Learn English with VOA: Understanding of English Improves Worldwide

The world’s understanding of English appears to be getting better. The private education company EF recently released a report called English Proficiency Index. The report ranks English language proficiency in 63 countries into five categories or classes. They are: “very high proficiency, high, moderate, low and very low.”
Minh Tran is EF’s Director of Research and Academic Partnerships.
“At the global level, we are seeing a consistent improvement year after year. I think that many countries that are looking outward, that are looking to internationalize their economies are seeing the importance of English.”
The English Proficiency Index says Denmark is the top country for English as a foreign language. Poland and Austria have joined Denmark and other northern European countries with the “very high proficiencyranking.

EF's English Proficiency IndexEF’s English Proficiency Index

Malaysia and Singapore have the best ranking in Asia withhigh proficiency” in English. Joining them is Argentina, the only Latin American country to rank as “high proficiency.” English levels in the rest of Latin America remain low.
South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Hong Kong have invested a lot of time and money in English education. But these countries have not improved since the last study came out in 2007.
Minh Tran has this to say: “I think they are not improving because they have not made any significant reform to the way they teach English. In Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong. They still rely quite heavily on rote memory. And there’s a strong focus on grammar and vocabulary acquisition, but not so much on the actual communicative skills.”
English language proficiency has actually fallen in many countries in the Middle East and North Africa, partly because of wars in the area.
For its report, EF used online test results from 750,000 adults in 63 countries. The test takers were adults who chose to take the company’s online test. They were not a random sample of the total population. For that reason, the results might be biased toward people who are interested in English and use the Internet.
Dr. Clive Roberts is the Director of Assessment, Analysis & Research at ELS Educational Services. He does not know about the report’s research methods, but he thinks the study is helpful.
“…Conducting such research enables countries, regions, organizations to sort of assess their own position relative to other places. What trends are happening…, then they can sort of re-assess their own situation and figure out a strategy.”
Improvements have also been noted on average scores for the TOEFL, the Test of English as a Foreign Language, and IELTS, the International English Language Testing System.
Eileen Tyson is Executive Director of Global Client Relations at the Educational Testing Service. ETS produces the TOEFL. Ms. Tyson agrees that English proficiency is rising worldwide. Average TOEFL scores have risen by two points in the past nine years. But she thinks it is not wise to compare countries by average TOEFL scores. She says many things can influence test results.
“For example, the age at which students start to learn English. …Some native languages are closer to English…How many hours per week a student spends learning English, and what kind of curriculum they use. So all of these combine …we feel strongly that you really can’t use TOEFL scores for comparing general proficiency across countries.”
In 2005, ETS made big changes to the TOEFL. It went from a paper test to a test that required use of a computer and an Internet connection. Notably, ETS cut the grammar section and required test takers to record spoken responses to questions.
Eileen Tyson thinks the new TOEFL encouraged many teachers to make their classes more interactive.
“We think it did help teachers to look at how they were teaching English, to make it more communicative, to make sure they were teaching speaking and writing. And we’re actually kind of proud of the fact that we’ve helped to influence language teaching and language learning worldwide.”
The British Council estimates that 1.75 billion people speak English today. The group expects that number to grow to two billion by 2020 — about one-fourth of the world’s population.
I’m Jonathan Evans.
You can see the full English Proficiency Index report at http://www.ef.edu/epi/
* This story was written and produced by Adam Brock. It was edited by Hai Do and George Grow.
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Words in This Story

proficiencyn. the state of being good at something
rote n. mechanical or unthinking routine or repetition; the use of memory with little intelligence
acquisition n. the act or process of gaining skill, knowledge, etc.
random samplen. a sample in which every person in the population has an equal chance of being chosen
bias n. to have a strong and often unfair influence on (someone or something)
re-assessv. consider or assess again, especially while paying attention to new or different factors
Now it’s your turn. How did your country do in the English Proficiency Index? Do you agree with your country’s ranking?

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Learn English with VOA: NASA: Orion’s Test Flight Is ‘Flawless’

The United States space agency has successfully tested a new spacecraft that one day could carry astronauts to Mars and beyond.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA, launched the Orion spacecraft from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Less than five hours later, Orion landed in the Pacific Ocean near Baja California. The spacecraft had completed two orbits before returning to Earth. NASA called the testnearly flawless,” or without mistakes.
The test took Orion about 14 times farther from our planet than the International Space Station.
NASA scientists used the flight to test the launch, control and reentry systems of the new exploration vehicle. NASA
scientists were especially interested in how the spaceship’s heat shield would perform as it faced temperatures of 2,200 degrees Celsius during reentry.
Recent spaceflight incidents raise concerns
The test of the Orion spacecraft comes after two setbacks in space exploration. Recent accidents have shown how difficult and dangerous space travel can be. In late October, an unmanned, privately-owned rocket exploded as it left NASA’s launch center on Wallops Island, Virginia. The Antares rocket was to carry tons of supplies to the International Space Station. The explosion has raised questions about the engine design used by Orbital Sciences Corporation, the company that built the Antares rocket. The incident is still under investigation.
Days later, a problem during the test flight of a manned spaceship resulted in a deadly crash in California. One pilot on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo was killed and the other was seriously injured. Virgin Galactic is a spaceflight company. It plans to develop a space tourism industry by taking people into space for a fee.
Investigators are looking at the possibility that one of the pilots made a mistake by attempting to slow down the spaceship too soon. The head of the company, Richard Branson, has denied that he ignored safety warnings about the spaceship before the crash. The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board is leading the investigation into that accident.
Orion is NASA‘s return to manned spaceflight
For NASA, Orion represents a return to manned exploration of space after the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011. The agency hopes Orion will be able to carry humans to, what it calls, deep space: the Moon, Mars or beyond.
Orion has three main parts: the crew module, the service module and the launch abort system. When fully developed, the crew module will hold four astronauts. For this test flight, a United Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket will carry Orion into space. NASA says this rocket will not be used for Orion’s manned spaceflights. A different rocket, called the Space Launch System, will be developed instead.
The space agency held a news conference two days before the planned launch date. Officials explained to reporters what NASA was hoping to accomplish with the test flight.
The officials noted that not all of the systems involved in Orion were ready. They said the main purpose was to test the control system for the spacecraft. Lockheed Martin Program Manager Mike Hawes said the aviation systems were ready and much of the computer software was complete. But, he said life support systems for astronauts were not ready and would not be part of the test.
Mark Geyer is the Program Manager for Orion. He told reporters that the test flight would cost over $370 million. The capsule will be reused for another test flight. He noted that Orion is still in the development stage.
NASA scientists are calling the test, Exploration Flight Test-1. They say Orion will travel 5,800 kilometers into space and orbit the earth twice before splashing down in the ocean.
I’m Mario Ritter.