For many decades, Greece had had the largest number of candidates sitting for C2 exams. Other countries with much larger populations were nowhere near the Greek candidature for this level.
Greece was one of the very few countries on the globe, where a C2 certification, along with a senior high school diploma, offered the holder a teaching license. That meant that a C2 certificate holder could get a professional qualification without studying at university, teach at a Private Language School and even start their own PLS. Literally speaking PLS owners produced their future competitors. Back in 2004, an old colleague of mine in Oxford told me that every year out of a total of 33,000 candidates for CPE globally almost 32,000 candidates were in Greece. Even if the numbers were not accurate, the proportion revealed the exam craze. The majority of those candidates achieved a low score, close to 43%, the lowest in the world. Yet, the number of candidates grew every year.
Text by: Eftychis Kantarakis
C2 certification played an important role in the creation of the Greek PLS system -there are more than 5,000 private language schools spread in the country. That means there is one PLS for every 2,000 citizens in the country, the densest ratio on the planet!
English language proficiency in Greece compared to Europe
With so many students taking C2 exams, one would expect English language proficiency in Greece to be very high. However, we currently rank 16th out of 35 countries in Europe according to the latest report of EF English Proficiency Index, Greece is sitting behind countries like Croatia, Romania, and Hungary, where there is no similar exam craze.
Learning for the certificate.
Since 2013, C2 certifications no longer ensure a teaching license. ASEP, however, rewards holders with extra points in their hiring index. This is still a sufficient drive for students to “get the certificate” at as young an age as possible, so they can then focus on their studies at school and prepare for university entrance exams. I am sure many school owners have to answer parents’ question “when will my child finish with English?” the very first day they enroll their offspring in primary or even pre-primary classes. The English language is seen as a necessary qualification, which has to be earned as soon as possible, in order to give way to more “important” school subjects. A certificate in English is considered a ‘tick’ in their education “to-do” list that should be taken off as soon as possible.
Learning for life
But is this what English is all about? For me, there can only be one answer to the question “when will my child finish with English?” And that is “NEVER!” A job well done is when our students are equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills to become real citizens of the world.
Exam preparation is problematic at best. It is artificial, preparing for what will only be a “snapshot” of their language proficiency at the specific time of taking the exam. What we need to do is give our learners a reason to learn, other than the exams. Make language learning relevant, first and foremost, to them. Give them interesting topics that will make them want to go beyond the “hip-hop” YouTube English that they can practically learn by themselves. Engage them in materials that bring the world to the classroom and the classroom to life. Open doors for them with real-life stories that will make them want to learn more outside the classroom. Fill their minds with inspiring topics and captivating images they will not see at school. Show them how the language opens windows to the world that they will never want to close!
Sure, exam skills are important. Whether we like it or not, they will need them many times in their lives, and not just for English. Get students to understand that learning and using the language is far more important than spending valuable time focusing on exam techniques and formats. Practicing exam techniques should be done just before taking the exam.
What we suggest.
Give them engaging material. Use authentic content, show them how to associate themselves with it, personalise it as much as possible, and teach them how to use it themselves for things that really interest them. What really kills engagement is focusing on the artificial importance of using “personal constructions versus impersonal ones”.
Then, give them a great Practice test book that can demystify, analyse, and clarify all the nooks and crannies of the particular exam.
If we do it right, students should be able to sit any exam, not just at the end of their courses, but years after they “finish” with minimum preparation on any other exam they might need to sit at the time.
Really, let’s finish our courses by giving them what they need to remember, for life!