Letter to Those Taking ES1102

Posted on July 30, 2013 by richardgoulter
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This is for those who have to take ES1102.
I had to take ES1102 (“English for Academic Purposes”), and as a native speaker of English my pride was offended.
It’s pretty easy to be indignant about someone saying you’re not good at communicating in a language so key to your identity.
(ES1101/ES1102 are to be taken when the Qualifying-English-Test isn’t passed; the QET has to be taken if you didn’t study English in A-level papers. And because English is only compulsory up-until NCEA Level 2, I didn’t qualify for exemption..).

Overall I’d say 1102 wasn’t so bad to me, for my classmates made it enjoyable to be there.

I imagine the general attitude - for those who confidently speak English everyday - is “but my English doesn’t suck”. (I certainly had this attitude, and I think with more justification than others).
Two things:

  1. There’re some students who pass through ES1102 with less-than-confident oral English abilities. (I mean the ESL folk who haven’t been learning English for too long). I don’t mean such folk disrespect. (Their L2/3/.. is better than mine). But I suppose I assume if your ability to speak/listen to English isn’t great, your ability to read/write isn’t great either.
    In some sense, ES1102 is about “improving ‘bad’ English”; and is useful for those who haven’t got 100% grasp of the finer details of the hellborn-monster which is The English Language. (Even though the teachers say it isn’t, so as to not injure prides such as mine. The teacher I had was fantastic, for what it’s worth).

  2. But there’s also the aspect of ES1102 which is about making sure your essays are in “academic” style. (Which I presume to mean lacking in original thought; as un-armchair as possible).

Regarding being treated like an idiot who can’t speak English; there is a wee study on grammar (which somewhat speaks to “ES1102 is about students with bad English”).
But grammar can be interesting: certainly there are a huge number of disagreements about English-grammar which are interesting.. so, one can survive the grammar study by taking an interest in it. (It’d be unfair to say grammar is interesting only because people disagree about it, I should say; but it’s an easy subject to get dull about).

Regarding “academic” writing; with the essays to write, ES1102 just approximates an FASS module, where there’re readings done on some topic, and you write essays based on those readings.
I’m not cut out to be an Arts Academic; or, rather, my opinion of academic-writing isn’t so high.
For one, it seems I’ve managed to get through other essay-based FASS modules without having taken ES1102; so it seemed to me that the horse came after the cart here.
However, I found the formal nature more restricting than liberating; that one can’t give a statement without a citation (S. Asshole, 1776) seems to stifle thought. There’re probably advantages to academia for doing things that way, but clearly I’m not cut out to be such an academic.
What also chokes me (again, probably for the benefit of academia) was the strict prescriptivism and formalism of the academic English. (I like to fear that my natural out-of-my-ass writing here is already over-formal as it is. “over-formal” definitely wouldn’t be the right word, though). - I recall reading an opinion on Times Higher Education which pointed out that from science, we understand nouns to refer to very specific concepts; but in the Arts even specific nouns refer to vague and undefined things. My point is, I’m no fan of academic-essay-writing. - Hell, even the notion of “formality” of English differs from field to field.
Anyhow, perhaps a criticism of academic writing would be better performed by taking examples, and synthesizing an opinion from that. cough.

So, uh. If you have to take ES1102, there are things to enjoy in the module, and things you won’t enjoy. But you gotta do what you gotta do.

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