Is the Eiken doing Japan’s English novices more harm than excellent?
Posted by Jonathan M. McCoy on 5th July 2019

The Eiken assessments have traditionally been seen as the usual for English skillability certification in Japan, and a ticket to a properly-paying job. Loads of hundreds of humans pass the tests each 12 months, which makes you wonder where they are all hiding, as proficient English speakers can seem few and a long way between in this united states of america.

The Eiken tests, that are backed with the aid of the ministry of training, are designed and administered with the aid of Eikyo, the Eiken foundation of Japan (previously the Society for trying out English skillability), a public-interest included basis set up in 1963 and based totally in Tokyo. Many employers see the certificates as a precious asset in a prospective worker’s portfolio, and cram faculties provide publications devoted to Eiken take a look at guidance.

But the tests, which have been taken through more than 90 million humans, are difficult in lots of approaches, according to some researchers. In instructional circles, the term “validity” is used to refer to the volume a check does what it is supposed to do. So how well do Eiken assessments simply degree skillability? Eikyo appears to don’t have any studies’ data to be had on the validity of the Eiken, even though it “has begun sporting out a research program designed to gather proof in an effort to be able to aid the development of a comprehensive and cohesive validity argument,” consistent with their website online.

Overseas researchers had been complaining about a lack of statistics for many years. “Eikyo has been running a successful checking out commercial enterprise in Japan for greater than 30 years,” Laura MacGregor of Sapporo global university wrote in 1997. “Possibly, this trend will retain. But, published reviews of research by using Eikyo on object construction, reliability and validity are urgently needed to help purchasers become better informed approximately the take a look at, and to encourage research that might enhance the first-rate of the check so that at some point the Eiken assessments might method (an extra perfect) reliability.”

Even though this report become published almost 20 years in the past, it can have been written the previous day.
‘English as scribblings on paper’

I spoke to an English teacher who has been worried in making ready japanese children for the Eiken at a cram school. He asked to use a pseudonym — allow’s call him John — due to issues about repercussions at work if he has been identified. The education is good business for the faculty, he says, because it takes a huge amount of time to prepare college students and the hourly costs are great.

“I began to have critical doubts about whether the Eiken is useful to English inexperienced persons,” he explains. “Now not best are there many head-scratchers many of the take a look at objects, however I think there is something unsuitable about the entire concept of promoting English skillability with the aid of the means of paper-based examinations. After all, the starting place of any language is oral — that’s the natural mode of human communique. But with the Eiken’s heavy emphasis on grammar and analyzing comprehension, the language comes over to students as a system to be solved on paper.”

On its internet site, Eikyo claims the tests make a contribution to a higher stage of English talent in Japan. However, the latest international comparisons do now not seem to support the claim. Even though it might be a stretch to suggest that is reason and impact, the number of takers of the Eiken check has been increasing over the past few years whilst Japan’s rating within the EF English skillability Index has been falling, from 14 to 2011 to No. 30 last year, overtaken even by means of nations like Vietnam, which rose from a “poor” skillability degree at No. 39 inside the listing in 2011 to a “moderate” 29 closing year.

What does this imply in reality? Any tourist will fast learn that English as a lingua franca has but to take root in this u . s . Tries to accurate the problem are stumbling. Records amassed with the aid of the education ministry final June and July imply it is falling manner short of meeting its desires for English skillability amongst eastern students. For junior high school graduates — the primary generation who studied English from essential school — the intention is for fifty percentage of junior high college students to have Eiken Grade 3-stage competency by the point they end faculty. But in line with the survey, handiest 26.1 percent of very last-12 months students nationwide have been talented to that stage in analyzing, 20.2 percent in listening, 43.2 percent in writing and 32.6 percentage inside the notably clean talking element.

John believes the Eiken, with its heavy emphasis on the written language, is a part of the hassle.

“If by means of ‘proficiency’ you mean ‘communicative abilities in situations ranging from regular’s lifestyles to commercial enterprise,’ because the Eikyo defines it, it’s clearly hard to peer why the assessments are all about grammar and reading comprehension,” he says. “The listening component is a long way less complicated, and the speakme take a look at is little greater than an afterthought. Would you, as an instance, don’t forget studying a textual content allowed to constitute communication? This is one part of the so called talking check. So the way to take a look at is designed makes college students consider English as scribblings on paper, not a living language.”
difficult vocab, clean listening

So what are the check-takers themselves saying? Although it could be wrong to signify there is a first rate clamor for trade, there is no loss of important voices on line. One blogger, who took the pinnacle Grade 1 test, writes the following about the first, paper-primarily based component and 2d speaking section of the Eiken:

“The full score essential for passing element 1 is ready low. At the same time, the extent of problem of the take a look at gadgets is just too high for the analyzing and vocabulary sections, and too low for listening comprehension. So even if you do horribly in reading or vocabulary, you can make up for it via scoring excessive in listening comprehension, and still bypass.”

The first element, consisting of reading and listening, is paper-based totally, at the same time as the second one is an interview-form talking test held on a separate event. Passing element one is a prerequisite for taking component two.

The blogger is unhappy with the design of the checks. “The vocabulary take a look at in component one is so difficult that there may be no way you could obtain the necessary degree by reading newspapers, as an example,” the blogger writes. “To research the vocabulary necessary for Grade 1, you essentially grow to be cramming phrase lists from antique checks. Wasn’t that what we were speculated to leave behind in the age of modern training?”

The blogger argues that you could’t even locate the Eiken take a look at vocabulary in newspapers. But are the phrases in reality that uncommon?

Word frequency in numerous text fabric may be checked by way of consulting the Corpus of current American English. I ran more than one queries on items that got here up in a Grade 1 check from 2015. Take a look at-takers had been requested to fill within the blanks with one in every of four more than one-desire items. “Frequency” here was the range of occurrences of a given word in line with a million words in the corpus, in this example COCA, which holds 520 million phrases of spoken, fiction, newspaper and different textual content fabric.

Take a look at object 1: “Jeffrey, tuck in your blouse. And brush your hair! Your appearance so ___.”

1) raveled 2) derivative three) reticent four) pervasive

Frequency: spoken: 0.61; fiction: four.86; mag: 1.06; newspaper: 0.82

Test object 2: “although the advertisement for the cruise had promised ___ dinners, the visitors were upset via the nice of the food aboard the ship.”

1) elliptical 2) abject three) luxurious 4) vital

Frequency: spoken: zero.13; fiction: 1.90; magazine: three.55; newspaper: 2.18

In other phrases, in case you examine one million phrases of the fiction covered in COCA, you could probable come upon “raveled” 4 or five times, and now not even as soon as in case you study a million words of newspaper articles. You will discover “luxurious” approximately twice within the fiction texts, 3 instances in magazines, and twice in newspapers. It looks like a frightening venture to acquire this vocabulary by way of analyzing, given the little spare time the common jap student has. Alternatively, rote mastering by means of cramming phrase lists — the handiest feasible opportunity — will maximum possibly no longer assist skillability, as research indicates that rote gaining knowledge of results in negative retainment.

There does seem to be some truth to the test-taker’s claim that the vocab is pretty unusual, and perhaps beside the point if the take a look at is designed to check proficiency in “communicative talents in conditions starting from regular existence to enterprise,” considering that the words are not often used, specially in spoken language.

“The listening part of the take a look at, however,” continues the blogger, “is dead easy. however, the English spoken appears unnatural, pronunciation is overly clear, and really different from what you pay attention on television. The take a look at seems to be approximately studying speed extra than something else, because listening comprehension is easy but you have got little or no time to choose an answer.”

But possibly all this attention on the Eiken is a distraction from the actual issue: Japan’s obsession with “teaching checking” instead of for fluency in verbal exchange. some equal criticisms of Eiken could also be leveled at the 2 other famous assessments, TOEIC and TOEFL, but there also are vital differences.

Jun Saito, a former assistant professor of political technological know-how at Yale college, now heads a japanese prep college with the task “to higher the overall high-quality of the japanese educational device from bottom-up, rather than simply teaching conversational English or getting ready for front checks in Japan.” In a current article in eastern enterprise mag President, he pressured that TOEIC is all approximately the potential to engage in herbal English communication at natural velocity. The grammar, on the other hand, is similar to what japanese students examine at middle college. The balance in Eiken is arguably skewed the opposite manner.