falling standards · professor Bernard Lamb

Lamb’s linguistic lament

In a report due to be published next month in the Queen’s English Society’s journal Quest, professor Bernard Lamb of Imperial College London claims that his British undergraduates made ‘three times as many grammatical, punctuation and spelling mistakes’ as his overseas students.
The figures Lamb refers to are taken from a class of twenty-eight final-year undergraduates and it ought to be said that the overseas students came from Singapore, China and Indonesia, countries where ambitious students are not known for being inattentive to the kinds of issues thrown up by the study. However, anecdotal evidence of the same kind frequently emerges from other university lecturers when their profile is high enough to get their doubts about the education system in the UK aired in the media.
Professor Lamb lays the blame squarely at the door of the English education system, which, he says, needs ‘to raise the very poor standards of English of the home students by more demanding syllabuses and exams, more explicit teaching and examining of English (including grammar, spelling and punctuation) and by consistent correction of errors by teachers of all subjects.’
The article covering this lament is by Richard Garner in the Independent and contains some horrifying examples of the sort I should imagine most university tutors see every day. So, if you don’t want to give yourself nightmares, look away now: examples are ‘separate’, ‘alot’, ‘theorys’, as well as lots of grammar-agreement and punctuation problems.
As a person who has taught both UK and foreign undergraduate students for the past twenty years, I couldn’t possibly comment.