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I am working as a part-time grader. Some students hand in their assignments handwritten. Here is the problem.

As an ESL1 speaker, I was never exposed to cursive handwriting. Not only I can't write in cursive but it also takes me forever to read.

Considering that they are other graders for this course, do you think it would be okay if I tell the teacher my problem, and ask her to assign these specific assignments to someone else?

Should I be embarrassed (which I kind of feel)?

P.S. Just to provide more context: Most of the assignments are typed.

1 English as a Second Language

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  • Are you sure it's not just a problem of students having horrible cursive handwriting? Have you shown those papers to native English speakers to ask them what they think? – Stephan Branczyk Mar 17 at 3:40
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The fact that you can't read cursive is going to be hard to hide so you might as well just be up front about it and get the discomfort out of the way. If you disclose it yourself then that gives you more control of the narrative than if they find out.

As for whether or not you should be embarrassed... some schools (in the United States) don't even teach cursive anymore. So even if you weren't an ESL speaker there's still a good chance you wouldn't know it! So I'd say no, don't feel embarrassed!

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  • I think its probably more common than some schools at this point. From what I have seen in Australia, no (or at least none I have seen) teach cursive anymore. – Qwertie Mar 11 at 6:07
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do you think it would be okay if I tell the teacher my problem, and ask her to assign these specific assignments to someone else?

Whenever you are unable to perform (or have extreme difficulty with) any regular work assignments, you must tell your boss. Preferably this happens before you get a job offer, but it's never too late.

Should I be embarrassed (which I kinda feel)?

There's nothing to be embarrassed about here. We all have different abilities.

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    This is interesting because in most other fields of work this is a non-issue. I haven't imagined being required to know cursive. But, just like any job, there are requirements whether we realize it or not and this answer responds to that appropriately. +1 – Nathan Goings Mar 8 at 6:54
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    And in my field of work, if I am assigned a task where I think the boss may not be aware of some difficulty in completing the work, I absolutely for sure tell them about it. It could be a missing skill, some equipment I don't have, something particular with the setup etc. It takes a few minutes to communicate it, and has the potential to save loads of time. – Gregory Currie Mar 8 at 10:19
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    @NathanGoings , again, that's heavily culture-dependent. Like many commenters said already, in europe the default is that everyone knows cursive. Most people in my country write in a mixture of cursive and machine-type. (Except for doctors. Doctors write in what can only be described as alien script...) – ANeves thinks SE is evil Mar 8 at 13:39
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    Maybe "embarrassed" is a bit misleading. But if someone said "I cannot type on a keyboard" I would say it is something which everyone assumes you can do, even if it is not listed explicitly in every job description. - Not being able to read handwritten text in a country where handwriting is common is something highly uncommon and thus something which need to be communicated upfront (akin to being dyslexic). – Falco Mar 9 at 9:21
  • @NathanGoings, how about pharmacists who read prescriptions? :) I write in cursive only, I write on Android phone two times faster with a little stylus than I type on it (never learned thumb-typing), but I have. no. idea. how do they manage to read that... – kkm Mar 9 at 10:43
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"Not only I can't write in cursive but it also takes me forever to read one"

I would phrase it as you can read regular writing much faster than cursive, and ask if someone else can do the cursive ones. There's a big difference between not knowing how to read and being slow at it.

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    But it's also possible they aren't alone in being hampered by bad handwriting, everyone hates grading those papers, and they are intentionally being fairly distributed among graders so no one has to do too many. – Nobody Mar 8 at 11:37
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    I'd be curious what age / class type this was ... my handwriting was bad enough that 25 years ago I was typing everything I could and some of my high school classes required typed submissions (I have no idea whether there was any options for people who didn't have access to a computer or typewrite, e.g. use a school library computer)... would it be reasonable to require typed or legible block script (non-cursive) for submissions since as @nobody pointed out, you're probably not the only person who would prefer not to deal with cursive – Foon Mar 8 at 18:05
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    (For some of my computer science courses we did have to write vs type in person exams, and frankly, the concept of using cursive for a computer program just feels wrong) – Foon Mar 8 at 18:07
  • @Foon Yeah, my written stuff in Comp Sci classes tended to be an odd mix of cursive and print. I tended to print anything code-related, even if I were using keywords, variable names, etc. in written sentences, but I mostly tended to write other stuff in cursive. Most of my submissions in high school were probably handwritten (~20 years ago,) but some, especially longer papers, were required to be typed. But we also frequently had essay tests and those were always handwritten. In college (Comp Sci,) quizzes, exams, and notes were generally handwritten, everything else typed. – reirab Mar 9 at 5:42
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    @Kvothe European here, regular pretty clearly means printed here, and block letters (i.e. look similar to printed, but hand written) are widely popular for hand-writing. – Nobody Mar 10 at 19:58
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Like others pointed out, in some countries most schools don't teach cursive at all. But also the style of cursive that is taught varies considerably, I remember having a very hard time trying to decipher French cursive even though I could read and write the Turkish one fluently. So there is nothing to be embarrassed about.

I think you should tell your boss that you're having a difficult time. But you should also consider it an opportunity to acquire a new skill that is useful at what you do. Even if it is hard and time consuming in the beginning, adapting to a new writing style isn't all that difficult. You should be able to read fluently within months, if not weeks.

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    Just a month ago I was reviewing my cursive and decided I didn't like the capital Q, G and T the way I was taught...so I just changed them to another version. – DKNguyen Mar 9 at 19:14
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    I can add a similar point of difficulty: as a German who can read most variants of cursive that have been taught in German schools after WWII, I had lots of trouble with the cursive written by Polish people (the message itself was in English): even though the ideal shape of the cursive letters are very similar, the strokes taught are different and that leads to letters e.g. opening at unexpected points in everyday writing and thus looking very unfamiliar (IIRC, where "German" o and a tend to open at 2 o'clock, the Polish ones opened at 10 o'clock). – cbeleites unhappy with SX Mar 10 at 13:48
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If you truly cannot do the work, of course you must tell the professor.

However, if you can do the work but it simply is harder (and takes longer) than you wish, then allow me to suggest another alternative.

Learn to read cursive fluently.

By doing so, you will cure this immediate problem and will have gained a potentially valuable (indeed, potentially lifesaving) skill for the future. A worker who can handle anything is intrinsically more desirable than one who can do only a portion of the work.

Perhaps more importantly, handwritten work often is a marker of reduced socioeconomic position, and it is socially responsible to be able to treat such students equitably compared with those who can afford computers and printers (and tutors and proofreaders). Homeless students, for example, may be unfairly disadvantaged scholastically, receiving lower scores for the same quality of work simply because it's more trouble to deal with handwritten work. This is a real thing, and you can help to make it better.

Fortunately, mastering this type of reading skill is not difficult and does not take vary long. Neuroplasticity is a wonderful thing: adult humans can grow new neuronal connections permitting them to recognize a new encoding of an alphabet (e.g., Morse code, mirror-writing, or cursive characters) in just a week of serious effort.

Speed and fluency can be achieved with about 6 weeks of regular practice.

You already have a head start on this, since you can recognize cursive characters with some effort. You merely need to achieve fluency. Fluency does not come from recognizing individual letters, but from recognizing patterns that form words or phrases.

Simply trying to read and grade the student papers is not sufficient to let you learn quickly. In fact, if it leads to frustration it will actually slow down the process of gaining fluency. Instead, you must engage in a regular (daily) program in which you repeatedly examine words and phrases written in cursive and attempt to guess (recognize) their meaning, then check the result and give yourself positive reinforcement for correct answers. The use of flash cards is one traditional way of doing this; phone apps are a modern alternative.

Here's one tried and true approach that I guarantee will work: Scan or photocopy a student paper and separate it into words and short phrases. Paste (or print out) each of these words or phrases on a flashcard, and on the other side of the card print the corresponding word or phrase in block letters or some other form that you can read fluently.

On the "answer" side of the cards, don't try to match the cursive word or phrase character by character. This is all about helping your brain map a new symbol (the cursive word or phrase) to its conceptual meaning. You can write the meaning in another language if you wish. In fact, another language will work better if it's more natural for you. Make one extra card that says "FINISHED!" or has a picture of something you like.

Shuffle your deck of flash cards and put the "FINISHED" card on the bottom, then look at the card on the top and try to guess the meaning. Don't agonize or try to decipher it letter-by-letter. Instead, just make a quick guess as to the meaning.

Turn the card over and look at the answer. If you were correct, give yourself a physical pat (somewhere on your body) and put the card on the bottom of the deck, below the "FINISHED" card. If you were wrong, put the card somewhere in the middle of the deck.

Give yourself a faster-than-comfortable time limit for each guess, so you are always feeling a little bit rushed for time and thus have a sense of urgency. You can use a timer or just push yourself on time.

Several times each day, take out the cards and go through them. When you can go through the entire deck and get to "FINISHED" without ever having to put any cards in the middle, you will be well on your way to fluency in reading cursive writing (or as most of the world calls it, 'handwriting').

You can add cards to the deck (or remove cards you have mastered) at any time. Handwriting style varies quite a bit from era to era, country to country, and person to person, so you will want to include a variety of handwriting samples over time. The inclusion of a surprisingly small number of variations will allow your brain to generalize its cursive pattern-recognition networks.

This approach works quickly to produce recognition fluency and is very resilient under variation in cursive writing style and the incorrect word spellings and other errors that often appear in handwritten material.

If you choose to pursue this approach, please come back here after a few weeks and tell us about your experience in achieving fluency!

Best of luck!

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I do agree with neubert that you should disclose it ahead of time before they find out themselves. The reason being you're in a better position and they'll be more receptive of your problems. If you do not say anything, there's a good chance your boss will not figure it out. Instead he may think of something negative like you're being lazy or whatnot. He wouldn't think you can't read cursive. So it is best to say now.

I think one thing I'd like to add over neubert's answer is that you shouldn't be embarrassed by it nor should you explain it as a limitation. Instead I would just word it the same way you did here. Say you learned English as a second language but you were never exposed to cursive handwriting and while you can decipher it, it takes you a very long time. That would be very good. It would not make you look incompetent, just that you don't know what you don't know.

As a side note, I am an american and know how to write in cursive. However, reading other people's cursive handwriting can take me a long time as well. Some people just write really horribly in cursive while others are a bit better at it. Sometimes I can read it right away but other times I have to pause and take my time.

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"Is it okay if I don't tell my boss that ...?" No.

Believe it or not, your boss is hired to help you succeed. If there's something that you can't handle, don't feel comfortable with, etc., be sure that your boss is the first to know.

Speaking as "a boss" here – "there's probably nothing that I (and/or the HR Department ...) can't help you with ... if I know that you need help!" If you "bottle it in" and "try to put on a face," you're actually working against yourself. "So, please, for both of our sakes, don't do that!"

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I wouldn't be embarrassed.

Most adult native English speakers were taught cursive in school, but in the vast majority of cases it is extremely hard to parse, and only a small minority of writers are capable of producing a cursive that is aesthetically pleasing and can be read at a normal pace by the average person.

I've even heard that cursive is now being jettisoned from school curriculums.

If you are struggling to read a small amount of handwritten material in your job, I would just be frank about this, and be clear that you only have sufficient skill to grade printed materials.

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While it might certainly be beneficial to tell your boss that you have some hard time with it, you can try scanning the docs and give them to the OCR to decipher. You can try the built-in one in Google drive-> docs conversion or use some other specialized solution like FineReader.

btw after some exercise it is pretty much possible that you learn to read it. May take you a weekend but it is worth a try.

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  • Very interesting suggestion. Actually, I have tried some free tools but they didn't work (considering scanning quality, etc). I would definitely give it a try. – Mhy Mar 8 at 12:30
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    OCR for cursive is much harder than for print writing because the shapes of the letters aren't as consistent and there aren't clear delineations between letters. (Which are probably the same reasons why cursive is much harder to read for humans, too.) – user3067860 Mar 8 at 15:25
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    This would be unfair to the students concerned - they would be graded on their writing plus any errors introduced by OCR. OCR will itself struggle with deciphering handwriting, as opposed to printed text. This is avoiding the problem for the OP by unloading it on to the students. – Michael MacAskill Mar 8 at 22:55
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    "Nahhhh ... just tell 'em." 🤷‍♂️ It's nothing to hide or to be troubled by, much less to try to conceal. – Mike Robinson Mar 9 at 2:52
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    @MichaelMacAskill ,I start with stating that it might be a good idea to tell, depending on the situation. But in the spirit to get job done, one can use whatever tools are available. Honestly I didn't read the whole question that it is about grading students. So I completely agree with your assessment. And feel at the same time embarrassed as well I find it funny. And I find it funny that 1) students will be graded by OCR quality and 2) that I didn't notice and maybe the upvoters also didn't notice. Anyway, maybe writing in an OCR compatible way is a needed skill nowadays :) – akostadinov Mar 9 at 18:41

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