I thought you were saying that nothing much can be learned from TOEIC practice tests. Good to know you weren't. You suggested that TOEIC learners can learn a tremendous amount of English if they “analyze the arrangement and connection of words in such sentences in such a way that you look up words and phrases in the dictionary, look for grammatical references to phrases and constructions in grammar books (or on grammar sites) and google them to see if such phrases and constructions regularly appear in the reliable sources such as NYTimes, OED, etc.” I agree that would be a good conscious learning but language can be learned in an implicit way. If you expose yourself to English, you learn something implicitly. You may nor may not feel it because it is not explicit but I believe exposure to English is good for your language development.
I also believe in the effect of repetition in language learning. For example, when you listen to the same songs over and over again, or watch the same movie over and over again, or read the same novel over and over again, you don't learn new things but these repetitions help improve your English. Let me give you another example. You introduce yourself to one person, then you do it to another person, then another and repeat it ten times, and then you will become fluent in introducing yourself. I believe this kind of fluency development is important to language acquisition, even though you are not learning anything new. Doing many practice tests has a similar effect.
You asked me about my English level when I was doing Cambridge exams. Let me answer that question. When I passed the First Certificate in English (FCE) exam, I would day my English level was intermediate, and when I passed the Certificate in Advanced English (CAE) exam, I was at an advanced level, so when I was preparing for the Certificate of Proficiency in English (CPE) exam, I was an advanced student.
You said you were talking about super advanced TOEIC learners in Letter 1. I was talking about those learners who have achieved high scores on the TOEIC but continue to do TOEIC practice tests without doing other stuff. Were we talking about the same group of learners? I want to make sure that having high TOEIC scores does not necessarily mean you are a super advanced learner of English. In fact, it is highly unlikely that super advanced learners of English stick to TOEIC practice tests because they know something better to improve their English. If a super advanced learner continued to do TOEIC practice tests repeatedly, then it would probably be because that he or she really thinks they need to practice solving TOEIC type questions for some reasons other than improving their English, like learning to avoid making careless mistakes. In that case, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to continue doing practice tests until they get rid of their bad habits, like carelessness.
Those who continue to do TOEIC practice tests are usually intermediate learners of English, somewhere between the FCE and CAE levels on the Cambridge scale, I would say. As you rightly pointed out, intermediate learners can learn more from practice tests than advanced learners can.
Thanks for quoting Aya's tweets. It's good to know she read my previous letter and bothered to comment on it. Let me comment on her comments.
I didn't say doing practice tests is equivalent of extensive reading. I wanted to say doing practice tests has a similar effect. The points I wanted to make were:
1. Reading easy materials helps your language development.
2. Reading something you can enjoy helps your language development.
3. Reading a lot helps your language development.
4. For some people, TOEIC practice tests can be easy and fun and if they do a lot, that would help their language development.
She asked if those learners read sentences and passages when they do practice tests. It sounds like a rhetorical questions and her implication is they don't. I think they do read sentences and passages. I haven't asked them but I do read myself when I take a test and I always encourage learners to do the same, so I assume they do. If they don't, maybe that's why they don't get 990 and I strongly recommend that they change the way they find answers.
When I use the word “high-achievers”, I was referring to those who have achieved high TOEIC scores, not those who have achieved high-level of English proficiency. It was misleading and I should have probably said “high-TOEIC-achievers”. High-TOEIC-achievers don't necessarily have reading fluency and if they don't, extensive reading is a good way to increase their reading fluency.
You said you are dubious about the effect of doing practice tests but those who do practice tests believe that's an effective way to improve their TOEIC scores otherwise they would stop. When you believe in what you are doing, it works.
You asked me if it is “okay to say to all the learners that the best way of learning is the way that you feel most comfortable with or that you think most enjoyable”. My answer is yes. As I have repeated many times, I believe that if you don't enjoy what you are doing, you don't learn much. If you have to take pains in language learning, you have to enjoy taking those pains.
You also suggested reading newspaper articles and writing about them is much more effective than doing practice tests. I would say it depends. I like reading newspapers so I learned a lot from them, but there are people who don't like reading newspapers. If you force them to read what they don't like, do you think they can still learn English effectively? I don't.
Joe will appear on a radio show on Sunday.
TOEIC lovers vs. TOEIC haters: Why do you love/hate the TOEIC?
Date: November 24
Time: 9 p.m.-10:30 p.m.
Guests: Joe F, Jun, Kiyo
Do you love or hate the TOEIC? Why? Give us your comments on the TOEIC.
This program will be in English.