Within higher education, creating challenging environments is a must, and in order for internationals students to participate, their command of a foreign language is a necessity. Even more than a requirement, students and educators will agree that without fluid, effortless communication between members of a classroom, much of the learning and discovery will be lost.
In countries around the world, families are seeking additional English language training. Many turn to private language academies to bring their children up to the speed of a native speaker. This is especially true in East Asia, where the recession-proof business of English Language training centers is estimated to be worth billions of dollars.
Many families also choose to send their children abroad for a high school experience in the United States, hoping to increase their chances of admission and success at an American college. Students also opt into Pathway Programs for a “prep year” upon their acceptance to a college, and some students opt into shorter programs abroad for a short English language and cultural immersion.
Aside from the major motivating factor of achieving an undergraduate degree from an American college or university, here are three major motivating factors for why international students seek additional English Language training.
1. Compulsory English that is taught in school is insufficient
Even though countries like Japan, China, South Korea, and Vietnam have English built into the regular school day, the material is often basic, classes aren’t conducive for actual communication, and it is less important than other subjects.
Chinese education policy gives students exposure to the language beginning in year 3 in primary school; any developmental linguist will tell you that teaching language earlier is almost always better. The disappointing news is that this language exposure is only given two hours per week and is almost always taught by a teacher from China.
Once a student gets into middle school and high school, the weekly lessons are increased to four hours a week – good news! The bad news is that the topics covered are almost entirely conversational, much of what is repeated from primary school. Topics like the weather, likes/dislikes, short stories, hobbies, food, and travel are of course useful yet they don’t do enough to prepare young people for advanced discourse.
Chinese classrooms are typically very large, a lot of the class time is centered around repeating common phrases and devoid of actual conversations that evolve as speakers share opinions or ideas. There is also a narrow focus on the importance of grammar and analysis through context. This is a reflection of the need to prepare for the Chinese college entrance exam, the gaokao, which tests this area. If a Chinese student spends an exorbitant amount of time focusing on a sentence’s construction and the functionality of the words within, creating original thoughts in English backed up with constructive commentary is going to suffer.
2. English Language proficiency tests are difficult, and admissions requirements for test scores are high
International students are well aware and understand that their test scores for English language proficiency are the number one deciding factors for college admissions. Higher education establishments do not want to sacrifice quality of education to accommodate a diverse student body, so nearly all state school systems require a minimum score on several language tests, such as the TOEFL. Using three of the most popular states for Asian students, we can see the following minimum requirement for this test:
- University of Massachusetts:
- University of California System: 80 TOEFL score
- SUNY University Centers: 79-80 TOEFL score
3. High Level English Language skills are necessary to succeed in a college level course.
The efforts to study and improve English language skills can be explained by a lesson learned from previous international students: college in the U.S. is hard! In China, getting into college is usually the hardest part of an academic journey. Once enrolled in a Chinese college, students can seemingly ‘take it easy’ compared to the long, arduous road it took to get there. Many Chinese students are taken aback by the amount of work they have once they’re enrolled in a college or university in the United States. Without proper language training, the challenges are magnified. In a paper by WholeRen Education, LLC. 62% of the students from their network were dismissed from American higher education establishments because of low GPA. One could also argue that the 21% dismissed for academic dishonesty turned to these unethical means because of their struggle.
It might also be worth noting that for outbound Chinese students, business and management continues to be the most popular major. While it could be possible for students to have an easier go in engineering (the next most popular major) because of the emphasis on numbers, a robust English vocabulary and the confidence needed to use this knowledge successfully is crucial in a business field. Now more than ever, global commerce is looking to China as a source of cheaper labor, technical abilities, and a gigantic pool of talent.