Wednesday, October 26, 2011

you can lead a horse to water, but...

I've been working with the sister of a Korean friend; we'll call her M. She's paid me generously to help her out with a paper that's to be published in a major Korean literary journal; M needed it proofread. She's also planning to submit her paper as part of a package for several US grad schools to which she's applying. I've proofed M's paper, and am proofing her footnotes and works-cited list, which she had added only belatedly, thus making the proofing a two-step process. M is also planning to retake the TOEFL after having failed to reach the minimum required listening score for at least two of the three schools she's hoping to attend (they require a 23 out of 30; she got a 17). I'd like to help her with some extensive tutoring, but the next test is just around the corner, so M has no time.

Almost two weeks ago, I had recommended that M watch video lectures from a certain site and practice taking notes. I don't think she's done this, which leaves me to wonder how serious she is about going for a doctorate. I should pause here and note that she's following, or trying to follow, in her mother's footsteps: M's mother is a retired scholar who worked at Smoo for many years; she knows her stuff, as I can attest after having engaged in several conversations with her about Shakespeare and Ben Jonson. M, meanwhile, seems steeped in the PoMo mindset of contemporary American humanities academe; she's certainly not an old-school Harold Bloom* groupie, and the level of her English is most decidedly not on a par with her mother's. M is, at best, a shadow of her mother. (I'm speaking of her chops as a scholar, not of her personal character.)

What to do? I tend to think that a foreign scholar planning to go through a four-year slog in the States should, at the very least, have a damn good command of the language and not be making basic errors, even when writing in the relaxed register of an email. I honestly have no clue how M would fare here, even among her fellow postmodernists/poststructuralists. Can a foreign student get away with four years of having her papers proofed every single time she needs to write something meaningful? Or does this particular student even care? Perhaps the plan is to write scholarly articles in Korean after she gets her Ph.D. I don't know.

Anyway, M doesn't seem to be going about this the right way. If she weren't saddled with family, I'd suggest that she spend two years in the States purely to bone up on her English, and then decide where she goes from there.

ADDENDUM: my Korean language prof during undergrad was fluent in French and English. Her English was heavily accented, but grammatically flawless, whether she was speaking or writing emails.** That's the standard to which I'd hold a foreign scholar, and it's obviously attainable by Koreans, despite significant cultural and linguistic disparities.

*Bloom was a huge influence on my favorite feminist thinker, Camille Paglia.

**We had kept in contact for a while after I had graduated; email wasn't popular back when I was in college.


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