For the past 46 years the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) has been used to evaluate “the ability of nonnative English speakers to use and understand the English language as it is heard, spoken, read and written in the university classroom.” This test is now the standard used by more than 7,500 colleges, universities and agencies in 130 countries. Many students intending to study in the United States are required to complete this test in order to confirm their ability to function within an English-speaking environment.
And it’s not just universities. Some companies are taking the English proficiency requirement a step further. The Wall Street Journal recently reported (subscription required for full access) that Rakuten, the Japanese rival to Amazon.com, has developed a plan requiring all business to be conducted in English by 2012. This requirement goes far beyond an expectation of minimal proficiency. Rakuten’s CEO, Hiroshi Mikitani, is requiring that all employees speak and correspond only in English. Although the decision is not without controversy, many other Japanese based companies including Sony, Nissan Motor Fast Retailing Co., Mitsubishi Corp., and Nipon Sheet Glass Co. have already implemented similar policies.
In support of his policy, Mr. Mikitani has argued that:
“Among the 32 countries designated as “advanced economies” by the International Monetary Fund, Japan had the lowest scores last year on the TOEFL, a proficiency test given to foreign students who want to study in the U.S. It had the second-lowest score among Asian nations, outperforming only Laos.” (see supporting graph here)
As Japan and other Asian nations signal their determination to remain active participants in ongoing international conversations (which, apparently, will now be conducted in English), it’s likely that many international students will now increase the amount of time spent studying English and utilizing products designed to facilitate learning of the English language. As developers of the TOEFL, ETS offers a number of such products, including our own Engaging English.
Engaging English offers a personal and interactive learning platform for users wanting to strengthen their English speaking skills. Users may read targeted, online content across a wide variety of interest areas as a way to strengthen their English speaking skills and prepare for the reading demands of the TOEFL – not to mention the reading demands likely to be found throughout their careers and lives.
Given the trend described above, it seems likely that personalized learning platforms, like Engaging English, will have a major role to play in preparing students for the English language demands of work and education. If you have not yet seen it, be sure to take a look.