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I’m a certified Grammar Nazi, and I couldn’t pass IELTS

I’m a certified Grammar Nazi, and I couldn’t pass IELTS

Nothing wrecks an English writer’s pride – his “unfaltering” confidence in his own pen – like being made to repeat an internationally acclaimed English language test due to an insufficient score.

IELTS, which stands for International English Language Testing System, meticulously examines one’s language skills for the purpose of working or studying in certain English-speaking countries; notably Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

Technically, one does not pass or fail this examination. One either achieves the criteria set individually by the foreign institution he or she intends to apply to, or one doesn’t. In my case, I needed a minimum score of 7 out of 9 in each of the four sections of the examination, but ended up with a paltry 6 in the listening section.

I was floored. No reasonable amount of self-doubt could’ve prepared me for this contingency.

It is a moment many IELTS-takers have experienced, wracked with guilt for not having visited enough “Tips and Tricks for IELTS” websites; although I’d reasoned that the only “trick” needed to pass this exam was knowing how to communicate in English.

…which, evidently, I cannot.

Also read: Mind your language

Now, I am wary of the possibility that this article will come off as the “grapes-are-sour” diatribe of a disgruntled Pakistani blogger with a bloated sense of self-worth.

I can imagine more than a few readers scouring this piece for an inconsequential typo or misplaced punctuation mark that has eluded the eye of our diligent editor, and tossing it at me in the comments section as evidence for why I need to retake the test.

However, to be fair, I am a semi-professional English blogger and ghost-writer, raised on a generous diet of English literature, films and music, in English-medium educational institutions.

I am willing to accept it as a speed-bump that innumerable non-European people around the world gracefully deal with in pursuit of their dreams of working, studying or living abroad. I say “non-European” specifically, because most English-speaking institutions appear to have more lenient policies for EU nationals, with regard to what they accept as evidence for proficiency in English.

Certain medical boards, for example, exempt the applicants from the need to pass language tests if they can prove that their curriculum was mostly covered in English, but do not extend the same option to most universities of India, Pakistan or Bangladesh.

This is despite the fact that the citizens of these countries – all ex-colonies of Britain – generally have a more intimate relation with the English language than German, French and Dutch people – who’ve never quite considered English the indispensable language of the “sahibs”.

Read on: Govt departments asked to gradually introduce Urdu as official language

Another frustrating aspect of this system is, that the evaluation of ‘Speaking’, ‘Writing’, ‘Listening’ and ‘Reading’ as areas almost independent of one another, and not integrated components constituting a language.

Countless candidates fail with respect to just one of these sections, as if it is routinely possible to find people who adequately read and write English, but cannot 'listen' to it. Scores often vary markedly from section to section.

In my case, the system has ascertained that if you verbally narrate my own blog to me, I’d be staring doltishly at your face, struggling to make sense of what you’re saying.

Although to the British Council’s credit, guys usually are bad listeners anyway.

Also, if the examiner’s consistency is assumed, the equivalent of what I’ve written here would fetch one a score of 7 out of 9 in the ‘Writing’ section, which is the minimum score most institutions demand. Anything less refined will not get you through. I find that disturbing, since a perfect score of 9 doesn’t actually win you a book deal and a nomination for the Man Booker award. All it means is that you’ve cleared IELTS by a safe margin.

For years, I’ve smugly discounted the struggles of candidates who take these examinations; considering them the kind of people who use mistranslated phrases like “water water with shame”, and blame the examiner for being too subjective in his grading.

But I stand corrected.

It’s hard. And it’s a sobering metaphor for what’s up ahead: the need to smash through a brick wall to get to a classroom or a job interview, for which the locals walk through a doorway.

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