Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Listening to IELTS, etc.

Excellent advice there from the Briddish Kyncel. Far better than 'I think they should just dive in without having a clue.'

I spent the morning invigilating tests. There is a species of test known as IELTS, and overseas learners are required to do it if they want to study over here. My Art and Design kids were doing some IELTS practice tests as part of the assessment for the course they have been pretty much ignoring for the last three months.

IELTS listening practice tests are read from stilted scripts by lousy actors who employ a variety of bizarre accents. These include quasi-Oz, almost Irish, and all-purpose foreigner. Thees latter eez achieved by lengtheneeng the /I/ vowel een every word where eet occurs. In today’s test we had to listen to Bruce and Drusilla (Quasi Aussies) maunder on about organising a charity run. While the kids attempted to fill in gapped sentences and charts with information from Brucie and Dru’s brain-curdling colloquy, I sat wincing at the inability of the writer and performers to produce anything that sounded like real human communication. They used full forms of all auxiliary verbs: ‘is not’ ‘do not’ and so on. They never interrupted one another, never spoke simultaneously or completed one another’s utterances, made no false starts or left thoughts unfinished, but instead used well-edited, flat-footed prose all the way through. At one point Dru tells Brucie what all the prizes and consolation prizes are, just so the students can tick these off on a list. There can have been no other reason. Bruce is, when all’s said and done, the bloody organiser, so presumably he knows already.

Now I happen to know a thing or two from direct personal experience about the publisher of this material, and I know that the writers and editors are just a tad on the naïf side when it comes to language analysis. They haven’t really noticed the features of spoken discourse I mentioned above, but they are obviously nagged by the feeling that their scripts need to be a teeny bit less tidy now and then. So, I imagine they sat down with their thinking-caps on and said ‘guys, what happens when people talk? They often misunderstand one another, that’s what!’  This insight led them to produce scripts not dissimilar to the following:

You will hear a group of students with funny accents discussing an assignment. Listen, and answer questions seven to twelve, if you possibly can.

BRUCE: Sow, hwin we finish the assarnmunt, we complete the rid form and hand it in at the disc? Thit’s what Dr Klutz sid, raht?

ARAMINTA: No, no, he said we ave to complete the peenk form. The red form eez only eef you ave an extension. Then you must geev eet directly to Dr Pecker. Or was eet Dr Meenge?

SASKIA: Ay, golly, I thought Professor Bonestroker said the yellow form was sort of for if you had an extension! Gosh, I'm rarely, rarely confused!

BRUCE: Nigh, thit was laaahst year. Thy chynged it in Oktauber. This year’s the rid form, and if you use the pink one you get capped at 50%

ARAMINTA: 50%? I thought eet was 55!

SASKIA: Ay, cripes! And here’s me thinking it was the yellow form all along! Or is it? Goodness, I'm like say confused!
1. The essays of students who submit a yellow form:

A. Might be capped at 55%
B. Could be capped at 50%
C: Will probably not be capped.
D: Might or might not be capped.

And so on. By now students and tutors forced to prepare them to listen to this sort of verbal train-wreck have temporarily lost the will to live. I mean, if you were part of this group of students, you would hold up a hand and shout ‘CUT! Let’s go to the office and get this from the horse’s mouth’. And if you weren’t part of the group (and as a listener to a CD, you obviously are not) the exchange would be of no conceivable interest to you. Yet here you are, being forced to try to engage with this needlessly complicated twaddle just so you can study computing at Sheffield Hallam.     

More on IELTS here and here . Also here. Here as well. You might get the impression of a certain cynicism on my part.

A colleague told me at lunchtime that a student had come to her to say he would not be attending the afternoon lesson. Non-attendance is much frowned upon and students are required to provide proof that they were legitimately absent: doctor’s note, undertaker’s bill, that sort of thing.

‘I go boast offers, giffing fenger brent.’ Aladdin said. (It’s a real name)

‘You’re going to the post-office to give finger prints?’ Alison asked. ‘Whatever for?’

‘Because many women.’ he explained.

Setting aside the bizarreness of his mission – it really does sound like something you’d do in a dream - Alison wanted to know why he couldn’t go to the post office at three o’ clock after the lesson. He had to ‘go his house’ first and get something, he said. We speculated that he might have left his fingers at home.

Any explanation as to why one might need to go to the post office with finger prints, because of many women? Answers on a post card, please.        


‘Iconic’. What a bloody irritating word it’s become. The brightly yapping announcer on BBC 4 TV news managed to shove it in five times in the space of half an hour yesterday evening, almost causing me to choke on my sherry. ‘Well known’ would have done for all five occasions.


The stress-trashing human announcers are all but gone from British railway stations nowadays, but the new robot announcers are still programmed by people with two linguistic left feet. At the station every five minutes a female voice warns us:

‘Smoking is not permitted anywhere on our station. However, please keep your luggage with you at all times.’

What a weird non-sequitur. I think I’d prefer:

‘Smoking is not permitted anywhere on our station. So there.’

At least it’d be of a piece with that proprietorial use of the possessive adjective before ‘station’.           


Anonymous said...

I expect Aladdin is getting a biometric residence permit, although I don't know how the many women come into it, or why he couldn't wait until after the lesson.

CJB said...

Absolutely love the Aus accent. You do that so well. I think I probably sound like his sentence looks - all those flet vaals. Although going through extreme shitness at work, I would not swop it for IELTS ghastliness. Have to teach a 55 year old Italian banker next week. His agent tells he's a "fossilised low intermediate". Poor dear. I guess I'll be doing that "iconic" Past Simple v Pres Perf all week....

Vilges Suola said...

Q, I suppose that's a possibility, although I have never heard of biometric permits over here. I think he's just a compulsive bullshitter.

'Fossilised lower int' - good luck with that. Is the Italian banker over here to avoid lynch mobs?

Ann O'Nymous said...

We have, "Boss, change the timetable. All afternoon classes? Not good. We need time for family. We sleep all morning. Now not see them until 6pm. Not good. Change, Boss. I know you can. Yes. Change."

Vilges Suola said...

@Ann O'Nymous - thee days, I sympathise with students like yours much more than I used to.

Alan Tait said...

Oh dear Lath,

I wish I could turn my thoughts about our local high school English exams into something witty and erudite. (Absurd, wildly unpredictable, dull, pointless, useless, impersonal, unrelated to course, etc)

Kafka could, and so can you. But I just gnash my teeth.

Vilges Suola said...

Oh, I gnash my teeth too. Being able to take the piss out of it on here releases some of the exasperation.


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