Is it ethical to ask for a professor's proofreading help?
September 23, 2010 8:06 PM   Subscribe

I'm an undergraduate applying for a semester-long study-abroad program. I have to write my application essay both in English and in French. Would it be appropriate for me to ask one of my French professors to help me proofread the French version of my essay before submitting it?

The teacher I have in mind is a native French speaker. This is the first semester I've had her, and she's teaching Advanced Grammar and Style. I would like to ask her if we could spend 10-15 minutes in person going over the French version of my essay (~500 words) so she can help me proofread it; she could spot usage errors or make word choice suggestions that would never have crossed my mind. She wouldn't be writing the essay for me in any sense. My essay would already be fully written and polished when giving it to her. I would just like some help making it perfect and making sure it reads well to a native speaker.

However, as I have absolutely no experience in ever asking a teacher for help with anything, I'm not sure when I would be crossing the line into being unethical or "cheating" by asking for too much help or asking for help when instead I ought to do the assignment entirely on my own. Also, I worry the professor might not appreciate my using up her office hours to work on something not directly related to class, although it is her area of expertise.

Based on your experience, or in your opinion, is it OK to me to ask for help from a native speaker/professor in proofreading the French version of my essay? Or do you take application essays as something to be done entirely on one's own?

(For what it's worth, by the way, my application is almost guaranteed to be accepted as long as the quality of my French essay is at least passable -- so the teacher's help would not make or break my admission into the study abroad program.)
posted by datarose to Education (13 answers total)
Of course you should ask her! I'm sure she'd be happy to do it. You should have your English essay proofread (for content and for copy) as well. It's not cheating.
posted by emilyd22222 at 8:11 PM on September 23, 2010

Definitely ask her. But ask a trusted student-friend and a TA/Grad you like first.
posted by carsonb at 8:13 PM on September 23, 2010

I think very few, if any people in the world of education would find asking for help on something like an application to be cheating. You can take a class to learn to write a good resume, after all. Why wouldn't you be able to get help with this?
posted by iarerach at 8:13 PM on September 23, 2010

Ask, but frame it as an opportunity to develop your language skills as well. Good professors want to teach, and they love it when students want to learn. Framing it as a 'proofread' is asking them to be an editor, not a teacher.
posted by Paragon at 8:16 PM on September 23, 2010

I would suggest that *not* getting a native speaker to proofread anything you write in a non-native language would be a poor choice...
posted by ootandaboot at 8:23 PM on September 23, 2010

I stopped in to ask, 'would you have your English teacher take a look at your English essay? the correct answer is, 'yes!'

But I see that's been covered.

Yes, knowing where you can receive help, and asking for it, is one of the hallmarks of a good scholar.
posted by bilabial at 8:26 PM on September 23, 2010

Nothing wrong with that. However, if you submit the essay with perfect French grammar and can't perform at that level when you get in to the program, that might be bad.
posted by twblalock at 8:36 PM on September 23, 2010

Having a French teacher help you proofread a French essay is in no way different from having an English teacher help you proofread an English essay.

You should have no qualms over having people proofread your papers for homework assignments, scholarship essays, applications to grad school or conferences, etc. Such behavior is actually encouraged. As long as they are not doing the work for you, you're fine.
posted by joyeuxamelie at 8:49 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Other's have covered the "you should do this" angle. Let me comment on the "when should I do this"...

A couple of my friends have been TA's, and they all say the same thing to me: "No one ever comes to office hours." 95% of the time they just sit there and do their own homework, or surf the web, etc. In my 4.5 years in school I only ever went to the office hours for one course, and that was a course I was hopelessly lost in.

So go ahead and show up. If no one is there ask sheepishly if she'd mind going over your application essay with you. As long as it's a collaborative "let's review this together" effort I'll bet she'll readily agree.
posted by sbutler at 9:10 PM on September 23, 2010

I think it would be fine, too. You sound conscientious, and that's the key.

The one caveat would be the same as twblablock gives. But, in your particular case, given your conscientiousness, I think it's fine and would be a great learning experience for you. So I point out the following more for other students of foreign languages who might blur the boundaries: an English essay by a native English speaker and proofread by another native is not quite the same as an essay written in a foreign language and proofread by a native. It depends much more on the author's awareness of their language skills, as well as on the proofreader's uprightness. The essay should be an accurate representation of your capabilities, even if/when polished. Polishing an essay is fine, but it should still be recognizable as yours.

Examples: I was in a year-long direct exchange program (US students in France) where we all had our essays proofread — it's a neat way to learn if you approach it that way, which it sounds like you do. However, several students took it too far and chose French grad students at our US uni who were willing to blur the lines and rewrite parts. "Just a few sentences! It's to help out!" Hrm. There were three students in particular whose essays read too well, meaning that those of us who knew them, knew that their essays did not reflect their actual capabilities. But, they were accepted.

One of them ended up returning to the US, the other two got terrible grades... in English courses (yes, given in the French university). They could barely comprehend the second-year French lit courses they originally tried to take, and they were supposed to be third-year students. They ended up being a burden on the rest of us, since they constantly needed rescuing; they didn't know how to manage on their own. Maturity and self-reliance are key when you do overseas studies. Since you're a French student, I'll use the French expression: il faut savoir se débrouiller, et de façon correcte — c'est une véritable compétence à avoir. Your description of how you'd approach your teacher shows you have that skill!

You see the proofreading as an extra — you'll be fine. It's when it would be a crutch that it crosses the line.
posted by fraula at 1:22 AM on September 24, 2010

Sorry, correcting myself, I think "crutch" is the wrong metaphor... crossing the line like those 3 students did would be more like asking someone else to run part of a race for you. Crutches can be fine when you need them, after all — you're still doing the work of using them!
posted by fraula at 1:24 AM on September 24, 2010

of course you should ask for help! I don't suspect that teachers - of any kind - don't go into the field for the money.

Do it on her terms, at her convenience, but make it clear that you want to learn from this, not to have her merely correct your errors before turning it in.

Regardless that this may be considered part of her job, you might also offer a small token gift of appreciation (a box of candy? maybe some fancy macarons?) to acknowledge that she's done something special for you. (Mr. Rolison got a gold tie-tack with an R engraved on it, for a summer's worth of private lessons that helped me skip 2nd yr Spanish.)
posted by ChefJoAnna at 9:44 AM on September 24, 2010

Thank you all for your encouragement, insight, and suggestions!
posted by datarose at 7:22 PM on September 24, 2010

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