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Hi,
maybe this should go in the ESL Tests Section, but since it's a pretty complex topic, I'll post it here in the linguistic section.

Does anyone know if dialectal variations are taken into account in/on the major ESL tests, such as CPE, IELTS, TOEFL?

The question above is itself an example of the issue I'm asking about. The choice between "in" and "on" seems to depend on dialectal factors ("on" is supposed to be used in AmE, "in" in BrE, although it might be impossible to find out to what extent this is actually true). Let's call this a collocation problem. Then there are some grammar problems (I just got sick, I've just gotten sick, I've just got sick, etc.), potential or actual vocabulary problems (nappy/diaper, cell/mobile), and then there might be pronunciation problems but I don't plan to consider them here. Oh, let's not forget spelling, by the way.

The more advanced your English level becomes, the more variations you come across, especially in informal and specific vocabulary.

That said, I suppose advanced learners of English come into contact with every kind of English on a daily basis, either because they have to, or because it would be stupid and impossible to always neglect a major variety completely. Some learners might not even feel the need to stick to one variety they have chosen, or might not be willing to accept the limitations of such choice, or might not think it's worth it or convenient.
Now, for these learners, the subway and the underground are likely to be synonyms for "that train that runs down there", and so might be cookies and biscuits, and cell phone and mobile phone, and license plate, licence plate, number plate... they're all synonyms for "that plate that's on your car". Are you starting to figure out the problem now? Ok, so this learner goes to/and take a test like the TOEFL, or CPE, or any other important test like those, and let's suppose he (or she) writes:

I own two cell phones. I bought the first when... [...] I still remember that time I lost my mobile while I was on vacation in Greece. I must have lost it on the subway. [...] But I didn't enjoy my summer holidays last year, although I was on holiday for more than a month. [...] I studied a lot because I wanted to get good marks on my final exams ... unfortunately my mum had to spend a week in hospital, and so I had to take care of my little brother. I even learned to change diapers! [...] On second thoughts, I'm not really sure I've seen that film at the movie theatre. (also note the spelling)

There you go.

How are such personal and dialectal variations dealt with in/on the major ESL tests?
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Comments  
Kooyeen, since you have got no replies, I'll give you one even though I know absolutely nothing about the kind of tests you mention in your post.

What is acceptable varies from person to person and therefore there can be no guidelines or standards that are always applicable. I'll give you an example. When I was a student of English Philology at Helsinki University in my younger days, I had to take several tests given by both Finnish professors of English and native lecturers. All of them were undoubtedly marvellously qualified and had long careers behind them.

I was once given a translation assignment as homework by a native lecturer. I and the other students in the group had to translate about 10 long sentences from Finnish into English. I handed in my effort and the lecturer graded it Good Plus. The scale was: Fail, Pass, Good Minus, Good, Good Plus, Very Good and Excellent.

A few days later this lecturer was compelled to change the timetable of his classes due to reasons beyond his control and I had to go to another group, and I got another teacher as well. This new teacher, also a native university graduate who had majored in English in Britain, just happened to give her students exactly the same homework I had already done for my previous teacher. I handed in the version corrected by my previous teacher.

You might think a native speaker's English, which is what the version was, was graded Excellent - if not Phenomenal! No such luck! My new native teacher thought my previous native teacher's English was just Good, a worse grade than I had got for my own effort from my previous teacher.Emotion: smile

That made me think. We all are "prisoners" of our linguistic environment and what has been taught to us. Many of us feel an inexplicable compulsion to hold quite narrow-minded views about correctness and we trust our ears to the exclusion of anything that we find unusual. I have been told quite a few times: "A native speaker would never say that!" What I have done is dig up countless examples by distinguished writers of a grammatical structure that "a native speaker would never use." We are all fallible, natives and nonnatives. (Many natives prefer non-natives.) And correctness is relative.

My reply may not help you a great deal. I hope you'll get answers from people who know about the tests you are interested in.

CB
Thanks for the answer CB!
Cool BreezeWhat is acceptable varies from person to person and therefore there can be no guidelines or standards that are always applicable.
You are right. There are lots of regional variations that people never take into account, so when somebody says "in the US/UK this word is not used" it's hard to believe them.
The problem is that I'm afraid in/on those tests you might be required to be consistent in the way you use English, that is, you might have to avoid mixing up typically British expressions or spellings with typically American alternatives. What a pain. Why can't I pretend that in "my dialect" cell phone and mobile are synonyms, and that when I'm (the) hospital I can drop the article if I feel like it? Emotion: stick out tongue
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KooyeenThe problem is that I'm afraid in/on those tests you might be required to be consistent in the way you use English, that is, you might have to avoid mixing up typically British expressions or spellings with typically American alternatives.
Requiring that stands to reason. Yet some native speakers aren't particularly consistent in their usage themselves. A British friend of mine begins his e-mails to me with Hi even though Hello would be more British. He usually says apartment rather than flat. Yet he pronounces schedule in the British way and spells programme in the British way.

I have heard some Americans use shop instead of store for a place where they do their shopping.

CB
This is tricky.

Whilst it is true that some Americans may use Anglicisms and some British Americanisms, British and American English are still two different things even if (at least with regard to the standard varieties, which is what non-natives will learn) they are not that different. When the student reaches a certain level of proficiency he may be introduced to whichever variety it is that he has not studied, but I think there needs to be consistency. The goal of language teaching must be for the students to speak and write a standard language like a well-educated native speaks and writes the standard language and the fact is that no native would produce a text like your example. It should therefore be corrected to reflect whichever variety it is that is being taught.
ForbesThe goal of language teaching must be for the students to speak and write a standard language like a well-educated native speaks and writes the standard language and the fact is that no native would produce a text like your example. It should therefore be corrected to reflect whichever variety it is that is being taught.
But the problem here is more complex. I agree that consistency is important, but why should a student learn one variety rather than another? Why should I learn to speak like a Londoner if I'm not from London and I'm not planning to move there either? Why should a teacher teach American English if most of the students are not even likely to go to the US soon, or maybe some students are actually more likely to go to the UK? And also, although there might not be a sensible reason for choosing one variety instead of another, every advanced student is expected to going to have to deal with all the major varieties on a daily basis: General American English (most common), RP-like varieties (also very common), and other varieties like Southern American, Scottish, Australian, African American, etc. which are common in news, interviews, on the radio, in movies, etc.

The only solution to this problem seems to be an "international" kind of English, which is understandable and somehow compatible with many common varieties. That might sound like a native variety even if it doesn't exist, but unfortunately such an "international" variety would probably have a lot of "free variation", like cell phone and mobile, or gas, gasoline and petrol being synonyms, I just did it and I've just done it used interchangeably, you could call someone at/on 1-800 12345, and so on.
This approach seems to make sense for many learners, because it would be a kind of comprehensive variety that could easily be adjusted according to the situation, if necessary. I just don't know how such a variety would be judged by an examiner if you had to use it in/on an English exam.
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ForbesIt should therefore be corrected to reflect whichever variety it is that is being taught.
The point is that no particular variety may be preferred. A Finn would find it extremely strange that a teacher should teach only British or American English. Why would any teacher restrict teaching that way? It just doesn't stand to reason. On the nationwide Matriculation Examination English Listening and Reading Comprehension Tests British English, American English, Indian English, Australian English and even Finnish English has been heard. Why should any teacher be foolish enough to exclude any variety from his/her teaching? Even if such a teacher existed, excluding a major variety would be very difficult because all varieties are used in text books and on the audio tapes used for preparing for the exams.

Besides, even though our teachers of foreign languages undoubtedly have a better command of the languages they teach than the world average for foreign language teachers, in my opinion very few of them can be said to equal a native speaker of any variety of the languages they teach.

Also, Finns won't be limited to just one variety of English after they leave school. As they travel, they'll meet people from all over the world. As they enter universities, they'll be required to take tests based on books written in English by people from all over the world. I had to take exams based on about 150 books - nearly all of them in foreign languages - for a Master's at Helsinki University. No one in Finland benefits from intentionally narrowing their language studies in any way. On the contrary, we are open to all varieties of everything!

I completely understand that a native speaker is proud of his/her variety of a language but it is futile to try to impose that on nonnative learners. Hmm... My wording isn't very good. What I mean is they should have a broad enough mind to understand that people who weren't born in their country may not want to limit their knowledge of the language to just one variety. Moreover, they may not want to limit it to today's English. Loads of good books were written a long time ago. Why should anyone exclude them intentionally from his reading experience? The language may have gone out of style but the book may still give its reader a thrill!

One of the best books I have read is Crime and Punishment. I can't read Russian, so I had to read it in Finnish. Not very modern Finnish.

CB
The point I am trying to make is that Standard American and Standard British English are two different (if only slightly different) things and whilst a student may at some stage (and I am inclined to think it should be later rather than earlier) be introduced to whichever variety it is that he did not start out learning, I think it is important that he should not produce a hybrid that is neither one nor the other.

To take an obvious example. The phrase "vest and pants" means something rather different in London to what it means in New York. If one knows where the speaker comes from one knows what he means. However, if you are going to use "vest" to mean "undershirt" and "pants" to mean "trousers" you are going to cause confusion.

I do not think that you can start bringing non-standard dialects into as, quite apart from the fact that there are so many, it will confuse the picture even more. The plain fact is that when you learn a foreign language you learn the standard variety. Indeed a standard may almost be defined as the variety taught to foreigners. When it comes to English there are essentially two standards on offer - American and British. I cannot help feeling that if a student travels to an area where "a usually loose-fitting outer garment for the lower part of the body, having individual leg portions" is referred to neither as "trousers" nor "pants" but "kecks", it is something that the student is going to have to find out for himself.
ForbesThe point I am trying to make is that Standard American and Standard British English are two different (if only slightly different) things and whilst a student may at some stage (and I am inclined to think it should be later rather than earlier) be introduced to whichever variety it is that he did not start out learning, I think it is important that he should not produce a hybrid that is neither one nor the other.
I understand your concern, Forbes. The point is that in Finland students start out with neither variety. It takes a few years to learn the basics, which are fairly similar in both varieties. Some teachers may prefer to use British English, others may prefer American English. Students at schools don't really become proficient enough to equal a native speaker and are happy to learn at least some of the differences between British and American English.

English is just one of many subjects taught in our schools and many students have a hard enough time trying to learn the basics of English. English is needed for university studies as most of the books a student will have to read will be in English. I understand that you consider it important that "a student doesn't produce a hybrid that is neither one nor the other." We don't really care very much about that. We don't consider it important and we can't arrange it for our students to concentrate on just one variety. It's impossible here - for reasons I have explained earlier.

CB
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