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February 18, 2018 by unclespike218

Remember those hypothetical moral dilemmas in class, and how you had to decide one way or another? Well, here’s one.

Been working with China now for coming on three years. Needless to say, communication is an issue. They speak broken English at best. In some ways, I can’t judge them, because guess what? My Chinese is exponentially worse. But at the same time, they are a business whose partial goal is to teach students English. So I expect at least some proficiency in English, and some respect for communicating in English effectively…and hopefully improving it where it needs to be improved.

The best English speaker in this group is Filipino. A shy young woman, she speaks with a strong Filipino accent, is of course fluent in Tagalog, and also speaks enough Mandarin to get by. She relies on English as well to fill in the gaps where her Mandarin eludes her. She also teaches English to grade school students. She would like to come to America, but unfortunately, for some reason, her status in China (as a single woman? as a Filipino with the equivalent of a green card? Something like that) prohibits her from obtaining a visa to come over.

From this American’s standpoint, her English is atrocious. Yes, I am extremely proficient at English and have extremely high standards, but even so, it is bad. I feel for her because she does not have the opportunity to come over and listen to how it is spoken by Americans. (I assume she also is barred from traveling to Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, Ireland…that sort of thing.) So she is stuck in China with very little chance to improve her English.

Being in the business she is in, she is sometimes put in the position of being a pronouncer for spelling bees and a judge for some of the team spelling competitions. I was just in China and got to witness her in action during the team competitions. It was terrible. She mispronounced words all over the place, and her mispronunciations potentially caused spellers to miss their words. She also made an egregious mistake during one of the events in the team competition that was not my place to interrupt, but which unnecessarily cost a team one point and could have shifted the competition significantly.

Now…time for the dilemma. She is applying to an online university to – I think – continue an education degree she had to pause because work was taking too much of her energy. She wants me to write a letter of recommendation, to “elaborate on how the applicant uses or used the English language in their day-to-day work or previous studies.”

The pedantic side of me – and there is a sizeable one – doesn’t want to write the letter at all, because her English is so bad she needs to improve it. To say she is a good English speaker would be to lie outright. But at the same time, I don’t feel like I can do that. She asked me, and I assented. So I have to find a middle road.

How she uses the English language? Let’s see…she is a teacher whenever she is not at work. She helps put together word lists and pronunciation guides for these bees. I may need to embellish that a lot. I hope there’s not much request for how well she does this. Well, I’ll have to figure something out.

I am very demanding and have high expectations and standards for the people I’m working with. I may need to have a big conversation with her soon. I’d like her to take pronunciation lessons from a diction expert, if nothing else.

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