Number one for English language teachers

Exam time

Type: Reference material

In her second diary entry, Willow Vanderbosch talks about the terrors of the TOEIC.

As the class entered, I was playing Bebel Gilberto softly in the background. I could hear the confusion and questions about the music even through the language barrier. Finally Mr. Mobile pointed to the ceiling with a troubled look in his eye and I said, 'Yes, it’s music. I thought it might help you relax during the test.' He nodded with understanding. I asked the class if they preferred silence or music, and Gardener D laughed his jolly old St. Nicholas kind of laugh and said to leave it playing. Everyone nodded in assent.

I explained that the test was a review of everything we had studied in the last three months. It was an open book test, and I solemnly promised that everything on the test was in their books or in their notes. I reminded them of the grammar review sheets I had given them before included all grammar points covered in each chapter. The only thing I asked was that they not help each other.

Everyone hunkered down over their tests, most of them dutifully going through their notes. I had figured that it was about a two hour test including clarification of instructions. I allowed them to take it home to finish. I was surprised and a little sad to see that after three months of coming faithfully to class, I suddenly had many dropouts. I learned a great big lesson about 'tests' in this culture. Since most of the guys here have never been to school, they feel that any outside world measurements will show only failure. There is little or no confidence in their ability even after a few months of speaking, learning and positive interaction. Some however, including Mr. Dhivehi gave me the biggest surprise by showing their true colors and all that they had learned. A few that I thought I had reached the least turned in papers which showed that despite their frustration with and refusal to speak English in class, to which I owe a greater understanding of many words and phrases in Dhivehi, they actually learned a lot. I think they surprised themselves. There was certainly a look in wonder in their eyes when I said 'Good job' after reviewing their work.

Introduction to the TOEIC

I work for an international chain of resort hotels. The head office has recently decided to make the TOEIC a standard part of operations. The idea is to begin testing all of the staff to see what English level they are at now compared to what English level is desired for their position. Incoming staff will be required to be at the appropriate level and current staff must study English to improve their level. Many of the hotels provide English teachers like myself to give free classes to the staff. With the test looming over their heads, many of the staff were panicking. They were quite sure that they were not up to level and would be sent packing as soon as the hotel got their scores. One pastry chef in particular grabbed me at every possibly moment day or night all week to question me again on the subject. After taking the test he was more panicked than before and cornered me in my ten minute break to ask about what actions management would take after the test. 'Please Madam, my job is very important.' His reaction is fairly common.

Test Time

A TOEIC administrator came from Bangkok to give the tests and to teach me to administer them in the future. Although she has administered tests all over the world, there were many problems that she encountered here that she had never even thought of before. She got quite a lesson about the culture here when giving instructions to fill out the forms:

  1. They do not have 'first' and 'family names' here. They may or may not have a second name, and the second name may or may not have to do with their father. It is more likely to be Mohamed, Ahmed, Hassan or Didi, names of religious significance.
  2. Many have problems remembering how to spell their names. The translation of Dhivehi script to English spellings is very confusing.
  3. They do not celebrate birthdays. Many do not know their birthdays.
  4. Some have uncorrected eye problems, and couldn’t see the circles and so colored anywhere, even after she marked the correct administrative boxes and just asked them to color them in.
  5. We do not have identification numbers…we have nicknames given by the other staff. (Mine is 'Auntie'.)
  6. Many have never had any sort of formal education, and those who have had, probably did not go past grade seven or nine.

By the last of the testing groups, she had given up on some instructions and just told them to mark 'A' in the education box - which was 'Do not use.' It meant that they had not done secondary school, which was mostly true, and certainly easier than trying to find out individually if they had or had not. If I knew better, I would say so on an individual basis.

We finished the last of the TOEIC tests at three in the morning last night. The staff were greatly relieved. The last group was our boat crew, which had been up since six in the morning, fasted all day for Ramadan, had breakfast after sunset, dinner at eleven and had continued working until it was time for the midnight test. Many of them would begin again at six in the morning. Even so, most of them shook our hands and thanked us on their way out.

Today, with the tests and exams behind me, I will write my attendance reports and tonight I will fly to Sri Lanka for two weeks of well deserved and desperately needed R & R.

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