Liu Jianda, vice-president of Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, told NewsChina the English proficiency standards aim to “bring English teaching back to its original purpose” by providing a bridge to connect the multiple English exams in China. “The reform this time will play a pivotal role,” he said.
Liu, 51, chief academic adviser for the English proficiency standards, has been working in the English testing field in China for the past several decades. He told our reporter it was an enormous challenge for the expert team, comprised of more than 200 professors, to design the new standards.
In June 2014, the expert group started drafting the reform guidelines. They debated issues such as how to define language ability, how to design the standards to suit Chinese language learners, and how to make it recognizable worldwide.
According to the National Education Examinations Authority, experts were divided into eight groups to study influential language evaluation standards worldwide, such as the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) in Europe.
Liu said that Japan had copied CEFR, but that 80 percent of language learners in the country could only reach A1 and A2, the basic level, and only 20 percent could attain the intermediate level of B1 and B2. Very few language learners could achieve the advanced level of C1 and C2.
The Japanese experience motivated the expert team to establish standards to better suit the Chinese environment. These new standards will remove the over-reliance on reading and writing and give priority to the testing of practical language use. Before designing the standards, the expert group spent three years collecting data from 160,000 students and teachers and conducted empirical studies at over 1,500 schools at various levels in 28 provinces and regions.
The new standards define three categories of English language capabilities – basic, intermediate and advanced. Each level has three scales, which apply to all levels of English learners from elementary and secondary schools as well as universities, up to a near-native level.
The standards have detailed requirements for listening, speaking, reading and writing. For the first time, it covers practical aspects of language use, including cross-cultural communication, familiarity with overseas cultures, and translation skills.
Han Baocheng, a language testing professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University, told NewsChina the new standards will provide a reference for English language learners at various levels who will be able to assess their learning outcomes by themselves more precisely and efficiently. “It will make a difference to improve exam quality, better connect with overseas exams and offer feedback on teaching results,” he said.