TOEFL woes

Since November 2010, I've been tutoring one of my Korean students for the TOEFL exam. He's taken the exam a couple of times and has done quite well. The biggest problem he has is the speaking section.

This makes me think. I have no trouble to understand what he says, and I find his vocabulary to be quite extensive and flexible, I think he speaks very well. But I am usually speaking to him face-to-face, where I can see his body language--the expressions on his face, how he is sitting, where his arms and legs are positioned, how he's arranged his hands, etc. All of these visual clues are completely lost in the TOEFL speaking section, which is just a recording of the student's voice.

It's a real pity that the TOEFL can't be changed so that the speaking section is Skyped or videotaped. Psychologists say that 90% of communication is done non-verbally (without words), in body language. All this richness of context and imagination is missing in the TOEFL audio recording, done under pressure on a topic of little interest or concern to the student who is speaking.

I can't change the TOEFL exam! But I can urge students to find ways to supplement their TOEFL scores with Skype, videotapes and other methods of bringing all of their communication skills into play in the college admission process.


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