February 19, 2024

“English is not Latin, there is no point in learning it only by reading and writing.” The phrase of Vicente López, an English teacher at the Virxe do Mar public institute, in Noia (A Coruña), might seem obvious, if it were not for the fact that in the last Selectividad 16 of the 17 autonomous communities only included in the exams the Written questions subject. The university entrance exam has such a force of attraction that it determines how subjects are studied in the Baccalaureate and even in ESO. If in the Selectivity there is no orality, in class there will be little. Many teachers try to promote it despite this, but they do so against the design of the system. For the first time, the Ministry of Education has included a general task of listening (listen) in the tests that he has carried out of the new Selectividad. And this, together with the new curriculum of the subject, which promotes orality and a more practical approach to the language, will contribute, according to the ten teachers interviewed for this article, to improve learning and the level of English with which the kids come out from high school. The Selectivity exam, they warn, still lacks an oral expression exercise, which would require a great logistical effort.

“Many teachers have spent years insisting that English is learned from communication, interacting and generating activities for students to speak and participate,” says Michael Artiles, who teaches at the Sant Vicent Ferrer Institute in Algemesí (Valencia). “The educational reform had already validated it for us, but even so, when we reached the Baccalaureate we had to stop dead due to the pressure of the Selectividad; having to prepare a reading and writing comprehension test means that oral communication is greatly reduced in the first year of Baccalaureate and is reduced to a minimum in the second”. The fact that in the University Access Assessment (Evau) there is a test of listening, continues Silvia Borrull, a teacher at the District Maritim Institute in Valencia, “it will mean that much more time is spent in class preparing this skill.” Promoting orality makes more sense in a context in which artificial intelligence is beginning to do written school tasks for students, Borrull believes. “I know this because I know their level when they do the written tests in front of me, and then I see the level of the essays they bring me from home”.

English class at the Sant Vicent Ferrer Institute in Algemesí, Valencia.
English class at the Sant Vicent Ferrer Institute in Algemesí, Valencia.ANA ESCOBAR

The traditional way of learning English in Spain ―which explains why the EVAU has taken so long to change or why in the second cycle of primary school there are students who already have written exams for the subject― is not advisable, says Mercedes Hernández, director of the British Council School in Madrid, who worked for three decades in the United Kingdom. “The natural development of learning a language is always done from listening. It is counterproductive to start in another way, because it can generate rejection and lack of confidence”.

Last year’s Evau English test was similar in almost all the communities. It was made up, according to Andalusian terminology, of three blocks: one for reading comprehension, another for the use of the language (with tasks such as filling in gaps in sentences) and writing. Some communities, such as Castilla-La Mancha, included controversial exercises that try to cover phonetics in writing, asking the student, for example, to say “how do you pronounce the u of hug (hug): /u:/, /ʊ / or /ʌ”. Catalonia was the only one with listening activity. And this, confirms Jorge Solans, who teaches at an institute in Barcelona, ​​makes it easier to work on orality. Despite the fact that his school is located in a socially disadvantaged context, his students, Solans believes, finish high school with a “quite reasonable” level of listening comprehension.

So that the new general proof of listening go well it is essential to have adequate equipment. Again it may seem obvious, but Professor Vicente López assures that in Galicia, where the exercise existed for decades (it was suppressed with the pandemic and has not recovered), it frequently did not happen: “One year I even filed a protest because they connected a precarious computer to a mini-baffle in a classroom for 400 students. The recording was also defective, and when they turned up the volume it was worse because it was distorted, so you could hear the least. There were many claims, but to no avail. I am in favor of the test, but not like this ”.

The new Evau English exam contains more changes. All parts of the test revolve around the same theme linked to the Sustainable Development Goals (in the pilot test, access to drinking water in the world). “And it led to a great final task of written expression, in which the students must use what they have been listening to and reading in the exercise, reorganize it and contribute their own ideas”, explains Professor Miguel Ángel Lara, now at the National Institute of Educational Evaluation and co-author of the pilot exercise. The exam is more coherent with the new curriculum of the subject, which promotes orality and tasks linked to reality, says María José Martínez, who works at the Alzira teacher training center and participated in the development of the Valencian curriculum for The subject. “Before we had endless lists of content to give. And now it is not that knowledge is spared, but the approach is more realistic. Plus: ‘We’re going to teach them this, because it’s what they’re going to need to use.’

The educational turn tries to take advantage of the interests of the students to facilitate learning. And in this field, television platforms and social networks offer great opportunities for the subject of English, Martínez believes, because the kids are already exposing themselves to the language. Neus, who is studying Baccalaureate at the Valencia Maritime District, agrees: “Almost everyone sees at least some content in English on social networks like Instagram or TikTok.”

A test still incomplete

Incorporating listening is an advance, but the teachers agree that the EVAU will continue to be incomplete and badly conditioning how one studies in secondary school as long as it does not include a test of speaking (oral expression). Doing so would, however, require a large logistical gamble.

“Ideally, there would be an oral test. But at the Official Language School, orally examining two students takes about 45 minutes. That means that a teacher can examine about 20 (students) a day”, says Ramiro Cebreiro, president of the Association of Teachers of Official Language Schools (EOI) of Madrid. More than 200,000 students take the university entrance exams who, in three or four days, take up to nine exams. Concentrating the oral English test in one session following the EOI model would require around 10,000 English teachers (when around 15,000 teachers of all disciplines are mobilized every year for the entire Selectividad). Cebreiro points out that a “shorter exercise format” could be used, and other sources suggest that the oral exam could be held over several days or weeks, making the Evau structure more flexible. Every time the oral exercise has been raised, the universities have warned, for their part, that in order to guarantee grade claims, it would also be necessary to record all the tests.

Many professors defend that orality should be present in the exams of more subjects of the Evau. Especially in Spanish Language and Literature, to improve the way in which the subject is studied in secondary school. One of the supporters is Francisco Amaya, a language teacher and Secretary General of Education of Extremadura: “I always tell my students that if they are able to master their language orally and in writing, they will achieve a lot.”

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