Wednesday, April 30, 2014 - 09:47
College freshmen are poor spellers, bad writers
First-year students write poorly. University students make an average of 81 mistakes per A4 page, secondary education students half of that. These figures come from promotional research done by Anouk van Eerden of the Hanzehogeschool University and Mik van Es of the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen. The collected data gives credence to previous research into the language skills of students and for the first time allow insight into the scope of the problem. It seems that first-year students are not able to pass the primary school level. The researchers aimed at base solecisms that affect the comprehensibility of a text. They tried to make several language errors measurable by asking students from Groningen to write a simple text. These texts were then controlled for mistakes by four experts. Mistakes were only counted if two or more evaluators recognized them. The most usual mistakes are wrong or superfluous words. Almost 60 percent of all the mistakes are wrong word choice, incorrect punctuation, and strange sentence construction. Researcher and College professor Anouk van Eerden finds the number of mistakes "disconcerting", especially when students are doing a course that involves language. The sample size, 30 students, does not take away from the conclusion, she says. "The amount of mistakes can be ten times higher or lower, but remains much too high." The researchers say that the situation can be fixed, despite the students having become accustomed to their writing style after thirteen years of education. They have developed the online program TAVAN which makes students re-write incorrect texts. This exercise seemed to improve students' language skills after 20 hours of practice. The control group, which practiced with a different method, did not show improvement. Van Eerden is confident in the program, as it confronts students with the mistakes they are used to making. She is not very interested in the mistakes per se, "but I want students to be able to write clear texts", she says.