New English test welcome

The Immigration Department will begin giving a new English skills test to work permit holders arriving from non-English speaking countries in early October.

The new four-part written test takes about 20 minutes to complete and will give a good indication of a person’s English language proficiency. It replaces the short informal oral test that is given now.

The current test is flawed in several ways. In a report issued by the Office of the Complaints Commissioner earlier this year, it concluded that the test wasn’t necessarily fair. Besides testing a person’s English skills, it also tested their knowledge of information they might not know.

In addition, the current test is more subjective to the assessments of the test-giver, and because it was given orally, it left no document of proof.

It is also easier to cheat on the current test. As many residents have complained in recent months, there are more and more people working here that do not have the basic command of English, and yet they passed the English skills test. Many believe these people were told the answers of the test ahead of time.

The new test, however, will eliminate the problems of the current test. It is designed objectively to test for a predetermined proficiency of English and it leaves a document of proof in case anyone questions the results. And because of its nature, test-takers cannot have been given the answers in advance.

Some people might question the need for workers to speak English in certain industries in Cayman. Some workers might not have any contact with the general public, and in fact might work along with bi-lingual people who also speak their native language.

But people living here cannot be expected to spend their whole lives in isolation from the English-speaking populace. In fact, Chief Immigration Officer Franz Manderson said he strongly believes that the single greatest obstacle to work permit holders assimilating into the community is their inability to speak English.

In addition, there are safety reasons why residents here should know how to speak the official language. There are road signs that need to be read; there could be instructions from police or other officials that need to be followed; there could be words of warning that need to be heeded. If someone doesn’t speak the language, there could be an accident.

It must also be remembered that we live in a country where the economy relies on service. Most of our tourists and investors expect to be able to communicate in English. The new Immigration Department English skills test will help ensure they can.

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