Saturday, May 17, 2014

Guadalajara University students show poor command of English, latest testing reveals

Guadalajara -
English is regarded by most Mexican students as indispensable to career success. It is easily their number one foreign language choice, followed by French in distant third place. Without a firm foundation in English, many doors are closed to young job seeking professionals, especially in technical careers, medicine and science. But while most university matriculants here will readily claim that they "speak English," competency testing conducted by the University of Guadalajara (UdeG) over the past year clearly demonstrates otherwise.

The university reports that of 12,000 students it tested in recent months, 7,000 were at the lowest level, or had virtually no knowledge of English. Of the remaining 5,000, half were rated at the highest level of ability. The other 2,500 fell at different levels, from low to intermediate to advanced.

"The outlook (for students) is not very favorable," said UdeG language coordinator Nadia Mireles this week, "given the demands of society and potential employers, who are constantly looking for people with excellent command of English. It's up to universities like us to carry out the important task of getting students prepared."

According to a Mexican study group, two of every 10 employers have positions which they cannot fill because of the lack of qualified English speakers in the applicant pool. Human resources officers here tell young job seekers that competency in English can increase their paycheck by a third or more. A supervisor at a local Adecco agency in Guadalajara, one of the world's largest employment agencies, reminds all of his clients, "English is the universal language, and knowledge of it is indispensable."

"The ability to speak English should be a virtually obligatory decision on the part of every student," he added. "It's time to break down the linguistic barriers in our daily lives, because employers are looking not only for well trained professionals, but workers who are equipped with a second language."

UdeG and other local institutions are studying methods by which to more effectively teach foreign languages, Mireles said. One proposal is to expand use of the "tandem approach," where young native speakers of English who want to learn Spanish come to Mexico to study one on one with young Mexicans who want to learn English. It has proven to be a successful teaching tool in pilot programs at some U.S. universities.

According to a study report published by Guadalajara's El Informador, Mexican students rank 40 out of 60 worldwide when tested for English skills. Swedish students are in first place, and Iraquis in last.

A note on linguistic competency: In all language groups, persons with advanced knowledge of a second language often tend to describe themselves as "fluent," which is a grossly over used term. Persons who are truly fluent in another language typically were raised by bilingual parents, or have spent so many years in a country where it is spoken that the language has become habitual with them, enabling them to move seamlessly from one to the other without hesitation. Genuine fluency may elude very competent speakers of foreign languages for many years. In university programs, in the United States and Mexico alike, a certificate of fluency may indicate very little about a student's actual ability. In sum, language skills are acquired very slowly, with perspiration and not inspiration.

© MGR 2014. All rights reserved. This article may be cited or briefly quoted with proper attribution or a hyperlink, but not reproduced without permission.

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