In this blog my aim is to continue with the theme of the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). In this instance, I would like to discuss the requirement for those for whom English is not their first or native language.
Most people are probably unaware of any requirement for foreigners to pass any form of proficiency test in English. Our media is full of heart-wrenching stories of asylum seekers and harrowing tales of illegal immigrants entering the UK. Bolted onto these stories are the inevitable broad-brush complaints that foreigners are not able to communicate with local English people. To this one inevitably hears the exasperated outcry regarding the cost to the British taxpayer to facilitate, accommodate and support these new arrivals.
In fact, it will only be academics or professional specialists who have come across any formal requirement. There are numerous scenarios where the UK government prescribes a level of English for entry into the UK. For example, all non-UK applications for a university place must hold a pass at IELTS of at least a level 5.5. The requirement for a GP to practise in the UK is higher, currently set at 6.5.
For the vast majority, this talk of levels is nothing more than numbers. Only those directly involved with IELTS preparation and examining (plus, to some degree, the candidates, of course) have any real idea.
To put things into context, an unprepared, native-English speaker would plausibly score in the region of a level 6 or 7. This would test not just the individual’s fluency and vocabulary but also his knowledge of the language. An unspoken truth, at least amongst my British kinsmen, is that our average level of grammatical awareness is woefully low. Grammar is a word only encountered when learning other languages. English teachers will cry foul and remind us of their valiant endeavours which is, however, mostly all for naught.
Language proficiency is tested across four main skills. Two of these are receptive; listening and reading. This is where the language is delivered to the candidate and the level of comprehension is tested. Whereas the remaining skills are productive; speaking and writing and the candidate must produce the English, either spoken or in writing. Differing levels of entry, for example, skilled labour or to reunite family members, require distinctive levels in selected skills.
Any language teacher will tell you that the best environment to learn a new language is that of the native country. Clearly, this requirement demands an entry level from the outset. Not all language learners will be able to afford multiple visits to an English-speaking country. Yet, with today’s technology one can still make the best of a bad deal. My Language Hub Ltd (MLH), for example, offers distance learning to assist candidates with their preparation for the IELTS examination. Alternatively, applicants can gain entry at a basic level and subsequently apply for an intensive course to gain perhaps one level more. Again, MLH can cater for this eventuality too.
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