English is NOT a measure of Intelligence

Simply put. It’s easy to misunderstand non-fluency for lesser intellectual ability. It’s a sad generalization that individuals who are proficient in their use of the English language often make about people who struggle with things like grammar and stringing together sound sentences. As a tutor it is important for me to realize this and take this into account when wrestling through language concepts with students who are not first language English speakers. It is important for me not to easily conclude that they are ‘lazy’ or ‘less capable’ students. As a caveat it is important to remember that some students are not diligent with their work, and that English is the language of commerce, industry and dominant popular culture, so there is much benefit in being able to handle English well. Like a well-handled weapon in the hand of a warrior, English proficiency can really help one get around in this world. However, a pitying, condescending or even mocking disposition towards those who are ‘not well spoken’ or who continually ‘break’ English in order to best express themselves is not warranted. And sadly, I am not immune to having such an attitude. One thing that helps keep me check is to ask myself this question: if I were tutoring a student in isiZulu, and the student was not a first language isiZulu speaker how differently would I view their clumsy use of tenses and grammar?                                 Who knows?…perhaps we would be more understanding.


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