English Proficiency Exam To Be Taken Online

Sitting in the Royal University of Phnom Penh’s academic advising center, Mong Kol described why he chose to learn English, rather than French, once the foreign language of choice among educated Cambodians.

“My first language class was in French then I changed to En­g­lish,” Mong Kol said, using a care­fully crafted American accent cul­tivated since his first English les­sons in 1993.

“I [thought] that English would [give] me a better chance of getting a good job and applying for scholarships,” he said.

Now a teacher at the university’s Institute of Foreign Lan­g­ua­ges,  the 22-year-old will on Saturday  take a paper version of the in­ter­nationally recognized Test of Eng­lish as a Foreign Language.

Currently TOEFL is offered on­ly four times a year in Cambodia and is taken by roughly 320 applicants annually.

But soon, a new Internet-based test will replace the current paper test sheets, said Hang Chan Thon, dean of Faculty of Science at the Royal University, who is in charge of administering TOEFL in Cam­bodia.

Computer-based testing has been employed in Thailand since 2000, and because Cambodia still uses the paper test, some believe that Cambodian students may be at a disadvantage with the new TOEFL exam.

“I think the difficult part will be typing, because [the test] is timed,” Hang Chan Thon said.

Khiev Khemara, who took a special version of the TOEFL ex­am when he became a Ful­bright Scholar in 2003, is con­cerned that the country’s In­ternet infrastructure will not adequately support the new test, which is taken online.

“It’s Internet-based, and with the quality of Internet in Cambodia be­ing so low, I wonder if that will be taken into consideration,” the 26-year-old said.

And low scores in TOEFL are not what Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam need.

Last week, Thai newspapers re­ported that the English proficiency of the four countries lags be­hind their Southeast Asian neigh­bors.

The Thai government’s English Language Development Center an­nounced last week that Sing­aporeans had the highest average TOEFL score at 252 out of 300 points.

Filipinos came in second with 234, Malaysia third with 224, and Burma and Indonesia tied at 214 points.

The lowest averages were from Vietnam with 205, Laos 203, Thai­land, 201 and Cambodia at the lowest with 200 points.

Although Thai officials are re­portedly scrambling to improve English proficiency, Hang Chan Thon said he was not too concerned about Cambodia’s poor test scores compared to its South­east Asian counterparts.

Instead, he is confident that the country’s English abilities are im­proving.

“Cambodian students are strong enough in the TOEFL,” he said, although he was unsure of Cam­bodia’s exact performance on previous tests.

In addition to a shift to Internet-based tests, a new English oral section will be added to TOEFL, which is currently comprised of four sections: writing, listening, grammar and reading comprehension, Hang Chan Thon said.

“I think that this one is going to be a challenge,” Khiev Khemara said, “You’re going to be talking to a computer.”

Despite the obvious challenges, Hang Chan Thon believes that a new, more exacting test could also benefit students.

“When they want to study in the US they need to know how to speak anyhow.” he said.

With English as the official language of Asean, member countries require TOEFL test scores for student scholarships, as do Korea, Japan and the US, Hang Chan Thon said. For students who wish to attend Australian and British universities or vocational schools, a similar test known as the International Eng­lish Lan­guage Testing System is available.

It wasn’t until Cambodia be­came a market economy in the early 1990s, said Hang Chan Thon, that English solidified its popularity. Now, even the country’s rural English schools are packed with students.

“Before we used French, but now it is difficult to use French,” he said.

But for Mong Kol, learning Eng­lish has meant much more than im­proved job opportunities.

“Most importantly it’s an international language, and I love to travel,” he said.

 

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