This article describes the organization, set-up, and evaluation of an exciting new program which is attempting to help first-year university students improve their English speaking and writing skills. Known as Hiroshima University’s Program for English Communication (HiSPEC), the program is part of the “Super Global University” initiative, which attempts to create Japanese leaders who have excellent English communication abilities. Here, we focus on the first half of HiSPEC, which is oriented towards speaking skills and the TOEIC® Speaking test.
Students with the highest English entrance exam scores from some faculties were identified and grouped into “small classes,” with about 15 students in each. Those non-English majors received instruction from native English-speaking instructors for 90 minutes one day per week during a semester, and took the TOEIC Speaking Test near the beginning of the semester and about 10 weeks later.
Results showed that the students’ TOEIC Speaking Test scores generally improved, but the improvements were not statistically significant. In questionnaires, students overwhelmingly stated that they enjoyed the courses and, thanks to the program, they had become even more motivated to improve their English conversation skills in the future. The instructors, meanwhile, reported that even though the test scores did not significantly improve, the small class sizes had positive effects on students’ English speaking abilities and motivations. Yet, some teachers questioned the validity of using the TOEIC Speaking Test to motivate students, and also expressed concern that there was not enough instruction time between the two test administrations for significant improvement to be expected. The implications are described here.