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Asking students if English is first language has 'pretty nasty' motive

19-03-2018 Hits:28 News Andrea Perez - avatar Andrea Perez

Life is not getting any easier for university students trying to rent a place to live in New Zealand, writes Federica Tedeschi.

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 Two teachers at an English-medium international school in Indonesia have had their convictions for child sex offences overturned. Indonesian teaching assistant Ferdinand Tijong and Canadian teacher Neil Bantleman were released from high-security Cipinang Prison in the capital, Jakarta, on 14 August, after the Jakarta High Court overruled a previous verdict.

In August the Thai Ministry of Labour published an English-language version of its list of jobs restricted for foreigners. Its heading was a commanding: ‘Career aliens do not’, and its content so cryptic that website ThaiVisa.com speculated it had been compiled for actual aliens.

According to the list, foreigners couldn’t hope to do any ‘indoor cloth or paper job’, ‘hawk the product’ or ‘work gold and silver otters’. And the bewildered foreigner could not find refuge in religion or politics, as ‘job Buddha’ and ‘the proletariat’ were also prohibited. ‘Party animals of the forest’ aren’t allowed either.

Thankfully the page was soon taken down – and replaced with one that made much more sense. For example, gold or silver otters were just ‘gold ornaments, silverware or pink gold making’.

Mistranslations seem to abound in Asia. In 2012 the Malay Ministry of Defence’s dress code did not allow ‘clothes that poke eye’ (revealing).

But big mistakes are still made closer to home. Former Italian prime minister once called his spokesperson his ‘megaphone’.

Question M in this year’s Baccalaureate English exam in France asked students to indicate Robbie Turner’s three main concerns and explain how he was coping with being trapped in the remains of a ravaged village during WWII. Robbie, the protagonist of Ian McEwan’s Atonement, ‘kept his head down … protectively folded in his thoughts’. The students who found the question difficult didn’t keep their head down. They took to Twitter and petitioned the minister of education to cancel the question from the exam, gathering over 12,000 supporters.

‘Concern’ and ‘cope’ are challenging words for a secondary school student. But not everybody backed the petition. A French consular official tweeted he has ‘more than three concerns if French students can’t cope with difficult questions without starting petitions’.

The British press took particular pleasure in reporting the students’ tweets, with one showing a screenshot of Google translator turning ‘coping’ into ‘chaperon’. But, with thoughtful examiners ‘proposing’ a question and students saying they ‘passed’ the exam they think they just failed (passer means to sit an exam), the UK media swarmed with mistranslations. And the French? Le Monde wondered it all wasn’t just beaucoup de bruit pour rien, much ado about nothing. But some students insisted that not even Shakespeare could have answered the question.


Matt Salusbury writes

In early July the Libyan government finally released funding for the 2014–15 academic year – three months late, but much to the relief of its students overseas who had been struggling to cover living expenses, let alone tuition fees, while they waited for the money.

Middle East education news agency Al Fanar reported ‘officials’ as saying they were unsure whether the government could continue paying for students already studying on university courses through the Libyan scholarship scheme, and expressing doubts as to whether the programme could benefit any new students. An estimated 5,700 students normally go abroad each year on the scholarships, with a total of 20,000 Libya students believed to be studying on scholarships worldwide.
In Canada the Libyan government scholarship programme is managed by the Canadian Bureau of International Education, whose spokesperson Jennifer Humphreys told Al Fanar that funding for health insurance for Libyan government scholarship students in US universities was ‘terminated’ in March, while health insurance for students in Canada funded by the programme ‘petered out’ in May.

A Libyan student at a Malaysian university told the news agency just after the money arrived in July that ‘medical insurance has stopped too’ for Libyans studying in that country, and that some students had already been evicted for non-payment of rent. Some Libyan students in the US – often PhD students with spouses and dependants – are now dependent on charity from local church groups.

And some US engineering faculties, which run courses popular with Libyans, are expressing alarm at the possible effect on their courses of several of their scholarship students dropping out.

The Libyan Warriors Affairs Commission, founded after the end of the civil war that toppled Gadaffi in 2011, has a remit to help fighters reintegrate into civilian life, and this includes government-funded scholarships for higher education. Ahmed Abannona, who manages overseas scholarships for the commission in partnership with the ministry of higher education, said to Al Fanar, ‘The fund has stopped for a while. We do not know if there is enough money to keep paying for them. But surely no new students will be funded.’
Abannona cited ‘political conflict’, which has seen what’s left of the elected government forced to leave Libya’s capital while at least four armed groups fight over the oil fields and terminals that provide the export revenue to fund the scholarship programme.

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