English language competency among Colombian university graduates is still inadequate, despite courses and exams designed to ensure proficiency, reports El Tiempo.
Alejandro Zuluaga, 25, recently graduated from university with a degree in engineering he obtained after passing an English exam which he descibed as “easy.”
The difficulty, Zuluaga says, “comes when you have to use what you are supposed to know.”
The young graduate said that it is all very well to know the “colors and days of the week in English,” but not being able to write about something connected to your chosen field of study or even to conduct a conversation beyond basic courtesies, is “a problem if you want to go on to do post-graduate studies.”
According to a study of language learning in higher education, only 7.2% of university students in Colombia have access to education in English and of these, only 2.5% reach a satisfactory level.
One problem is that most Colombian academic institutions aim to have students reach the minimum European language testing level of B1, without acquiring actual skills to communicate in the language.
Lucia Estrada, director of language programs at the National University Medellin said that they try to “use the best possible resources,” but concedes that the B1 level is the highest they “can give to undergraduates.”
One of the largest private universities in Medellin, Eafit, which boasts a wealth of resources, can also only certify students to a B1 level, but hopes to improve in the coming years.
“Both working life and studying abroad requires a higher level of English [than Eafit currently provides] and that is why in 2011 we hope to increase our foreign language requirement,“ says Marcela Wolff, director of the language department at Eafit University.