The occasional ramblings of a freelance lexicographer

Friday, July 25, 2008

Unexpected reviews

Earlier this week, I received a copy of the new Chinese edition of one of my books. Quite an exciting event, which prompted me to see if I could find it anywhere on Amazon. I didn't find it - but then it is new and Amazon.cn was a bit challenging! - but I did come across something else.

As a fairly frequent Amazon user, I quite often look at the reader reviews of books I'm browsing, but it had never occurred to me that other people might bother to post reviews of my little books! Whilst surfing through the different Amazon sites, I was a bit taken aback to find several reader reviews of the two books. Thankfully, most were positive little comments about it being useful. There were two longer ones, one in Japanese and one in German which I couldn't figure out, but which gave the books four and five stars respectively, which I took as positive. Then I found a rather critical review on Amazon.com. You hear actors and novelists talking about dealing with critics and reviews and I'd never expected to find myself in a similar situation. As I read the review, I felt a mixture of disappointment and a swell of defensiveness coming on! The reviewer actually turned out to be more critical of the exam the book is based on rather than the book itself. To fill in briefly, the Common Mistakes books are based on an analysis of exam scripts by learners taking various different exams and the most common errors they make in their writing. This particular title is for the IELTS exam (a fairly high-level exam, largely aimed at university entrance) and the reviewer was critical of the fact that many of the errors highlighted are in "simple" language areas, which she felt candidates at this level shouldn't be making. Which seems a reasonable point, until you notice that the review itself contains several of those self-same "simple" errors!!

I couldn't help but find myself mentally composing a rather smug rebuttal about how advanced learners don't just need to focus on the "difficult" stuff, but need to work on tidying up the basics if they're going to become really proficient. So if my Italian reviewer should happen to stumble upon this, I'd like to point out that the reason why students who make these mistakes can still get a band 7 score is that their writing is actually pretty good and they have grasped the more advanced aspects of language, but that doesn't mean that they don't still make those silly little errors.

Do those silly little errors actually matter though? Well, perhaps that's a discussion for another time ...