English, the link language

English, the link language
I t was not until the 1950s that the world awoke to recognise the need for one common language for purposes of communication and commerce. With the birth of World Bank, Unesco, Unicef, WHO and other world organisations, English by its sheer power of global presence was an obvious choice, thus enabling people from diverse backgrounds and ethnicities to communicate on a more or less equitable basis.

English is the mother tongue of Great Britain, USA, Canada, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and several Caribbean countries. Crucial domains like the government, court of law, the media and the all important corridors of education have adopted English as a link language. Given the above scenario, it is but natural for overseas universities to insist on ensuring that students who wish to pursue higher studies with them show sufficient skills in using the English language comfortably and correctly. Achieving the required bar in any one of the standardised English proficiency tests (IELTS, TOEFL and PTE) will add to easing the admission process.

Which one to choose

This would be the next progressive step. All of the tests mentioned above are designed to test English language skills and have four major skill areas of study — Reading, Speaking, Listening and Writing. The Pearson Test of English (PTE) Academic is a single three-hour session computer based test to measure the skills of non-native English speakers. One can register at www.pearsonpte.com/register 48 hours before taking the test and can get some practice by visiting www.pearsonpte.com/prepare for online preparation materials such as unscored and scored practice tests, recommended texts and test tips. The PTE Academic is recognised by universities and colleges worldwide. The test is also accepted by the UK Border Agency for visa applications and the Australian government (DIAC) for student visa.

The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is designed to evaluate the language proficiency of candidates (non-native speakers) who aspire to study or work in English speaking countries. Over 1.4 million candidates take the test each year to start their journeys into international education and employment. The tests measure English language skills at all levels. There is no ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ in IELTS. Results are based on individual performance and are reported as band score on a scale from 1-9.

IELTS is offered up to four times a month in more than 125 countries. Tests are usually on Saturday or Thursdays. A list of all IELTS test centres across the globe is available at www.ielts.org. Candidates receive a test report form which reports a score for each of the four skills — listening, reading, writing and speaking as well as an overall band score. Results are issued 13 days after the test.

Test of English as a Foreign language (TOEFL) addresses students who have studied English as a foreign language and not as the medium of instruction. This standardised test assesses the English Proficiency of people and tests the ability to understand North American English, in particular. The US-based Educational Testing Service (ETS) develops and administers TOEFL. ETS is responsible for setting questions, conducting the test and sending score reports to each examinee.

Most educational institutes in the US and Canada (approximately 2,400) ask applicants for their TOEFL scores. It is interesting to note that many institutes in other countries, where the mode and language of instruction is English, also use TOEFL. Most people take the TOEFL test as a prerequisite for admission into colleges and universities where English is used or required. In addition, many government, licensing and certification agencies and exchange and scholarship programmes use TOEFL scores to evaluate the English proficiency of people.

Structure of the tests

While TOEFL tests one on academic subjects, IELTS combines academic and general listening and speaking sections.  PTE is more generalised in tone. The allotted duration of each of these tests varies slightly. TOEFL runs to four hours, while PTE and IELTS have an outer limit of three hours to complete the four modules — Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing. TOEFL and PTE are computer based tests, while IELTS requires all answers to be handwritten and the speaking module is an interaction with the examiner in a viva voce, and the whole test is recorded.

The components in each section, across all the three tests follow a similar pattern in examining the students comprehension, reading passages moving from the simple to the progressively difficult, ability to listen and repeat, describe orally and in writing short and lengthy argumentative or descriptive pieces on a subject specific or any given topic. It is a thorough exercise in assessing the functional parameters of the language in a student to enable him or her to fit into the scheme of things with ease.

Nelson Mandela explained this sentiment so simply and effectively and said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, it goes to his head, if you talk to him in his own mother tongue, it goes to his heart.”

Every country takes pride in its native language and is truly touched when a foreigner speaks the native tongue. It is all about effective communication and bringing the world closer to work together. English is the link language, is accepted world over and has its own train of adaptive versions to underline its presence.
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