China’s first evaluation standard for proficiency in English is expected to take effect on June 1, the Ministry of Education said on April 17.
The standard, jointly issued by the ministry and the State Language Commission, defines three categories of English language ability-basic, intermediate and advanced-with nine levels altogether, a statement on the ministry’s website said.
The standard applies to all-levels of English learners from elementary school to university and focuses on students’ ability in everyday practical language, broader communication skills and understanding of the culture in English-speaking places.
The National Education Examinations Authority, under the Ministry of Education, is currently developing an English exam that applies the evaluation system to higher education, the statement said.
In 112 pages, the English proficiency standard lays down detailed requirements for listening, speaking, reading and writing. It also includes practical skills, such as translating, where standards are rare worldwide.
To compile the scale, called “China’s Standards of English Language Ability”, experts spent three years collecting data from 160,000 students and teachers and conducted research and studies at more than 1,500 schools in 28 provinces.
Xiong Bingqi, vice-president of the Beijing-based 21st Century Education Research Institute, said: “The scale will be helpful in unifying various kinds of English tests in China that have different standards and also in clarifying the educational objectives of English education in China.”
With a clearer evaluation system, students and teachers can assess learning results more precisely and efficiently, Xiong said.
The standards can also guide the country’s reforms in various English language tests, so they will be more focused on testing students’ practical skills in using English, rather than skills in taking tests, he added.
Cao Li, professor of English language and American Literature at Tsinghua University, said establishing unified standards of English proficiency in China will help promote communication and mutual recognition among the creators of various English tests in China and those that are better-known globally, such as IELTS and Toefl tests.
“China’s standards in testing English language ability can also be used globally,” Cao said.
Currently, China’s non-English-major undergraduate and postgraduate students are required to take the College English Test, which includes two levels, CET4 and CET6. A similar but more rigorous test, the Test for English Majors, is mandatory for students in that discipline. For those students, passing the TEM-4 is a graduation requirement.
For those who want to apply for advanced schooling, attain professional titles in China or study abroad, more English tests await.
Xiong said the key to reforming the country’s English language tests is a separation between exams and enrollment, so that people will start to learn English because they like the language, not because they are required to study it.
Without this kind of reform, the current plans are unlikely to produce the intended effects, he said.