The proof is in the...

I've always enjoyed proofreading. I know that is possibly the geekiest thing in the world to say, but I suppose it's how mathematicians feel: they like having a problem, and finding a way to solve it. Sometimes it can cause controversy, or sometimes it involves looking up different rules or following a different school of thought, but in the end, it needs to be resolved. And there's nothing more enjoyable than finding a sentence that doesn't read quite right, or has peculiar punctuation, and working out how best to get it to flow.

But I've been enjoyed a particular proofreading task of late. I've been introduced to a woman who is currently studying social work in Liverpool. English is not her native language - though she's not far off, in terms of fluency - and she's found that her essay marks haven't been as good as they could be as she's finding it difficult to be fully understood. I've been proofreading her work - essays, literature reviews, dissertation - and it's been absolutely fascinating, not just because of the subject matter  but also because of the ways in which she constructs her sentences. The vast majority of the time, her written language makes perfect sense; it's just that she spins her sentences the 'long way round', so my job is probably more in the editing field, actually. The thing I've got to be really careful with, though, is not to change any sentiment or to second guess - after all, this is her work, and she has the work experience and the theoretical knowledge.

What I'm finding difficult is explaining why something isn't quite right - it's never wrong; it's just it could be slightly better, concise, more fluid. Like many of my generation, I wasn't taught the construction of a sentence (which is probably a good thing, as I can't imagine anything more boring!) and although I know what a verb, noun and adjective is, that's about it. Instead, I think I've just picked up my knowledge from reading widely and from a young age, and then the proofreading course I took a few years ago just compounded and extended my knowledge (I didn't know publisher proofing marks, for example). I guess with any language learning, though, you just pick it up as you go along: as you use it, abuse it, and get corrected. Anyway, she's doing fantastically well - how she can discuss the complex theory she does in another language (and another alphabet!) is absolutely mind-blowingly amazing.