## Blog entry by Joanne Chuang

Anyone in the world

Recently, I wrote a post about a common English mistake involving the word 'police' (you can read that article here). A fellow teacher then sent me this picture of a high school government English test where they had found the same mistake: police is plural, not single - so 'police' + 'was' is wrong. This is not the first time I have found mistakes in English tests administered by the Taiwan government, and, in fact, there are two other mistakes just in this article. I find this a bit troubling.

Now, credit where credit is due. I know these papers are being written by non-native Taiwanese speakers. Their level of English is very very high and, largely, they are doing a great job. My Chinese is very far from perfect and I cannot even read or write, so it is just amazing to me that non native speakers can achieve such a high level of accuracy. So it's not that whoever wrote this article is doing a bad job - far from it.

However. This is an English exam test paper. We are asking students to somehow have perfect vocabulary and grammar in order to score highly on the test. We are asking them to check their work carefully. It is sad to me that English exams focus only on these rather limited skills (there is very little creativity in these exams) but that is a matter for a different discussion. If we want to focus students' attention on grammatical accuracy, then should we not make sure our own accuracy is 100%? And more importantly, if students are reading English with mistakes, they may copy those mistakes and then get future exam questions wrong. That's pretty bad for a testing system to be reproducing mistakes that it will later examine students on.

Now, let's be honest. English grammar is hard. Really hard. Even if you basically know all the rules, there are thousands of exceptions and pitfalls ready to trap you. It is not reasonable to assume even the most learned non-native English teacher will never make a mistake (and indeed, many native speaker teachers also make mistakes). So what can be done?

Well, actually, there is a simple solution - so simple I am puzzled why the Taiwanese government is not doing it. Get these papers proofread by a native speaker. A native speaker can simply 'feel' when writing is grammatically wrong, and can also make subtle improvements in style and syntax to make sure that students are reading examples of good natural English. And it's not even expensive to do this! Our own Oxford Master Translation Service charges just NTD0.5 per word for proofreading where the English is reasonably good (as it is in these test papers). The above article is around 150 words I reckon, so would cost just NT75 to check - and would take a native speaker just moments to do. And we are a high quality service - I am sure you could find even cheaper if you needed to. Or appoint a full time native speaker proofreader to the staff and save even more! For test papers that are going out nationwide, this is a small cost and would absolutely be worth it to ensure students are getting a diet of good English. It is embarrassing for English teachers to have to explain to students why official test papers are getting their English wrong - what message does that send to the students about being precise?

I actually don't think grammar should be the main focus on these exams, but if we have to examine students on getting their English right, we need to make sure ours is first. How about it, Taiwan government? Time to start proofreading?

[ Modified: Thursday, 15 October 2020, 11:57 AM ]