TEPAV report: English-language proficiency low in Turkey

February 26, 2012, Sunday/ 11:23:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN

A report by the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV) revealed that English-language proficiency is low in Turkey, which has taken 43rd place out of 44 countries in English-language proficiency in the Education First English Proficiency Index (EF EPI) 2011 report.

English-language teaching has always been seen as a problematic area of the Turkish education system. Education experts have long discussed the reasons why Turkey falls behind foreign countries in terms of English-language proficiency or the quality of teaching of the English language. Turkey has taken 43rd place out of 44 countries in English-language proficiency, falling behind countries such as Chile, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia in the EF EPI 2011 report, which ranks countries by the average level of English-speaking skills.

“Turkey’s place in the EF EPI ranking is shocking when its geopolitical position and the fact that it is the world’s 16th-largest economy are taken into account,” the report notes. The report states that English is more commonly known in many other countries that have weaker economies than Turkey, and it adds that countries in the top 25 allocate for education a minimum of $32,000 for every child aged 6 to 15. However, this amount is as low as $12,708 per student in Turkey. The lowness of this amount is generally attributed to Turkey’s low teacher salaries, poor-quality English-language teaching resources and a lack of interactive language-teaching materials in Turkish schools. Norway, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Denmark -- where students learn English from ages 6 to 15 -- take the top spot in English-language proficiency, and these countries spend around $80,000 per student on education. However, the ranking of Switzerland, which lies 11th among the 44 countries and spends $104,352 per student, shows that a high amount of money spent on education does not necessarily improve the general proficiency in English; Poland is 10th on the list and spends $39,964 per student on education.

 According to the report, the main reason Turkey has fallen behind in English-language learning is that compulsory lessons begin at age 10. However, in other countries where English-language proficiency is high, students start to learn English when they first start school. In addition, only basic English skills are tested on high-school entry exams, and students do not go through a year where they only learn English before starting their studies in state universities. Until 2005, all state university students had to go through a year-long English-language learning course before they started their degree, and this is still the case in a few private universities. The report mentions that English plays a very significant role in supporting a country’s economy. Because English is spoken around the world, it is almost impossible for entrepreneurs who cannot communicate effectively in English to be successful internationally, so it can be said that a high English-language proficiency is an indispensible aspect of a country’s economic growth.

TEPAV ends the report with some suggestions to foster English-language proficiency in Turkey. Separating English language education into two categories -- the teaching of English to school-age students and the teaching of English to adults -- the report proposes for the first category that the quality of English-language teaching should be improved, and the teaching of English in Turkey should start at an earlier age, such as in first grade, and be done by teachers who specialized in language teaching, not by any teacher who knows English.

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