Is this woman too posh for Australia?

 

Could this English-born solicitor be too posh for Australia?

A computer relied on by the Australian government to judge the fluency of visa applicants seems to think so.

English-born solicitor Fiona Trime scored poorly on a permanent residency language test. Picture: Tim Hunter
English-born solicitor Fiona Trime scored poorly on a permanent residency language test. Picture: Tim Hunter

Essex-born and Sydney-based solicitor Fiona Trime, 29, was shocked when the computer program relied on by the Australian government to judge the language skills of visa applicants marked her down.

She speaks flawless and educated English, but artificial intelligence marked her speech as merely "competent" - well below the "proficient" or "superior" grade.

The poor result could mean the difference between being allowed to live and work in Australia or being sent home, because only the top applicants are invited to apply for a permanent visa based on factors including their age, education and how well they speak English.

Ms Trime was born and raised in England. She studied at the London School of Economics before moving to Australia in 2016 and completing a Juris Doctor degree at Macquarie University.

Yet when tested on her ability to repeat basic sentences such as: "You can get taxis outside the station" or to describe simple images such a family reading a picture book, Ms Trime only scored 64 per cent.

"I am from England and have spoken English all my life, so I should be the perfect candidate to pass with flying colours," she said.

"If the computer cannot understand me … what chance do others have?"

Being fluent in English is not enough to score well. Picture: iStock
Being fluent in English is not enough to score well. Picture: iStock

Native English speakers are increasingly turning to private tutors for help passing an examination of their first language.

Experts in the tests, run by global education giants Pearson and International English Language Testing System (IELTS), claim being fluent in English is not enough to score highly.

"You're marked against native speakers, so speaking fast and in a colloquial style is useful," Sydney PTE Academy teacher Maxim Adams said. "If you're too stilted and overenunciate it can diminish your mark."

Asked how someone from England could score poorly on an English language test, computer-based examiner Pearson said it could be down to nerves.

"There are many factors that can affect a person's test score, whether their first language is English or not - these can include tiredness, nerves, lack of preparation, lack of familiarity with the test set-up and surroundings, for instance," a Pearson spokeswoman said.

The Department of Home Affairs encouraged visa applicants to shop around between its five accepted testing firms.

"Test takers … are encouraged to research their options and choose the most appropriate test for their circumstances," a departmental spokesman said.

Pearson PTE English test sample questions)

1. Repeat the sentence: You can get taxis outside the station.

2. Retell audio story in your own words: John was working very hard last week and on Friday he started feeling ill. In the evening he walked to the pharmacy to buy some medicine but when he arrived it was closed.

3. Listen and answer: Marie is in a book club with some work colleagues that meets on Saturday mornings. Every week the members of the club read a new work of fiction, then on Saturdays they meet to discuss it. Marie has missed the last three book club meetings because she has been on vacation.

Question: Who attends the book club with Marie? Answer: Her colleagues.


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