Growing up in the modern world so much importance is placed on grades. Depending on how I did each quarter I either rushed to show my parents my report card showing off my achievements or trembled with fear, dreading the moment and figuring out how to explain why I did so poorly. Here in Japan I meet many people that are concerned with improving their TOEIC score (usually because of company requirements), TOEFL (to study abroad) or passing the next level of EIKEN (Japanese test that gauges students ability in all 4 areas). While these tests do reflect your ability to a certain extent I find that the best way to judge a person’s English level is simply to… talk to them for 5 minutes. Already within the first 20 seconds I can often tell what their level is. How comfortable a person is in speaking English, their choice of vocabulary, the structure they use and their pronunciation all play a part.
Back in high school I remember getting low scores in English. Was it because I was a poor English speaker? Far from it. So why then did I get such low grades? Quite simply I had absolutely no interest in poetry or literature as I couldn’t see how it would be of use in life. Ironically when I took a college English class I got an “A.”
Regardless of what you got on your tests at school out in the real world no one really cares about your score. People are interested in you and your experiences. When it comes to English, the proof is in your ability to communicate with English speakers. At my classroom in Hirakata when my students speak I always try to imagine what would happen if they were talking with my friends or family and which words and expressions are the most appropriate.
To pass any language test vocabulary is necessary but I find it funny that some students with high scores on tests struggle to answer things like “how are things?” or “how come?” Tests are a big part of our world but they aren’t everything. The true test of mastering a language comes from when you’re out on the streets, talking to people from all different backgrounds. Only then will you know just how good you are.