Tag Archives: English language

God save the Queen’s English

God save the Queen’s English.

via God save the Queen’s English.

“Be a bloody train driver!”

Many years ago, when the world was young, my anarcho-feminist sister had Jacky Fleming’s 1991 cartoon collection “Be a bloody train driver” perched on her lavatory windowsill.

On the front cover, Minnie the Minx finishes: “- I’m going to be a brain surgeon.”

The gender stereotypes on which this is based  are a bit hackneyed these days, but they are still valid. Women are pretty rare in both train driving and brain surgery, and there is a range of professions and vocations to which more young women should aspire and gain entry.

However, I don’t think that in either of these jobs we would want applicants to be appointed on the basis of gender alone. I certainly don’t want to have my safety, on the operating table or elsewhere, left to a woman just because she is female rather than an expert and excellent surgeon.

So why is this of interest to linguists and teachers of English?

Well, increasingly these days, I interview  prospective IELTS students who complain about the standard of English required to practise as a medical doctor in the United Kingdom*. It is, they say, discriminatory.

I agree. It differentiates among those people who aspire to be senior professionals in highly-remunerated positions making life and death decisions about their fellow citizens. Some of them think that having the ability to speak good English is a legitimate requirement, and are ready to work hard to achieve that goal.

It is not unrealistic, I think, for those who aspire to practise in the professions to be able to converse and communicate on equal terms with other educated and highly skilled professional people in this country.

It is worth it, after all. In the UK, a salaried GP can expect to earn between £53,781- £81,158, while GP partners and hospital consultants can earn anywhere between £100,000 and £200,000.

Given these salaries, perhaps the effort to learn how to speak, write, read and comprehend English at a very good level is justified. After all, a train driver, at the pinnacle of his career, could not earn more than £51,000. Somewhat less, even after a lifetime of service, than our fresh-faced GPs will earn at the beginning of theirs.

So, if you don’t like the British Medical Council’s English requirements, there is always an alternative.

“Be a bloody train driver!”

* PLAB: Band 7 scores across all elements at one sitting. Foundation: Band 7.5 in all four in one go.

(With apologies to any train drivers who may take exception to this. No disregard for your skills and responsibilities is in any way intended.)

Taking Risks with the Truth

With the publication this week of the Hillsborough report, Britain has returned from a summer of sporting success – Tour de France, Olympics, Paralympics, US Tennis Open – to our most recent default setting: disgust at dishonesty among public servants.

Criminality, corruption, coercion and cover-ups… We probably aren’t too surprised at this sort of behaviour from politicians and journalists, but we used to expect better from policemen.

Disregard for honesty.

At heart, our dismay is at an increasingly widespread disregard for truth. Yesterday, our politicians queued-up to apologise for lying to bereaved families about the death of their children. Yet, we are left wondering how we can restore a regard for honesty among young people, so that such acts of deceit are avoided in future.

The portents are not good. As you consider this succession of scandals – vote-rigging in Birmingham, politicians fiddling expenses, match-fixing in cricket, phone-hacking, LIBOR-fixing, Hillsborough – spare a thought for those working in our schools and universities.

Local difficulties.

I run an English school for overseas students. We are good at what we do and enjoy seeing our graduates succeed. With our growing reputation for success, we have become conscious that some other schools are less honest in their admissions procedure (see London Met). So, we check our students carefully on enrolment, and we have learned to steer well clear of anything to do with visa applications, or the UK Border Agency!

In our area of work, there are people offering visa fixes for unscrupulous students, and income to unscrupulous schools. There are agents who offer you  an endless stream of international students, usually for a 30% share of your fees. As with every other dodgy deal, the rule is “Just say no!”

My problems are irritating but minor. They are run-of-the-mill stuff: fee payments delayed, bookings fudged and courses cancelled at short notice. Small beer, when all’s said and done, and as nothing when compared to the problems facing teachers and lecturers in our colleges and universities, these days.

A little help from your friends?

With the advent of modular coursework, it has become increasingly easy for students to get help with essays and assessed assignments which, because they are completed at home, can be improved with help from parents or friends… Or teachers, as we saw in the much-publicised case of Prince Harry’s 2005 A-level artwork.

From this it is a short step to buying-in help. The internet is awash with agencies who, for as little as £7.95 per page, will offer to write your essays for you. “Best Quality Academic Writing by Experts” they promise, and students are increasingly happy to stump-up the £150+ to cheat their way to success.

Writing last year, Audrey Watters noted that ‘… that cheating is at an all time high — or at least, students’ willingness to admit they’ve cheated. Some 75% of college students admit that they’ve cheated at one point or another during their academic careers. That’s up from 20% of students back in the 1940s.’

But this is what’s happening in the US, so it doesn’t concern us. Or, does it? Here,  in the UK, we tell our children that marks matter, don’t we? Increasingly, our teachers are being graded, paid and promoted on the basis of how well their students perform in standardised tests. Guess what they tell them, as well?

There is a conflict here, isn’t there? We want our schools to do well so that our children can do well, but should that success be predicated on a disregard for honesty and truth?

Academic dishonesty.

We need to answer this question because students, teachers and university administrators are cheating as never before. The Daily Telegraph‘s David Barrett reported in 2011 on a survey of academic malpractice in 80 British universities. In the 70 universities providing comparable data, there had been a 53% jump in reported incidents over the four years to 2010. Maybe staff are getting better at spotting plagiarism, but there is assuredly a great deal that isn’t spotted.

Our liberal university culture was built upon the personal relationship with supervisors that came from the tutorial system. It was quite easy to spot where a piece of work was not the fruit of your student’s intellectual efforts. You knew their voice – spoken or written – and could tell when something came from another hand than theirs.

This is no longer the case. Universities have been forced to change too quickly and, adopting the worst practices of US higher education, have replaced inter-personal trust with regulation and technology.

Into this arena have come a new breed of student with a ‘Nice guys don’t win’ philosophy which says that the end justifies the means. Ultimately, they would argue, if marks matter, then you buy your marks. Job done.

But, here’s a thing: if you are found out, the chances are you won’t be punished. In the 2011 study of British universities, out of 17,000 reported cases of cheating, less than 1% of students were sent-down.

What price honesty?

University administrators are complicit in this mess because they are desperate for income from overseas students, often with little regard for the legality of their enrolment. They won’t enforce a strict code of standards because they have no wish to lose the fees that come with each student place. And truth is again the victim.

All this is about to get a whole lot worse. Now that university fees for home students have tripled,  paying £27,000+ for a bargain basement service will no longer be acceptable. With a commercial relationship in place, we will see failing students suing universities for not providing tuition that guaranteed graduation.

This is already the case at some faculties and cases never come to court. Can universities afford to defend a slew of such actions from disgruntled students? Of course they can’t. Students will know this and accept their re-marked degrees with a suitable sneer.

What price honest, trustworthy, incorruptible public servants then?

Finding the right course…

The west end of King's College Chapel seen fro...

King’s College Chapel, Cambridge

English Courses in England – What is Available?
As can be expected the UK has more English language courses than anywhere in the world. No matter what you level there is a course for you.

The selection ranges from beginners through to advanced, business and academic or vocational use.

Most English language courses in the UK do not have academic entry requirements, so there really is nothing to stop you from studying English in the UK.

So exactly what English language courses are available?

General English Courses: These courses are available at all levels and are aimed at improving general day-to-day English. You will work on grammar, vocabulary and colloquial English, focusing primarily on speaking, pronunciation and listening allowing you to achieve greater English fluency.
See http://www.hello-english.com for more details

English for Academic Purposes: These courses are designed for students who are enrolled on university courses in the UK. They help students develop the language skills necessary to take notes, write essays, and understand academic journals. Some courses will also help students develop subject-specific vocabulary.
Check http://www.english4professionals.co.uk/e4education/ for academic English.

Study Support: These courses are designed to help students who are currently studying in the UK who have solid English language skills but require a few hours a week guidance to improve their study skills.
Contact Neil on contact@hello-english.co.uk for study and research support.

Business English: These courses are aimed at students who want to develop their English skills for a specific industry, such as business, economics, finance, tourism or law. They enable students to communicate effectively and operate professionally within these sectors by developing vocabulary, report writing and delivering presentations.
See http://www.english4professionals.co.uk/e4business/ for more details of business-focused courses.

English Exam Preparation Courses: These can be residential or non-residential. They can be short, high-intensity ‘cramming’ courses or longer with only one or two hours per week. Either way, they will help you to prepare for IELTS, A-levels resist, IGCSE, Cambridge First, Advanced or Proficiency exams.
For  information on exam preparation courses,  contact info@hello-english.com

Summer Courses: There are several summer courses during the longer summer and Easter breaks that allow students the fantastic opportunity of studying and learning English while also enjoying a holiday. These summer courses really complement students’ English language development and also help students to develop social skills through activities such as sport and sightseeing. For more information about HELLO Homestay English courses, contact Pauline via contact@hello-english.co.uk

Reflection boosts Recovery

Moggy at the MAC

We are in recovery phase at HELLO!

After the departure of our excellent student from Montelimar – we have had a little down-time, so that we can plan and develop for future homestay guests and the next phase of our work at HELLO!.

Obviously, the pleasure of seeing a student’s English improve on a daily basis is really rewarding but, because we teach on a 1:1 basis, it is more draining than working in traditional classroom mode, where students are self-managing, to a certain extent.

At times like these, I am always reminded of Dory Previn’s line: ‘You’ve got no grace if you’ve got no space to be alone.’ You need a little time to re-charge your batteries, to review and re-think after a period of professional engagement – whatever form that may take.

Without this, we become stale and predictable and forget our qualitative reasons for doing what we do.

Certainly, at HELLO!, we find that, because we are fascinated by the English language and enjoy the company of our students, this mixture of enthusiasm and expertise gets through to our students, who rate us very highly in end of course reviews.

This may seem like a mutual love-in, but after years of presenting bad news to failing clients, it is delightful to be able to see improvement and satisfaction grow before your very eyes.

So, quality over quantity every time – it may not make us rich, but it keeps us  and our guests happy, and that is what really matters!!