Science - March 16, 2006

Foreigners spell better than Brits

The British are worse at spelling and make more grammar mistakes in English than foreign students. And, according to research done by a lecturer in genetics at Imperial College London, this has been the case for years.

The British often don’t see the difference between ‘weather’ and ‘whether’, or ‘their’ and ‘there’. A ‘principle’ is often turned into a ‘principal’. Sometimes they write ‘it’s’ when they mean ‘its’. These are all mistakes that foreign students make less often, says Dr Bernard Lamb in the British press.

Each year Lamb chooses a couple of frequently made mistakes and calculates how often Britons make the mistake in comparison with their foreign counterparts. The latter are more careful.

So what happens when young British scientists have to use complex jargon? In the online newspaper Lamb is quoted: ‘They may be able to work out the correct answer to a scientific problem, but they frequently cannot state it accurately.. The top student in my department last year was a Greek woman. Native English students can of course do very well but it is getting rarer for them to beat the foreign competition, as shown by the very large number of overseas prize-winners at degree day.’ / HOP /SvO

Join discussion at