The impotence of good English: it’s a piratical issue

Imperial scholar finds that in terms of spelling and grammar, foreign students know best. Rebecca Attwood reports

October 4, 2009

A geneticist who evaluated his students’ English standards found that overseas undergraduates outperformed their British counterparts.

Bernard Lamb, emeritus reader in genetics at Imperial College London, and president of the Queen’s English Society, compared the work of 28 students – 18 Britons and ten from overseas – in the final year of his course in applied genetics. He found that the British contingent made three times as many grammatical and spelling errors.

On average, in three pieces of work counting heavily towards their final marks, domestic students made 52 mistakes. One made 106. Errors included muddling up words, plus grammar, punctuation and spelling blunders. The average overseas student made 19 errors.

Among the words that students confused were: “importance” and “impotence”; “vile” and “phial”; “infected” and “affected”; “bare” and “bear”; and “piratical” and “practical”.

Spelling errors included “addative”, “amoungst” and “pharmosutical”.

Dr Lamb said all the students had impressive academic records and none was registered as dyslexic.

In an article for the Queen’s English Society’s journal, Quest, he writes: “Many of our schools do a poor job of motivating their pupils to take English standards seriously, and are not teaching basic topics such as grammar, spelling and punctuation effectively.

“Above all, they are not correcting errors, so how are pupils to know what is right and what is wrong? I know that correction takes time, but if all teachers did it, the burden on each individual would be much reduced.

“One of my final-year home students told me that I was the only lecturer ever to have corrected her English, and that she was grateful for it, unlike some others.”

Dr Lamb added that students needed “constructive criticism and correction from primary school onwards” to raise standards.

“We need to tell the country that good English matters,” he said.

rebecca.attwood@tsleducation.com

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Assistant Dean (International) UNIVERSITY OF THE WEST OF SCOTLAND - PAISLEY CAMPUS
Assistant Dean (Research & Enterprise) UNIVERSITY OF THE WEST OF SCOTLAND
Professor of New Media UNIVERSITY OF THE WEST OF SCOTLAND
Professor of Sport UNIVERSITY OF THE WEST OF SCOTLAND
Professor of Strategic Management UNIVERSITY OF THE WEST OF SCOTLAND - PAISLEY CAMPUS

Most Commented

James Fryer illustration (8 September 2016)

Some lecturers will rightly encourage forms of student interaction that are impossible for those covering their faces, Eric Heinze argues

Handwritten essay on table

Universities must pay more attention to the difficulties faced by students, says Daniel Dennehy

University of Oxford students walking on campus

University of Oxford snatches top spot from Caltech in this year’s World University Rankings as Asia’s rise continues

Theresa May entering 10 Downing Street, London

The prospect of new grammar schools on the horizon raises big questions for HE, writes Nick Hillman

Nosey man outside window

Head of UK admissions service Mary Curnock Cook addresses concerns that universities might ‘not hear a word’ from applicants