March 02, 2005

Correct written English

Writing about web page http://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/adairrichards/entry/why_are_there/

Note: have crossed through a whole lot more stuff. Article copied is regarding a balance of tolerance, opportunity, ability, and effectiveness of communication. Due to the target of the piece/rant, I should not comment and it was poor judgement to try to do so - it won't happen again. I trust the University will be objective enough to get the balance right.

Note: all comments pertaining to spelling mistakes have been struck out - comments referring to typos will be treated similarly on request. I refuse to remove comments regarding commas as I have a particular interest in that issue. Please also note this is in the "Language" section of the blog. (I've been informed I missed the phrase "excellant English" the first time around - I think I'm slipping. Feel free to comment then strike it out in your mind.

October 21, 2004
Why are there so many Chinese students who can't speak good English?
(written by someone else – follow link)

-I care not at all about the title. I'm vaguely interested in the English Language so we look at the written English. (Grammar, meaning and all; but we neglect spelling.)

Ok. Rant number 2, here we go.

-Commas cannot be used like this.

In Warwick we have lots of international students which is great

-If we replace "Warwick" by "The University of Warwick" it is easy to see that "At" is better than "In" here.

One of the reasons some of them come here is to improve their English, this is also great

-Commas cannot be used like this.

But over my time here I have noticed that a lot of the Chinese students have appalling levels of English, considering that they are meant to be study and be assessed on an equal platform with 1st language English students.

The comma that is present here should not be used like this. A comma should follow "But over my time here". I'll accept that "meant to be study" is a typo. The phrase "1st language English students" is ugly and ambiguous (they are probably meant to be assessed in comparison to their peers and whether or not we call these people "English" is fairly immaterial - many probably aren't "English").

All students have to pass an English test of some sort in their home country before being accepted to Warwick, but I have met many students who cannot hold a proper conversation in English and struggle to read common English phrases.

Luckily for these students, being able to hold a conversation (proper or otherwise) in English with myself, Adair, or anyone else is not a requirement of the course. Honorary degrees have been conferred by this university on people for which similar comments can be made. That these statements are true or not should not, and indeed does not, devalue the work they do here or anywhere else.

I once went to a seminar on the E-business management MSc course (where incidently over 90% of the students were from East Asia), and a Chinese student was asked to read a number from a table. After having the question explained three times so he could understand it, he then appeared to be unable to know the number in english and after consoltation in Mandarin/Cantonese with his friends, read out the number in slow, bad and incorrect english. The question was very easy and I'm sure he understood it and knew the answer but he did not have a good enough grip of the English language to answer it properly. This is only one example, of which I have seen many of the sub-standard levels of English displayed by some students.

I'll accept "consoltation" and "unable to know" are typos. Let's not throw this student out for this! People do much worse in presentations and under questioning than in this example. Being unable to say something that you know is fairly unrelated to your grip (good or otherwise) of the English Language. If a person can do the work, he or she should stay. If a person cannot do the work, this person is probably better off elsewhere. If it takes a person double the time to do something but he or she can do the work and meet deadlines and function when it matters, his or her level of English (sub-standard or otherwise) should not matter.

So why am I specifically focussing on Chinese students? Well basically, I know a lot of foreign students from all parts of the world and out of them, without exception, it's students from East Asia (usually China) that have problems with English. I realise that this a generalisation and there are some Chinese who speak excellant English and some other foreigners who speak bad English. But i think it's fair and reasonable to conclude that there's a significant contingent of Chinese students on campus with poor english.

If we suppose this paragraph is true, it would still be no reason to deny people from China the chance to learn and grow as human beings provided they can do the work and meet deadlines. The phrase "without exception" suggests that the writer does not know a representative sample of "foreign students from all parts of the world" and it is usually unfair to draw conclusions from an unrepresentative sample or subsets thereof.

I don't think that students with sub-standard English should remain here because it is not helpful for them or us.

People should stay if they can do the work and meet their deadlines. The word 'remain' suggests kicking people out which may be the intention although I would hope not.

Multiculturism and foreign students should be encouraged, but it's no use to anyone to have students sitting in lectures not understanding the language, spending the majority of their free time speaking Mandarin/Cantonese often in the Chinatown that is Claycroft, and that the university should have some better way of ensuring that all our students have sufficient English.

This is plainly not a sentence. The general attitude in this country is that people don't care at all whether or not we encourage "Multiculturism" (which, incidentally, is not a word but we shall take the author's meaning) - people just want to live and let live and have everyone happy. I commend the author's suggestion that encouraging foreign students is a good thing. "Sufficient English" is nonsensical here (feel free to correct me). It looks like the author has in mind "my English is sufficient" but created a monstrosity.

I have heard unofficially from an admissions officer of one department that the problem is that there is no way of checking that the person who sits the test in China is the same person who turns up in Warwick. Whether this is the fault in the system or whether it's another one I don't know. All I know is that there is a problem and nothing is currently being done about it.

- "I have heard unofficially from" is ungrammatical. Sorry, I can't correct it but any English speaker with any experience will know this is garbled rubbish from the point of view of correct written English. Again, "in Warwick" is ugly. I'll accept "this is the fault in the system" is probably a typo. The author is surely not suggesting any significant proportion of Chinese students with so-called sub-standard English cheated. This would be called "jumping to conclusions" (based on my primary school teaching) because the evidence cannot and does not support such a suggestion.

I'd be interested to hear any of your comments or experiences. :)

PS I am not a racist, but neither will I refuse to face the reality in which we live even if in doing so, I may infringe on our uber-pc culture.

Having to make the statement "I am not a racist" is a really bad sign. Stating that you know a lot of the people of a certain type you are (certainly) not discriminating against is another bad sign (the author has this above but it is fairly subtle). I hate PC culture with a vengeance and I am glad that on this we agree at least a little. "Infringe our uber-pc culture" would be more correct here as the transitive usage of 'infringe' means to violate. The intransitive use of 'infringe' means to encroach or trespass and to say you are tresspassing on uber-pc culture would be strange - the author is incredibly far removed from anything resembling PC culture.

PPS It has not escaped my notice that the univeristy receives a lot of money from foreign students and they may not see it as being in their interests to decrease the number of foreign students studying here by tightening up entry requirements.

- I'll accept the author can spell 'university'. "In their interests" should be "in its interests". If any student here can do the work, he or she should stay. All the rest is immaterial.


- One comment Not publicly viewable

  1. 2 points (not as in, I award you, Mike Li, two points):

    • You give plenty of reasonable or even good counterarguments to the rant, but they're all overshadowed by the very cheap way of focussing on spelling mistakes. Surely the original rant would have been more powerful if it were written in perfect English, but as it's a rant and not an academic piece, there's no reason to pick on every comma, clause, or typo.

    • "If any student here can do the work, he or she should stay. All the rest is immaterial." False. At university – in my opinion – you are supposed to develop several skills alongside obtaining your degree. I believe the most important one is to cooperate with others. If I were in a class filled with people who have trouble understanding me, or who I can hardly understand, team spirit would fall and I would have a hard time to cooperate with them. Now, luckily I haven't been in such a situation at Warwick, but at my previous college – where English level requirements were considerably lower – I did honestly have to work harder with another team mate, as the third member just didn't have a clue what was going on, and there was no time before the deadline to fill her in on all problems. Anyway – so yeah, your statement actually isn't false, as long as you consider the fact that if people can't communicate well in English, then they might not be able to do part of their degree, or even be detrimental to others obtaining their degree (I'm serious here!)

    02 Mar 2005, 17:14


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