As the fall employment season arrives, the number of people taking tests in the English language, including the Toeic Speaking and the OPIc (Oral Proficiency Interview-Computer), are skyrocketing. The fervor for proficiency tests has grown, in line with more local companies requiring results from them with applications.
This September, the number of applicants to take the OPIc totaled 40,000. The OPIc is an oral English proficiency test developed jointly by Credu, a leading local e-learning company, and the ACTFL (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages), one of the top three language testing organizations in the world, under Language Testing International.
Credu, a subsidiary of the Samsung Group, specializes in e-learning. At his office in Sunhwa-dong, central Seoul, Bae Jae-keun, 54, Credu’s chief executive officer, talked about how the OPIc test will help companies, students and parents.
Q. Why is e-learning necessary?
A. In the past, after two or three years of work at a certain company, there was almost no need for continuing education of employees. However, in today’s quickly changing corporate environment, even if one is the best in a certain field, he or she might have to learn a whole new paradigm from the very beginning at some point. Even though education is necessary, it is hard to gather many people in one place because this disrupts work. That is why e-learning is necessary.
How does Credu develop its curriculum?
Around 40 percent of our programs are developed by experts at our company [with the client]. Although there are many experts at various companies, it may not be easy to apply their specific knowledge to the whole firm. We try to develop a curriculum that reflects the know-how and experience of our experts and turn “tacit knowledge” into “explicit knowledge.”
Companies often require universities to educate students with practical knowledge that can be used in a corporate setting.
Through agreements with several universities, we are in the process of developing programs that meet the demands of corporations. In these programs, university students can earn school credit through online courses. We have an iMBA program with Sungkyunkwan University. Although we are trying to develop useful curriculums to benefit both the universities and companies, our main obstacle is deciding the tuition students will have to pay. Training programs for the OPIc are now featured at universities.
Why did Credu develop OPIc?
The market demanded a test to evaluate oral proficiency in English. One of the core criteria for companies when hiring employees is the ability to express oneself well in English. Although many companies conduct English interviews, it is not easy to evaluate a lot of candidates at one time, and interviewers may not reliably give unbiased, objective evaluations. Often, parents strain to spend their savings to send their children abroad for language study so that they have something to put on their resumes. If tests like OPIc and the Toeic Speaking grow popular, it will mean less financial burden for parents and students.
What has been the response of the market regarding OPIc?
It has been around three years since local companies introduced the OPIc in their employee evaluations. Employees’ OPIc scores are used for their actual ability to speak in English. If one’s OPIc score is “intermediate-high,” this means that the employee has proficient speaking skills in English. If one’s score is “advanced,” this means there is no need for the employee to do any more English study. Looking at the current data for the OPIc, around 2 percent of test takers scored “advanced” while 6 to 7 percent scored “intermediate-high.” Scores below these two categories mean that the person will have difficulty conducting business in English, though they might be able to converse in everyday situations.
That 90 percent of test takers are unable to conduct business in English is quite discouraging.
We forecast that the number of intermediate-high scoring test takers will grow, because students are getting used to English language education that focuses on oral communication more and more. I believe that problems regarding English oral proficiency will take care of themselves in 10 to 15 years. In Europe, people in their 30s and 40s have no problem with speaking English. We have to take after that. Our generation started their English listening and speaking studies too late. There were no native teachers or MP3s, just books. Currently, the environment in Korea is very favorable toward English language study.
How can someone reach the IH level?
The book “Outliers” proposes the 10,000-hour rule, which states that one can rise to the top of a field only by investing 10,000 hours in studying it. If you study continually for at least three hours a day, reaching the IH level is possible.
Are you developing other tests?
During the first half of next year, we will launch the OPIc Junior, targeting elementary and middle school students. We are currently developing the test jointly with ACTFL. We hope that this test will lessen the burden of English language learning on students by the time they get to high school. High school is the place to learn a diverse number of things, not just English.
Also, our Writing Proficiency Test will come out during the first half of next year. We are also planning on adding around 10 different languages including Chinese, Japanese, French and Spanish to our OPIc test.
Do you have plans to launch OPIc abroad?
We currently have ownership and operating rights to OPIc in Asia. If OPIc continues to see success in Korea, we will go abroad and launch the test in China, Japan and other Asian countries.
How will the e-learning sector evolve in the future
The current trend is to mix entertainment with education through such things as simulation games. Also, curriculums that are not so fancy and complicated are also doing well. As the number of PC users rises, e-learning is taking its place as an integral part of “education for life.” The government is also aiming to expand the e-learning student body to include employees at small to medium-sized companies, the unemployed and part-time employees as well.
By Kim Whan-yung [email@example.com]