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Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Magic, the Tragic, and Everyone else

When I was a graduate student, a professor with many years of experience training interpreters and translators for the State Department (and probably the CIA) talked about "the magic 5%." He meant adults who are able to master listening and speaking in a second language at any point of their lives, even into their fifties.

But there is another extreme group, "the tragic 5%," who are unable to master listening and speaking once they have mastered their first language, no matter how much effort they put into it.

I see people who are in both groups and everyone else in between. I have had 4 students in the past 8 months who started at very low TOEFL speaking levels (14-15) and got 22-24 within a month.

There are other students who are unable to break past the FAIR-FAIR-FAIR 23 barrier (3.0 x 6). That is, they are unable to get 4.0 regardless of how hard they try.

And other students who can apply the Independent Speaking strategies well enough, but can't develop their listening skills. How strange is a GOOD-FAIR-LIMITED 20 score (4/3; 3/2; 2/2) or (4/3; 3/3; 2/1)? I'd say it's pretty unusual unless you can't hear the task 4 and 6 lectures. And yet several students get this score every year.

For the 90% of you who are not in either the magic 5% or the tragic 5%, your TOEFL speaking score is going to depend upon the strategies you use and the amount of time you practice. I wish you all the best.

Please use English well!