IELTS (International English Language Testing System) is a test of English popular with universities and colleges of further education for assessing the language level of overseas applicants for their courses. The name is pronounced by teachers as ‘the Eye-elts Test’ and by many of my Saudi students as ‘Tist Eyelets’. Anyone who sits the Tist Eyelets will be required to write a couple of essays. Themes beloved of those who set the writing paper are:
The effects of technology on society
The effects of television on society
The influence of Pelagianism on the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints
The effects of globalisation on society
The effects of pollution on society
(I made one of these titles up. Answers on a postcard, please.)
The rationale informing the choice of these brain-curdling topics is obviously to make sure that even the dullest of numpties can cobble a few platitudes together. This is not to imply that every IELTS candidate is a dullard, of course. We are assessing language here, not originality and wit, which is why we never get any of either.
I marked a pile of Tist Eyelets essays this morning. Today’s title was a variation on the first theme above:
Nowadays [they invariably start with ‘nowadays’] the way people interact has changed because of technology. In what ways has technology affected the types of relationships people make?
The IELTS essay as a genre is characterised by a cobbling together of a bunch of threadbare received ideas. As any fule kno, the birth of the internet put paid to face-to-face interaction, and nobody communicates any more except by Skype and SMS, to the detriment of everyone’s social skills. Children spend their evening watching porn instead of doing their homework or playing football, so they get fat and groomed online by paedophiles. Their parents are oblivious to this because they are too busy ordering gadgetry from Amazon. Students churn this bilge out by the bucket load. Providing it is reasonably accurate and reasonably well organised, they’ll get a good grade. Nobody is going to take a red pen to their essay and write ‘evidence?’ ‘When were you last groomed by a kiddie-fiddler?’ or ‘your last face-to-face conversation was in class this very morning.’
In his introduction, Mohammed is at pains to define his terms:
‘There is no doubt that since the mankind (human beings) existed on this planet (Earth) there was an interaction between its components and there was a relationship between people (who compose the human race.)’
Go on, argue with that if you can. The aim (purpose) of the essay is then introduced (set out):
‘This essay will browse the effects of technology on the people’s interact.’
So, why is technology such a big issue? Hassan?
‘In the last 20 years, technologie has become widdly.’
This is true. Technology has become so widdly available that everyone is affected by it in widdly divergent ways, some beneficial, some malign. You can keep in touch with your family with MSN, Hussam tells us, but:
‘There are more lie and bad things people can make, such as sex.’
Did people have sex before the advent of the internet? Reading IELTS essays, you could be excused for thinking they probably didn’t.
‘Some people use technology to lie with other people, and sometimes can get other people in the wrong way.’
Technology for lying with other people…? Are we speaking here of the Fleshlight, or those ingenious vibrating contrivances you can insert into the male urethra to have, as it were, an inside-out wank? Unfortunately not. At first I interpreted this as meaning that people seduced one another by various electronic means, and then got them up the duff. Rereading the sentence I realised that Adnan had simply chosen the wrong preposition in that first clause. It should read ‘to lie to other people’ and cheat them. Pity.
'It can tear our families apart if one parent give more attention to his gadget than to his children'
Just put the plural 's' on gadget and it will all sound perfectly innocent.
The other essay on the paper requires candidates to describe information presented as a graph or bar chart. Since all these blokes are pilots, this is actually useful to them. We have been unable to persuade the RAF that putting them through the hoop of a discursive essay on top of this is pretty much a waste of their time and ours, but orders are orders, I suppose, and we plough on.