I‘m sure that this post won’t win me any new friends in the “traditional” language instruction community. But frankly speaking… I don’t give a damn.
The reasons that make taking TOEFL Preparation Courses at a “traditional” language school a POTENTIALLY bad idea, are the same reasons why I believe that taking ANY course at a “traditional” school (of any kind) is probably going to be a waste of your time & money… And, consequently, are the main reasons for me leaving behind that world of “Traditional Instruction”.
First of all, making money is not a bad thing. Of course they need to make money in order to pay the teachers and keep the business running. However, in every institution, there are a great many other expenses which come BEFORE the teachers’ salary. Chiefly — paying the administrators who (usually) do NOTHING for The Student (apart from taking his or her money), and only make the Teachers’ lives completely miserable… (thus causing them to not really want to be in the classroom.)
. The money is made on the quantity of students coming in every few months to take a new class. Therefore — whether or not the student has been properly prepared for the exam is of little concern to the administrators of the business.
So, continuing with the situation above — if The Student does not achieve the needed score on the exam — he or she can take the course again, as the school can always say that The Student did not properly apply him or herself. Or — since it is common that a student may miss a class — the school administrators can then say that the fault lies with the student (which is sometimes true, but not usually.)
. Additionally — the way that most language schools structure their courses is based upon that of the traditional school systems. Therefore — teachers are forced to rush through material in order to finish the course in time for the next round of classes.
. These schedules are created by the administrators… (who are usually NOT teachers, and have no idea what is best for The Teacher & The Student)… And are determined, not by the amount of time that The Teacher needs in order to cover the material — or by how much time The Students need to fully grasp the material — but by how-often the administrators need to get a new set of students into the classes to pay their salaries, and then give a meager wage to the Teachers who do all the work.
Finally, the schools often — knowingly — accept students into the preparation courses who are not-yet ready to take that course. By this, I mean that even if they were to learn everything that they need to know about the exam and how to achieve the necessary score — their language skills are not yet high-enough to do so… But the administrators gladly accept their money and put them in the courses regardless.
. This is caused by the fact that — it is a common practice for language schools to rush students through their sets of courses regardless of whether the student has actually accomplished the necessary requirements to make it to the “next level”. If the student did not “Pass” one course, all it takes is for The Student, or parent of The Student to complain — and then the administrators will cave-in and let the ill-prepared student move to the next level — thus ensuring the high probability of yet-further failure.
A TOEFL Preparation Course should be focused on nothing but that… “Preparing One For The TOEFL Exam“. There is often not enough time in the standard course-length (usually 5-weeks to 3 months) to: 1) teach about the exam; 2) provide sufficient practice on each Question & Task-Type; AND 3) to learn the necessary English skills, if one does not already possess them.
. If a student needs more practice with Grammar, Vocabulary, and/or Pronunciation — then he or she will need to do that, in addition to the regular practice. And if the teacher tries to include this into the course — it will almost definitely hinder the progress of the other students in the class.
. Unfortunately for the students — this happens quite-often because many traditional language schools will typically put students of vastly different levels into the same class. This is done, mostly, as a way of filling the class with the necessary amount of students in order to make it worth paying the teacher — and then it is rationalized as being a “new” form of language instruction — where-in the “strong” students help the “weak” ones…
It is no secret that teachers (no matter what the type of teaching institution) are over-worked and under-paid. Because of this — they are often forced to take-on many more classes than they “should” in order to pay their bills. (Meaning that: To do so, is detrimental to the maintenance of their own health and well-being — which in-turn affects their work-performance.)
. And… In their classes, are all manner of different students. Not all of them are very pleasant, and not all of them are very motivated to actually do anything. This causes a great deal of stress for The Teacher.
. Being under constant (and un-necessary) stress usually amounts to one working far below his or her potential — and quite often, causes them to become “jaded” by their work. This, consequently, leads to the student receiving a poor level of service for his or her money.
I realize that this may sound like a terrible thing to say about other teachers — but amazingly, this is VERY common. I know this from my own personal experience. In fact — when I took my certification to be able to teach English As A Second Language, they actually TAUGHT us methods of how to cover-up for what you don’t actually know… (rather than, of course, teaching us what we should know… because why would they do that)
Based upon the same philosophy as the previously mentioned problem — many teachers (either on their own, or at the urging of the school’s administration) are pushed to take-on classes which they, themselves, may not be prepared for…
The TOEFL Exam is a very specific type of exam, and is very different from the typical English proficiency exams that many students are used to. Therefore the exam, itself, needs to be studied by the teacher. This includes — not-only what is IN the exam, but also — the philosophy behind it; how the test-taker needs to approach each individual Question & Task-Type — in addition to the whole experience of actually taking the exam itself.
Unfortunately, most teachers simply “teach” the TOEFL Exam like they do everything else… By giving list after list of vocabulary (which is NOT needed for the exam); and going through the exercises in the text-book without adding anything else to make going to the class worth the extra money.
. The unforunate thing is that many teachers never actually take the time to learn anything more than the bare minimum to get through the course. And if they ever do realize that there is A LOT more to the exam than is ever written about in the text-books — what happens to the students who trusted their instructions?
…I think that you can probably guess.
Nearly every language school has some sort of a deal with a publishing company to get discounts on the text-books as long as they only use text-books by that publishing company. This is nothing new, and is not always a bad thing. There are a few text-books out there which are very good. But they are published by companies that are not usually used in the traditional language schools.
What makes this a potentially “bad” thing for the student is that — like any other segment of the business world — the language text-book market is dominated by a very small number of text-book publishers. There are basically two at the very top, with a small handful of others at “the next level down” which are all clamoring for market-share.
. Once again, this is nothing new in the business world. The thing that makes this a potentially “bad” thing, is that most of the text-book publishers simply “copy” the style and format of each other. If the text-book that they are copying is good, well then… no problem. But regarding the most popular TOEFL preparation text-book on the market:
I have also been through a great many text-books which contain an incredible amount of information which is completely useless to the test-taker when it comes to actually achieving the score which he or she needs to achieve on The TOEFL Exam…
This particular problem is a result of a combination of the above factors. What’s more, this problem may even come out of an authentic, (yet mis-guided) desire to actually help the student.
If the teacher is given a poor text-book with which he or she is required to teach from — often-times, The Teacher will utilize other materials that he or she finds on the internet. Some common examples are pirated books with titles sounding something like:
And there are a great many other materials out there for the test-taker to waste his or her time on. This includes books which are out-dated and do a dis-service to the test-taker by preparing him or her for questions which will NOT be on the exam. Thus, doing nothing to prepare the person for the ACTUAL question-types which WILL be on the exam.
Additionally, nearly every TOEFL “text-book”, available for sale or pirated down-load, has an incredible amount of information and a vast array of exercises at the beginning of the book which do nothing for the test-taker as far as ACTUALLY preparing him or her for the exam…
Nearly all of the text-books contain examples of question-types which are completely in-authentic examples of what the test-taker will actually encounter on the day of the exam.
The first 50 pages of a 250-page text-book which I was forced to teach from had nothing that even remotely related to the TOEFL exam, except for that it talked a lot about:
The first item, is completely useless to the test-taker — and the second two items are things that the test-taker would already know before EVER spending money on a preparation course.
So now, I hope that now you are beginning to see that it might not be a good idea to simply go into a language school and say…
Nor should anyone think that simply buying (or down-loading) a text-book on the subject will provide a reliable source of information necessary to achieving the score that he or she needs — for whatever reason that that person happens to be taking The TOEFL Exam in the first place.
First of all, one needs to know at least the most basic information about the exam. This includes: The Format of The Exam – How Much Time They Will Need To Prepare – and at least a Brief Overview Of What Is In The Exam.
In another post (on this subject) I will offer a number of solutions for how to alleviate the potential problems, listed above. Like: How To Tell If Your Teacher Knows What He or She Is Doing — How To Tell If Your Teacher Is Wasting Your Time — and How To Tell If You Even Need A TOEFL Preparation Course Or Not.
Stay Tuned! – More Coming Soon!
Have An Excellent Day!