The challenge of learning Englishes for refugee professionals


This week the BBC ran this article on a subject that is very close to my heart: the language training of refugee healthcare professionals.

The article covers the variety of English that refugee doctors have to learn. This includes not only formal academic English for the IELTS exam and medical English for their profession, but also dialectical English in locales where they will be working.

This presents an enormous challenge for refugee doctors and learning to cope with the flexibility of language in three discrete registers can take up valuable time that arguably could be better spent keeping up with developments in their specialist area.

There is no magic wand here, but if we consider the adjustment to different styles of English that is required, an adjustment which is necessary because other L1 English speaking patients are not asked to make, then we must again recognise the Sysephean task that refugee doctors are confronted with.

Training refugee costs 1/10 of the cost of training doctors in the U.K. yet we confront them with barriers such as an English test on unconnected global topics with ever increasing requirements for doctors and other healthcare professionals, followed by two Professional Linguistic Assessment Board (PLAB) tests. Perhaps a combined test of language and professional knowledge with combined training would support refugee doctors, the NHS and patients more efficiently and effectively.

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‘Trump’ is Children’s Word of the Year.


Sad(!) news, the BBC have reported that ‘Trump’, is the children’s word of the year. 130,000 children’s stories that were sent to BBC Radio 2’s 500 words story competition were analysed by the Oxford University Press to reveal this tragic loss of innocence. 

Previous winners included ‘hashtag’, ‘refugee’ and ‘minion’, which show how media savvy kids are nowadays. When I was a child, I would have sworn that it was ‘trump’ with a lower case ‘t’…

Quiet down at the back, there.

More fury over grammar…

It seems like the ongoing war over English grammar is no closer to a ceasefire. The latest battle is being fought over Strunk and White’s fifty year old Elements of Style, where Edinburgh University’s Geoffrey K. Pullum delivers a headshot to the oft recommended guide. In the linked article, Pullum points out the apparent contempt for grammar that the authors display in the book, incorrect or misleading entries and numerous examples of superfluous advice, for example “Don’t over explain.”
A link to this article was published on the blog Boingboing and seems to have ruffled the readers feathers. Among the apoplectic rage on both sides of the debate in the Boingboing comments section, was the fun guide below, which highlights the hypocrasy of style guides quite well:

  1. Verbs HAS to agree with their subjects.
  2. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.
  3. And don’t start a sentence with a conjunction.
  4. It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.
  5. Avoid cliches like the plague. (They’re old hat)
  6. Also, always avoid annoying alliteration.
  7. Be more or less specific.
  8. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are (usually) unnecessary.
  9. Also too, never, ever use repetitive redundancies.
  10. No sentence fragments.
  11. Contractions aren’t necessary and shouldn’t be used.
  12. Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.
  13. Do not be redundant; do not use more words than necessary; it’s highly superfluous.
  14. One should NEVER generalize.
  15. Comparisons are as bad as cliches.
  16. Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.
  17. One-word sentences? Eliminate.
  18. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.
  19. The passive voice is to be ignored.
  20. Eliminate commas, that are, not necessary. Parenthetical words however should be enclosed in commas.
  21. Never use a big word when a diminutive one would suffice.
  22. Use words correctly, irregardless of how others use them.
  23. Understatement is always the absolute best way to put forth earth-shaking ideas.
  24. Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.”
  25. If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times:
    Resist hyperbole; not one writer in a million can use it correctly.
  26. Puns are for children, not groan readers.
  27. Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.
  28. Even IF a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.
  29. Who needs rhetorical questions?
  30. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.
  31. Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.

N.B. all errors on this blog are entirely provocational. Go!

Fawlty English in Japan

As Tokyo gears up to host the 2020 Paralympic and Olympic Games, proposals for improving ELF are being made. One such method, reported by the BBC, is to focus on speaking and listening skills via British situation comedies like ‘Fawlty Towers’ and ‘Red Dwarf’
While this has the potential to spawn a thousand sit coms of it’s own, language training for major sporting events is big business. I once worked in a school in Mexico D.F. where the owner had bought the school outright from the proceeds she had received from teaching English to athletes in advance of the 1968 Olympics. 

Can pilots learn English in 10 days?

In a recent report, Sky News has highlighted a total of 267 aviation incidents that required reporting which were based on pilots’ language problems. 
Although pilots and controllers are required to pass the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) English qualification at level 4, one such incident was a pilot on an approach to Manchester Airport confusing ‘left’ with ‘right’. 

With the ICAO Operational Level 4 test focussing on speaking and listening, it is assessed in a face-to-face situation. This has led to allegations of cheating:

In one country, candidates who started with no English skills received their certificates after 10 days’ tuition – an “impossible” feat, according to one of the report’s contributors.

Seems do-able…

The report has also led to Wales’ Esperanto chairman Bill Chapman making calls for the international language of aviation to be Esperanto, instead of English.