As every semester begins, HUFSans often hear much din and bustle around themselves, many stories on signing up for classes and further worries about organizing timetables. Probably, there are no HUFSans who have not been troubled by such issues. Especially, there is one liberal arts course that deepens students’ concerns on whether to succeed or fail-the Communicative Foreign Language (CFL) class, a requirement for graduation.
CFL is indeed a subject that displays the uniqueness of HUFS, a “university specialized in the education of foreign studies.” Also, it is a meaningful liberal arts class in that the students can develop their competitiveness by learning foreign languages. However, some loopholes prevail within the system of the foreign language program which prevents students from benefitting through those classes. Therefore, The Argus is shedding some light on the shadow of the Communicative Foreign Language course in order to discover the root cause of the problem, and to bring forth feasible solutions.
Background information of HUFS language education curriculum
HUFS implemented the CFL course starting from 2015, so as to replace the “Practical Foreign Language” class. Meanwhile, Practical Foreign Languages are currently optionally offered as one liberal arts subject. Students, until 2014, had been able to earn Practical Foreign Language class credits by submitting English certification test results, such as a FLEX or TOEFL iBT score. However, these results have been forbidden as a credit replacement since 2015.
Freshmen entering HUFS after 2015 must take CFL to earn credits. Also, unlike the past, options for choosing a language they want to learn are only limited to students who scored in the top 20 percent on the Freshmen English Assessment, The high scorers accounting for top 20 percent, the Jinri class students, can choose either Communicative English (CE) classes or CFLs, ranging from Chinese to Vietnamese.
Infringement of Jinri students’ rights to choose
Students in the top 20th percentile of the test results, Jinri students, are required to take other language courses, thereby being deprived of their own choices. Under the circumstance, it seems unreasonable to attribute the responsibility to students to opt for another foreign language under the name of “personal choice.”
One of the voices in the Facebook page, Report #30110 in HUFS Seoul Campus Bamboo Forest, said, “There are only four CE classes for Jinri students, so we have no choice but to take other foreign language classes.” The claim clearly shows the problem with which Jinri students currently struggle.
Another problem arises when HUFS regulates students’ choices for the classes, especially when it comes to the students who feel pressured by the foreign language course tend to drop the class or postpone it until later in their matriculation. Due to the limitation of the current system, which allows students with a second major in a certain language to freely select their foreign language classes, it seems rather unfair to the novice learners.
Eventually, the majority of students who fail to register for CE classes have to wait until next year because of the existing gap among students, which critically works against them as to gain decent grades. Considering the sum of HUFSans in the Jinri class, it is observable that the number of the students outweighs that of those in the 20th percentile of the entire freshmen class.
Such a vicious cycle, dropping and delaying the CFL, therefore remains unsettled due to the intrinsic flaw of such a disadvantageous situation experienced by “the beginners.”
Inefficiency in education for Pyeonghwa students
Because of a relatively large pool of students which come under the Pyeonghwa class, it creates a considerable gap in English among them. Thus, the uniformity in curriculum undermines the effectiveness of the education. Namely, such standardization, without reflecting the students’ linguistic proficiency, may lead to stagnation in terms of the “educational progress of each individual.”
The negative effects of those classes are also evident in the evaluation process, incurring additional problems. For instance, such an “English divide” makes undergraduates feel pressured about the estimation and less enthusiastic about learning.
A student of Division of Chinese Foreign Affairs and Commerce who took the Pyeonghwa class in her first semester of 2018 claimed, “It seemed pointless to divide pupils into three courses (Jinri, Pyeonghwa, Changjo) as the spectrum of the Pyeonghwa class is too broad. Also, because of the students who deliberately got low scores on the Freshmen English Assessment to be assigned to the Pyeonghwa class, it was really burdensome to compete with them.”
Such a disparity among students manifests into additional problems. Todd Hull, a professor who conducted Pyeonghwa class lectures last semester said, “Many students have to receive lower grades than their hard work deserves. A curve that would fit the abilities and work ethic of my students would be about 30 percent As, 55 percent Bs, and 15 percent Cs and lower.”
Difficulty issue by Changjo students
There are a considerable amount of complaints regarding the operation of the classes for Changjo students, which are felt to be lacking in consideration of the students. We should not neglect to notice that the students of such a level have difficulty studying the English language. However, the division by the grades of the entrance exam is pointless if the students are provided with the method of “Teaching English Through English (TETE).”
One of the Changjo students who spoke anonymously said, “Although the professors were very friendly, I had some difficulties following classes because I was not familiar with the language itself.” Had the lectures been taught in Korean, it would have been much less tough, even if they had dealt with the same contents.”
Shortage of Jinri Communicative English classes
The root cause of the problem is the insufficient number of the Jinri classes compared to the sum of their students. The lack of classes evidences a striking contrast between other foreign language courses and CE classes, of which the prior cover 12 languages. However, some of the courses end up being canceled due to an unmet number of enrollees, such as the Swahili course in the 2018 Spring semester. Such a flaw in organization deprives Jinri students of the right to choose.
It can be understood that the lack of classes offered forced more than a half of the students in the Jinri level to take CFL. When it comes to the number of those in Changjo, 12 CE classes were held in the last semester, even though the total number of students was the same as that of the Jinri. The latter had only four CE classes, which signifies a critical shortage in numbers relative to the prior. Based on the fact that there were 22 Communicative other Foreign Language classes, it is noticeable that the number outweighed the possible demand for second foreign language classes.
Overly wide spectrum and “Points” of tangency
Students in Pyeonghwa classes are those who are not ranked in the top 20 percent, nor in the bottom portion. Thus, 60 percent of freshmen have been allocated to the Pyeonghwa level, and they are subject to facing a wide gap of linguistic skills among themselves due to the percentage.
Students situated in the middle do not have any sense of distinction, for they are deprived of any specific reason for the division as compared to the top and bottom. While both ends are regarded as either those who “are excellent” or “need improvement,” the meaning of the other group is somewhat ambiguous. Therefore, the 60 percent of the total who belong to the Pyeonghwa level inevitably receive the education of uniformity that hardly reflects individuality compared to the wide range of the gap in proficiency among them. The title “the average,” which implies an undeniable sense of obscurity, blurred its own identity that can help offer the students with an adequate and suitable education.
Furthermore, both Jinri and Changjo share its boundaries with a single group since they are situated in both ends of the hierarchy. On the other hand, the Pyeonghwa forms the two points of tangency. Such overlaps bring about another troublesome situation, which expands the grey area, thus impeding any capturing of the collective characteristics of the group.
Students’ listening anxiety in the TETE class
Listening anxiety, a tendency observed in many individuals learning a new language, caused by the uniform TETE lessons is becoming a negative factor that can intensify the pressure on students and impinge on their academic motivation.
Listening is a skill that requires an immediate and spontaneous understanding of information coming from the outside, unlike reading text which is delivered visually. Due to these characteristics of listening, it is more difficult for learners to process and recognize messages that disappear when there is not enough time to control or process data.
Especially, students who have not received any education outside Korea will be in such a demanding situation, for they have hardly encountered situations where speaking in English is common except for some in-class English lessons. In this EFL, English as a Foreign Language, learning situation, the language used by professors is a major hurdle in students’ achievement.
According to Kim Sung-ju and Pyo Kyong-hyon’s 2007 thesis, “A Study of the College Students’ Listening Anxiety in the TETE class,” many students experience pressure and anxiety in their TETE lectures, in which such emotions are a very normal and natural phenomena. Also, Professor Jang Jong-duk claimed in his 2003 paper, “Levels of language anxiety relative to proficiency,” that his research on college students discovered the correlation between anxiety and achievement, evincing that the two elements are in inverse proportion. In relation to those findings, it seems obvious that such difficulty that Changjo students may encounter can become the impediment which both deters their development and smothers their motivation for academic pursuit.
Setting proportions through a demand survey
Conducting a survey seems to be a prerequisite process in order to remedy the situation. It is imperative to allocate a sufficient number of classes, enough to meet the demand of the students, in order to enable them to choose classes they want. This requires striking a balance by creating additional CE classes, and integrating redundant CFLs of which the latter even reach up to six classes for a single language. By identifying the specific figures of needs via students, it would be possible to create the exact number of classes of each language without taking any other follow-up measures.
Subdivision of the Pyeonghwa level
Enlarging the proportion of the Jinri and Changjo may be a solution for the problem; however, there is a risk of diluting the original purpose of the grading system. Thus, it seems advisable to add subdivisions within the current framework of the Pyeonghwa level. Through the re-division of the class into three levels based on the students’ test results, it could be possible for them to receive a more adequate level of education which can improve its effectiveness and corresponds to its goal. On top of that, the students are already apportioned to 60 percent, which does not require adjusting the number of classes - it is indeed a feasible alternative.
Creating multiple options for classes
It seems necessary to provide students with multiple options ranging from classes taught in Korean to Team Teaching, rather than forcing them to solely take TETE. The rationale behind this suggestion is that the students can fully benefit from taking classes, they believe, which are the most suitable for themselves in consideration of their own strengths and weaknesses. Expansion of the range of options not only helps effectively improve their English, but also allows them to reach their full potential. Implementation of the measure can eventually bring about a contribution to both sheer satisfaction by an individual on the evaluation, and the promotion of competition in good faith with one’s peers.
Also, it will be possible to operate the Changjo class by adding new schemes customized to the situation of the students. For instance, Global Campus students in such a level can sign on for a special class, titled as “HUFS Survival English,” which offers additional credits. Such a program can hit two birds with one stone: consideration for the students and improvement of their proficiency.
The system of liberal arts classes that provides education on foreign languages is indeed virtuous, in terms of reflecting its unique feature as being within an institution of foreign studies. Still, it is having difficulty meeting its original goals due to some glitches that hinder HUFSans from receiving the desired form of education. Minor modifications may help it successfully fulfill the genuine learning objective of liberal arts education. On top of that, it will also enable students to commit themselves to participate in their classes. Through such improvements, HUFSans may envision the university’s foreign language class turning into a credit to themselves.
By Na Geum-chae and An Kwan-ho
Staff Reporters of Campus Section