What is an ESL proofreader? Have you ever taught English as a Second Language? If you have, you may have been asked by a student or a colleague to proofread some of their English writing. If you agreed to help, I’m sure you noticed that grammar mistakes, spelling errors, and awkward writing styles stand out far greater than the errors those students make while speaking. In writing, we can ‘see’ everything that is off-key, if that makes sense. Coupled with the fact that the student’s proficiency in English is typically far less than a native speaker’s, an ESL student’s composition is typically quite easy for an ESL teacher to proofread and edit. When you return the proofread literature, the student is almost always very happy. More importantly, though, assuming they review your corrections and stylistic changes, they learn a lot about composition. If you can relate to any of this as a proofreader, read on! It gets better, and more challenging.
Please let me draw your attention to the pic above, decorating this newsletter. It’s not a pic that I found randomly through a search engine. Hiroshi Nakano, a pulmonologist at Kyushu University, Japan, was my English student and over time my became my close friend. Although his name appears second in this article that Pub Med eventually went on to publish, he was the sole author, and it was me that he came to in 2001 to help him get it published. I was honored and more than a little nervous- I had never edited a medical research paper before. Despite a lack of knowledge of medical nomenclature, I could use my knowledge of grammatical structure to proofread the paper, and it was easier than I thought it would be (unlike translating, you usually don’t usually have to understand specialized vocabulary to edit research papers). The paper was published within the year, and though I forget the original journal’s name, it eventually rose up as you can see to Pub Med.
Sometimes in your life, you meet someone professionally who nevertheless becomes a force that has a profound and subjective effect on how you see the world and your role in it. Dr. Nakano was a passionate physician and researcher who used everything at his disposal to treat his patients. Some of his patients had even died of heart disorders caused by sleep apnea that could have been prevented by simple monitoring. Instead of trying to get his patients to come to the hospital every week for sleep studies, which was proving impractical and ineffectual, Dr. Nakano configured Windows laptops into medical devices and distributed one to each patient’s home to monitor his patients’ sleeping patterns while in the comfort of their own bed. This proved to be both inexpensive and effective. He caught problems in a timely manner this way, and he saved lives. Within a couple of years, his success had caught on, and he was asked to give an international presentation in Vienna. While I didn’t go to Vienna, I did coach him for the presentation and we worked on notes and slides together.
The next two doctors I worked with were more challenging. The first was Dr. Fujita in Fukuoka, Japan, a specialist in congenital heart disease in small children. Survival rates were not high and it was sometimes tough reading through and proofreading those tragic cases. I knew the work that he was doing was extremely important, and I put my very best effort into it. One of his articles that I proofread was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. That gave me hope that his work was being taken seriously by top practitioners in medicine around the world and that in time he would develop the techniques to save more children’s lives. The last doctor I worked with in a significant way was Dr. Hijikata, also from Fukuoka. His specialty was in microbiology and oncology. I proofread for him, and also helped him prepare slides and notes for an international conference. Most of his patients were suffering from cancer, and he was a pioneer in immunotherapy in Japan, a treatment that was unknown to me at the time and a great surprise. Working through his articles, like Dr. Fujita’s, was not easy as the mortality rate was high. I came away from those two experiences with a profound appreciation of doctors and just how strong they are. I have been proofreading mostly continuously ever since, though around 2010 my emphasis had shifted from medical articles to research studies on consumption, sustainable energy, and the environment. Moving back to the United States has also made finding clients more difficult.
I realize that this reads more like a personal work history than a newsletter. However, my motives are to show that proofreading and editing brought me into a world that has been very meaningful for me, and I almost regret admitting that I have found editing to be far more rewarding than teaching. Teaching of course is a noble profession as well. So much did proofreading and editing draw me into the medical and technological progress that is happening now that I decided at age 58 to go back to school and pursue an M.Sc. in Environmental Science. Although I already have a B.A. in Political Science from 1987, I’m now getting a B.Sc. in order to get the prerequisites I need for my master’s degree. Sometimes we care about the world and want to be an agent of change from the very beginning of our education. As an ESL teacher in Japan, however, I honestly didn’t really know what I wanted to do until I began proofreading and saw how it was changing me and my values. Research proofreaders also contribute to research. In all that you do, if you can contribute, you’re guaranteed to not only help others but to be a happier person. But it’s not something that’s forced, it’s a breadcrumb trail that slowly leads you there. Good luck to our proofreaders!