Posted on August 15, 2013

Proofreading Tips for Non-Natives

All the top MBA programs encourage international applicants because they bring diversity into the classroom. The biggest challenge all Indian applicants (especially Male/IT) encounter in their journey to their coveted B-schools in the US is that they belong to the most competitive applicant pool. Another challenge which is much less daunting than the challenge of demographics, but easily manageable, is the use of a few terms that most US Ad Com is not familiar with.

There is no denying the fact that English is an international language used as a means of communication by people all around the world.  However, it is also true that English spoken by people in India and the UK is different from that of American English in terms of spelling, grammar, usage, and of course, accent. Therefore, it is critical that after finalizing application essays for the US B-Schools in the areas of content, organization, and sentence structure, the non-native applicants should identify words/ phrases that American English speakers are not familiar with and replace them by their American English equivalents.

To begin with, B-schools often require their applicants to write ‘life experience’ and ‘background’ essays for which they need to recall their childhood/teenage experiences. Having done their schooling and under graduation in India (just like I did), they obviously use the terms popularly used in the Indian education system. For example, in India, we use the term ‘higher secondary’ for 11th grade, ‘senior secondary, or ‘intermediate’ for 12th grade and ‘middle school’ for 6th-8th grades. In America, however, 9th- 12th-grade schools are called ‘high schools’, and ‘middle schools’ are called ‘junior high schools’.  Therefore, instead of saying ‘I passed or passed out intermediate’, you should say ‘I graduated high school’; instead of saying ‘I went to a primary school’, you should say ‘I went to an elementary school’. Some other words that you may want to replace by American- friendly terms are ‘10th or 12th standard’ by ‘10th or 12th grade’, ‘hostel room’ by ‘dorm’, ‘classmate’ by ‘batchmate’, ‘fresher’ by ‘freshman’, and ‘topper’ by ‘number 1 student’ or ‘honor student’. Please note that in India, students ‘pass out’ college or university, but in America, students ‘graduate’ school or college and interestingly ‘passing out’ in American English means ‘fainting’ or ‘losing consciousness’ or ‘distributing something by hand’.

Let’s take a look at some other terms used in American Education system that you may want to know when sharing your background or life experience/ stories for American B-Schools. For example, in American schools, they have ‘lunch’ break as opposed to ‘recess’ in India. American students ‘turn in’ their papers while Indian students ‘submit’ them; they ‘check-in’ and ‘check out’ the books from the library, while their Indian counterparts ‘issue’ and ‘return’ them. Again, American students are marked ‘tardy’ when they ‘show up’ late to the class, while Indian students are marked ‘late’ when they ‘turn up’ late to the class. The teachers in American schools and colleges ‘grade’ student papers, while their Indian counterparts ‘check’ them, and at the end of the term, teachers in the US pass out ‘score sheets’ while Indian teachers announce ‘results’. Indian students opt for different ‘subjects’ in their undergraduate, while their American counterparts opt for different ‘courses’. Lastly, and most importantly, Indian students ‘write’ or ‘give’ the GMAT, while American students ‘take the GMAT.’

Another common usage that I have come across in a majority of essays is the use of the phrase ‘bring up’ in place of ‘raise’. For example, ‘I was born and brought up in XYZ town in India’.  Please note that ‘brought-up’ is British English usage, and its American equivalent is ‘raise’.  Hence you may want to say ‘I was born and raised in an XYZ town in India’ to make yourself more comprehensible to the US Ad Com.  It is interesting to note that in American English, the phrase ‘to bring up’ means ‘to mention’, whereas in British English (and by default in Indian English, too) it means ‘to raise’ the kids.  Furthermore, if your story requires you to say that you ‘shifted’ to a new house or apartment, replace ‘shifted’ by ‘moved’. Also, if you need to write plural of ‘person’ write ‘people’ instead of ‘persons’. Moreover, while discussing your professional history, replace the word ‘fresher’ by ‘new hire’. Instead of saying ‘I was a fresher at XXX company’, you may want to say, ‘I was a new hire at the XXX company.’ Also, I will encourage you to replace ‘I was recruited by the XXX company,’ by ‘I was hired by XXX company’.

Furthermore, some verbs have a different past and past participle form in British and American English. Verbs such as learn, burn, dream, smell, spell, lean, spoil end in’ or ‘ed’ in their past and past participle forms (learned, burned, dreamed, smelled, spelled , etc.) in American English, whereas the past and past participle forms of these verbs in British English is learned, dreamt, burnt, etc.; therefore, we Indians are accustomed to ending these verbs with a  ’t’.  Since most essay prompts expect the applicants to discuss the lessons they learned from their professional or personal experiences, the most common verb form that I have replaced by its American English usage in student essays is ‘learn’.

Another key point that I would like to bring to your notice is the use of articles ‘a’ ‘an’ and ‘the’, and also the use of punctuation marks: semicolon, comma, period, etc. I am sure you do not want to come across as a person who did not proofread his/her essays well before submitting the application, so make sure to place your articles and punctuation marks where they belong. Please note that in the following example from a student essay the article ‘the’ is missing before ‘first’ and ‘test’:

I aligned my team and generated X first two test files from X test server’,

Thus, I will encourage non-native applicants to be mindful of words and phrases that are common in their native translation of English. I hope that the above-mentioned tiny tips will assist them in making their essays more free-flowing, comprehensible, and Ad Com friendly.

Note: For more details on the differences between American English and British English, refer to my article ‘American English vs. British English.’

Since 2011, MER (myEssayReview) has helped many applicants get accepted into the top 20 MBA programs. (Poonam is one of the top 5 most reviewed consultants on the GMAT Club.)

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