Student video project: From Rags to Riches

JISHOU, HUNAN — Some of my students produced these videos, but not for my class. They’re pretty good, so I’m sharing with you. Hope you can view them in the USA. Each was done by a team of four students.

Mean girls

JISHOU, HUNAN — I suppose I should not be surprised that Chinese adolescents can be as catty and mean-spirited as Americans are, but two incidents this week still bug me. I need to vent, so if you want to skip all this drama, go ahead. To set up incident number 1, I need to explain my oral English examination format. Modeling the Cambridge Business English Certificate exams, I meet two (sometimes three) students at a time for about 20 minutes. I test them on vocabulary and pronunciation, then give them a topic on the spot to talk about between themselves for a few minutes. There is usually time left for me to ask them a few questions to verify listening comprehension and coach them on pronunciation issues. Students sign up for these sessions in class about two to three weeks in advance. With more than 200 students to evaluate, I’m booked pretty tight. A couple of days ago, I was scheduled to meet three girls — roommates, as it turns out — who I will call A, B, and C. And B are among my best students in their class; their spoken English is not perfect, but they can chatter ...

How to speak English, Chinese style

JISHOU, HUNAN — One of my students showed me this video, from a website called Hujiang English Network. The guy in the vid shows us how to speak English with a Mandarin accent (not a Canto accent — so, you won’t sound like a Hong Kong action movie). Although he’s joking around, the way some Chinese pronounce English comes out sounding just like he says it does. Chinese is a tonal language: every syllable has one of four tones** (nine tones for Cantonese) and each syllable is pronounced distinctly. A Chinese may try to speak English words the same way, so it comes out sounding like machine-gun fire. (Native English speakers tend to connect words together, dontcha know?) And, as he notes, Chinese will substitute Mandarin words for English words that sound similar, like du 琽 = “stopped up” for “do,” ti 踢 = “kick” for “tea/tee/tip.” If you visit the Hujiang link, they have the “translations” of the not-so-obvious phonetic substitutions he makes. Here they are, with the real meanings next to them. downtown = 当烫!(dang1 tang4 = when hot!) gun = 刚!(gang1 = hard!) big gun = 大刚!(da4 gang1 = really hard!) job = 脚脖子!(jiao3 bo2 zi – ...

I know what I don’t know … I think 14

JISHOU, HUNAN — I realized over this winter holiday how much I don’t know about teaching English. Despite accolades from my students and my fellow teachers, I’m not so satisfied with my work so far. I get better at it every term, but I have a long ways to go as a language teacher. Last term, my workload was relatively easy: two periods of Western Culture and six periods of Oral English a week. Nevertheless, a lot of my time was spent prepping for the Culture class. I felt somewhat guilty that I was not putting in more time prepping for the Oral English classes, especially for the freshmen, but I had organized the classes well enough that things pretty much took care of themselves. This term, I have more work to do. The juniors have me for two subjects: British Literature and Academic Writing. Needless to say, I’ve got several months of hardcore reading and writing ahead of me. The sophomores will still meet me twice a week for Oral English, and I hope to try some new activities to enliven the classes even more. The freshmen will have a different foreign teacher, since we each typically teach eight ...
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