We learn from Britain that requiring those whose fluency in a foreign language is being tested actually to speak in that language is "too stressful." This week, the U.K.'s Qualifications and Curriculum Authority abolished oral examinations for students taking foreign-language GCSE examinations. Schools minister Jim Knight calls the traditional testing method, which asks students simply to converse with their teachers for about ten minutes, "unrepresentative" and a "one-off way of testing a student's ability." Instead, teachers will grade students' speaking abilities by evaluating their classroom contributions during the course of several months, thereby reducing the anxiety of 16-year-olds. Forget that fluency means being able to speak and comprehend a language in any circumstance, even a somewhat stressful one. When Gadfly goes out on dates with fetching females, when he is attempting, for the seventh time in three minutes, to pass through the TSA metal detector, when he has set his clothing on fire--he does not suddenly begin communicating in an unintelligible way! One can either speak a language fluently or one cannot. Rather than abolish the 10-minute oral exam, the Brits ought to make students complete it while balancing on one foot and juggling.
"Never say Latin in the quango tango," by Oliver Pritchett, Daily Telegraph, February 20, 2008
"Oral tests to be dropped from language exams," by Matthew Taylor, The Guardian, February 18, 2008