About ten years ago an overseas student from South Korea who was about to fail a unit I was teaching left a suicide note under my office door. She described herself as a “loser” who – in contrast to other overseas students – hadn’t got enough English to cope with her course. She wrote how “guilty” she felt that her English wasn’t better and how her she had “betrayed” her parents with her poor English, as well as other people who cared for her, including myself as “a nice lecturer.” While it had never occured to me to consider any of my students’ English in terms of “betrayal,” I was deeply shocked and tried to help in whatever small way I could. I know that she survived this particular bout of depression, but I don’t know what has become of her since as she withdrew from university shortly after and left Australia. I found the experience harrowing and I’ve often thought of her over the years. Her English had, in fact, met the university’s admission standards and so it was not her factual proficiency level in English that was her problem but her belief that her English was not good enough coupled with unrealistically high expectations as to what her English should be like. I hope that she has been able to rid herself of her obsession and found happiness in some non-English-related walk of life.
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- 200401 applied linguistics and educational linguistics
- 200405 language in culture and society (sociolinguistics)