And no. This is not a post about the current state of our (non) government.
Recently, I was asked to proofread a document that had been written in English by a German native speaker. I agreed (a little reluctantly because you never know just how long it will take. Is their English absolutely fantastic – or am I going to be wading through abysmal Gerlish without a clue of what the author is actually trying to say?)
The English in this case was not too bad but the job posed a few moral considerations.
The first was this: it eventually became clear that the author was applying – not for a job as I first thought – but for a place at a prestigious business school. His application talked about having studied English at a language school in California. Fair enough. But was he going to pass off my finely crafted and corrected sentences as his own?
Secondly, this young man (well, not so young it turned out. He was 32 although I would have put his maturity at somewhere around 20) did not answer the questions in the right manner. They were fairly standard sorts of questions such as “Describe a situation which went wrong and what you did about it.” I feel sure the assessors were probably looking for an answer something along the lines of “There was this total disaster at work, it looked like we would all be lined up and shot at dawn but with teamwork/my particular skills/taking a big risk/working all night, we/I saved the day and gained the respect of our clients/nailed a multi million pound deal/learned a lot of lessons about XYZ and everyone got a big pat on the back, which is was our greatest reward.” My young man did not approach it like this. His answer was “Gosh, yes, there was this terrible disaster at work, it looked like we would all be lined up and shot at dawn so I called in sick.”
I was nearly weeping – partly with despair and (as the answers continued in this vein) partly with laughter. I felt dreadful that this chappy was paying me good money to correct his English but what good would it do him when his answers were so inappropriate? I was visiting the MaPa-rental Seat when doing this job and I read bits out to the Pa-rent who at one point commented, “Oh, dear, I think he’s barking up the wrong tree there”. I replied rather exasperatedly, “Actually, I think he’s just barking.”
He kept reiterating that the course he was applying for was right up his street but he never said WHY. Argh. It was so frustrating!! I felt as if I should rewrite his answers to give him at least a sporting chance of getting an initial interview – but of course, that was not my role.
The cherry on cake of this desperate situation came in the very last paragraph. The question was something along the lines of “if money and time were no object, what would you really, really like to do with your life?” His answer? Blah, blah, your course is just perfect for me because I’ve been working in a related job (although I only did it because my parents told me it was a good idea) [he honestly said this] and so I want to spend thousands of euros to get a Masters in Something I am Not Really Very Interested In blah blah but if I could really do what I wanted, I’d love to be a hotel manager because I love working with people and it would be so satisfying to provide an excellent service in hospitality.
I was so tempted to mail him and say, “Filling in this application form has been a useful exercise because you have finally teased out of your desire to please others (your parents, your boss) that you want to channel your kindness into serving others in a lovely hotel. Please stop slogging your guts out in an unsuitable environment. Invest your euros in a hospitality course and enjoy your life.”
But of course, I couldn’t. My only comment, when I returned the documents to the translation agency, was “I understand this business school has a very prestigious reputation. I would be interested to hear if the applicant is successful. I wish him luck.”