Linguistic revelation, courtesy of my Thailand travels

JISHOU, HUNAN — Over the last five years, I’ve been puzzled by the manner in which one or two students in each class pronounce English. Talking with my Chinese colleagues, it seems some of these students have the same indistinct pronunciation in Mandarin, as well. We concluded it was a syndrome which used to be called “lazy tongue,” but (I have just learned) is now referred to as an apraxia of speech. Now I am not so sure, after hearing the way some Thais speak their own language. My students’ diction problems may result from the speech patterns of their mother languages, which are often not Mandarin. Some disclaimers, first of all. I have no formal training in linguistics or speech therapy, so take whatever I write here with a grain of salt. I am proposing a hypothesis, based on an amateur’s observations. Briefly, here is the situation. Several of my students’ English is blurred or mushy. Their voices seem to come from way back in the oral cavity, instead of more toward the front of the mouth. In addition, their consonants are often indistinct, so I have to pay close attention to what they are saying to be sure ...

Browser planetarium from the Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network 1

JISHOU, HUNAN — A science moment!! I found Virtual Sky after reading an old Sky & Telescope magazine a friend mailed me just before summer vacation began. I only got around to reading it today. Virtual Sky is a browser-based planetarium that you can embed in your blog or website. Mine here shows the sky at it would appear from Jishou, because that’s where I live. The red line is the ecliptic, the apparent path of the Sun across the sky. That’s also where you’ll find the planets, the Moon and the signs of Zodiac hanging out, too. Holding down the left mouse button and scrolling left or right will change the view. Cardinal points are at the bottom. There are options you, the reader, can control, too. With the mouse pointer over the map, type a question mark (?) for a list of keyboard commands. Typing a capital S will show names of some bright stars, like Wentworth Miller or Natalie Portman. Typing p will show the planets, Sun and Moon. If it doesn’t work right, you may using too old a version of Internet Explorer. Sucks for you. Get Chrome or Firefox. And I was just joking about ...

My summer travels: pandas and tigers, Chiang Mai! 2

My summer travels: pandas and tigers, Chiang Mai!
[I wrote this for my students and QQ followers to read. I’m reprinting it here for other readers.] HENGYANG, HUNAN — In past years, I have gone back to America during the summer holiday, but this year was different. Since I went back to the States in April for my daughter’s wedding, I decided I would travel to other places during the summer. I was also able to meet old friends and former students. During four weeks this summer, I taught English in Jishou and Changsha, so I had more than enough money to go traveling. Many of my Chinese friends, and Maddi and Daniel, have visited Thailand, so I decided that would be my destination this summer. Your money goes a long way in Thailand. Haha! To give you an idea of what I did, here are the cities I visited in a five-week period. In China, Chongqing, Chengdu, Changsha and Hengyang. In Thailand, Bangkok, Amphawa, Korat, PhiMai, NonSung, Sawang Daen Din, Udon Thani, Chiang Mai, Mae Rim. I traveled by plane, train, metro, subway, car, bus, tuk-tuk, songraew (pickup trucks converted into small “buses”) and motorcycle. I did a lot of walking, too. I visited ancient sites in ...

Summer holiday update 1

CHANGSHA, HUNAN — Here’s my summer so far: 3 T’s. Teaching, travel, Thailand. Except Thailand starts tomorrow. (4 T’s, then) The spring term wrapped up for me around July 4th. Right away, I started teaching some middle school students English four hours a day for 20 days straight. I also finished up working with some university faculty preparing study and research abroad. Together, these two jobs netted me 10,000 RMB. With one group of students, we spent one hour with oral English and the other with their textbook, New Concept English 2. Despite its title, NCE was first written in the 1970s. It’s more suitable for adult learners than teenagers, but that’s what they use at their training school. I tried to make it not too boring. The other group has better English, so we read an American juvenile novel, The Midwife’s Apprentice. I had found a classroom set in a Louisville St. Vincent de Paul store in April, and brought back eight copies. It was slow going, because the vocabulary is pretty advanced even for American young readers, but the story is interesting and it held their interest. Explaining the culture and history behind the story was harder. We ...

Third fatality in San Francisco air crash is another Chinese student

JISHOU, HUNAN — Liu Yipeng 刘一鹏, 15, died Friday in a San Francisco hospital as a result of injuries sustained in the crash of Asiana Airlines flight 214 the previous Saturday. Liu’s classmates, Wang Linjia 王琳佳 and Ye Mengyuan 叶梦圆, both 16, were killed when the plane crashed while landing at San Francisco-Oakland International Airport. Wang apparently fell out of the rear of the plane when the tail section was torn off. Ye was found near one of the wings. San Francisco authorities later confirmed that a rescue vehicle ran over Ye, whose body was concealed by the fire retardant foam sprayed on the plane. The county coroner has not determined whether Ye was alive when the rescue vehicle struck her. Liu was found her seat and had suffered serious injuries to her head and abdomen. All three girls were part of a school group from Jiangshan Middle School in Zhejiang Province. The group was to visit a church summer camp in Los Angeles and do some sightseeing for about three weeks. The camp has been canceled, and the students and their teachers are returning to China. The Associated Press has more details about the girls and the aftermath of ...

An open letter to Joel Stein and TIME magazine

Dear Joel Stein and editors of TIME magazine, Get off my lawn!! Every 20 years or so TIME publishes an issue bewailing the current generation and predicting the end of civilization as we know it once the young folks get old enough to run things. Seriously? This trope has been around since Plato (see quote below) and for sure predates him. And guess what, it’s not news! It’s opinion. Tired out, useless opinion. Try to be a news magazine once in a while, instead of a source of jokes like this one: For your edification, here’s what Plato (I knew Plato. Mr Stein, and you, sir, are no Plato!) said about the young people of his day. Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers. — Plato (d. 347 BC) Nice to see TIME is keeping current with ancient Greek philosophers. Real Pulitzer material, that. Sincerely yours, A guy in his 50s who remembers what people said about the ...

Alabama has ancient cypress forest — 60 feet underwater!

JISHOU, HUNAN — Fishermen found it, then tipped off researchers. There’s a 50,000-year-old bald cypress forest just off the coast of Alabama, 60 feet underwater, which Hurricane Katrina apparently uncovered. Now, marine researchers have to race the clock before marine life colonizes the long-buried trees and destroys the otherwise pristine state of the site. Here’s a video of the underwater forest. (Link at Mobile Press-Register/www.al.com) Details are at livescience.com. Carbon dating places the age of the trees around 52,000 years old. The changing shoreline of the Gulf of Mexico probably covered the forest with sand about 18,000 years ago, cutting off oxygen and halting the rotting process. Now that the trees are exposed, they are again rotting and being used as food and shelter by marine life. I await the Young Earth Creationist explanation of how these trees sprouted 46,000 years before God created the Earth.

LA church cancels summer camp, following deaths of two Chinese girls in air crash

This report from ABC’s affiliate in Los Angeles might not go national, so I’m highlighting it here. West Valley Christian Church near Los Angeles planned on hosting a group of high school students from Zhejiang Province this month, but those plans changed after the group was involved in Saturday’s plane crash in San Francisco. Two of the students on that trip, Wang Linjia and Ye Mengyuan, both 16, were the only fatalities in the runway crash of Asiana Flight 214. The students and their teacher, most of whom escaped serious injury, will fly back to China in a few days. Four students are still in hospital, however. Meanwhile, the parents of Wang and Ye will fly to San Francisco to collect the bodies of their children. The school group boarded Asiana 214 in Shanghai. It made a stop in Seoul, South Korea, then had an uneventful trans-Pacific flight to San Francisco-Oakland airport. On approach, however, the plane came in too slow to safely land, according to preliminary investigations, and crashed on the runway, losing its tail and bursting into flames. The students were to spent three weeks learning English, visiting California universities and doing sightseeing.

RIP Wang Linjia and Ye Mengyuan

UPDATE: ABC News has just published a profile of Miss Wang and Miss Ye. Worth the read. JISHOU, HUNAN — By now, you have heard of the airliner crash at the San Francisco-Oakland airport Saturday. The only fatalities were two Chinese high school students, who were siting in the rear of the plane and were apparently ejected onto the runway when the tail was torn off just before impact. The two girls, Wang LinJia 王琳佳 and Ye Mengyuan 叶梦圆, both 16, were classmates at Jiangshan Middle School in Quzhou city, Zhejiang Province and were part of a school-sponsored summer trip to Los Angeles. Their 32 classmates and supervising teacher all escaped the crash of Asiana Flight 214 safely. As a teacher and a parent, I cannot fail to grieve over the loss of two young ladies who probably had bright futures ahead of them. I’ve found other photos of the girls using Baidu, China’s answer to Google.

China’s dreaded college entrance examination — the test from Hell 1

JISHOU, HUNAN — High school students in China suffered the annual college entrance exam (高考 gaokao) earlier this month. Unlike the SAT and ACT exams in the US, the gaokao is given only once a year and tests specific knowledge about content. In addition, it is basically the only criterion for admission to a university in China. Needless to say, these factors (and the country’s huge population) create a lot of stress. The Telegraph carried a story from a small city in Hubei province, which is just north of Hunan. It seems one high school had had a surprisingly stellar record for several years in getting its students placed in China’s top universities. Provincial officials checked it out, and discovered widespread cheating on the exam that was condoned by the school’s staff. So, this year the education office sent a small army of exam proctors (invigilators) from other parts of Hubei, who were ruthless in removing any possible method from students’ persons, including checking for cell phones hidden in students’ underwear. Students were left in tears (since they hadn’t really prepared for the exam) and parents were irate. The school had to call the cops to put down a near ...

Fun with my step counter app 1

JISHOU, HUNAN — I walk a lot. I don’t have a car here, or a Chinese driver’s license, and the campus is compact enough I don’t need a bike. So I walk. I got a cheap little pedometer on my last visit to the States, but I dropped it two days after arriving here, so it’s a goner. Then I realized “there’s an app for that,” so I installed a step counter on my Android phone. Today I was exceptionally walkative. I had classes in the morning, afternoon and evening, so I was in and out of my mountain aerie three times. (I live halfway up a large hill, or small mountain. My apartment is about level with the 16th floor of the main classroom building at the bottom of the hill.) So, here’s today’s stats. 5,781 steps, 3.3 km (about 2 miles). If the app is to be trusted, I did this walking within 41 minutes, for an average speed of 5 km/hr or 3 mph. That seems a little high, considering it was about 95 degrees today, so I wasn’t doing my usual New York strut. Those outings included one round trip to my morning classes, one round ...

Graduation season means busy-ness

Graduation season means busy-ness
JISHOU, HUNAN — Before I begin another list of excuses why I haven’t blogged anything, here is some ear candy courtesy of Mother Nature. This song bird was perched outside my bathroom window early one morning, and I got him on tape (as it were). So, aside from birdsong, what else has been happening here? Well, there was the farewell dinner for the two graduating English education classes June 4, the graduation variety show (called a “party” in China) June 6, the dinner for the four graduating business English classes June 7, and their graduation ceremony June 8. (There was another activity just for our college, but I was teaching at the time.) Following this spurt of activity, we had to teach our June 10 and June 11 classes (Monday and Tuesday) on the weekend, because of the Dragonboat Festival holiday June 12. This results from the peculiar Chinese habit of shuffling class schedules to permit one-day holidays that fall midweek to become three-day holidays. Then, there were more farewell dinners and a blowout party — this time for Maddie and Daniel, the other Americans teaching here this year. They are on their way back to America by way of ...
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