following parting shots: Expat teachers should perform in such a way that nobody would accuse them of being “mercenary teachers.”  And if they think the universities where they are currently working do not measure up to their personal core values and standards of excellence, what should they do? Nobody is forcing them to stay. They must reject a contract extension should it be  offered  to them. They must leave and find their perfect university.

 

 

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