Defining English Language Proficiency for Malaysian Tertiary Education: Past, Present and Future Efforts

Chan Swee Heng

Abstract


Any attempt to define English language proficiency can never be divorced from the theories that describe the nature of language, language acquisition and human cognition. By virtue of such theories being socially constructed, the descriptions are necessarily value-laden. Thus, a definition of language proficiency can only, at best, be described as developmental, following changes that are linguistic, pragmatic, cultural and political. In defining English proficiency for tertiary education, the context is naturally also linked to the focus on university education. The argument has been that an ‘acceptable’ level of language competence of a university applicant is anything but constant. Tremendous social changes have seen traditional values of elitism in university education giving way to the ‘massification’ of education. As Kaplan and Baldauf (1997:257) affirms, “The principal problem in tertiary education is not declining literacy standards but rather it is about meeting changed societal, cultural and informational requirements and circumstances”. In the light of these changes, this paper attempts to trace influencing factors that help define an ‘acceptable’ level of English proficiency for Malaysian tertiary education. The paper examines past and present efforts of establishing an English language policy and assessment practice for tertiary education, and concludes with some views on future development that could evolve from the current indicative pursuits of establishing language learning and ability.


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