Every Word Must Tell

Universidade Federal do Espírito Santo, Brazil Languages Center

I used to be all over a student’s piece of writing when it came to editing, correcting and simulating marks for proficiency tests scoring purposes. For about 15 years I have been working with English proficiency tests preparatory courses at a languages center at Universidade Federal do Espírito Santo – UFES – Brazil. As a non-native English teacher, I have always carried magnifying glasses so as to spot general errors, subject-verb agreement, misplaced commas and/or slips of the like.

Not much long ago, I realized that marking a piece of writing that is “unclear” to me involves more than just narrowing my feedback down to linguistic non-conformity. As my students and I share the same language background, my main challenge has always been twofold: keeping an eye on grammar rules and principles of composition in English, and cutting down to size the huge tangle of Portuguese ornate rhetoric that students almost automatically transfer onto their pieces. Yes, Portuguese prose tend to be long. And awareness raising is now included in my feedback. ‘It’s a tough world out there, folks, with test examiners scrutinizing your long and winding pieces,’ I keep telling them.


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