Burning questions about teaching English in China #9: We are families!

Burning questions about teaching English in China #9: We are families!
Puzzler #9: Why do Chinese students think they have more than one family? Here’s another error I have seen fairly often — something like: I can’t wait to go home and see my families. While it is possible for someone to have more than one family — a person who was adopted, for example — usually each person has only one family. “Family” in English is a collective noun, which represents a collection of individual members. Your family consists of your parents, children, spouse, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. So, probably you are going home to see your family, just as I am right now. In the case of an adoptee or a foster child, he or she might have an adopted or foster family and a birth family. So, such a person could legitimately say they have two families, meaning two unrelated groups of family members. The rest of us make do with just one. Collective nouns can be considered plural or singular, grammatically speaking, which determines the verb form following the noun. As usual, English does not make this easy, as American and British usage differ. AmE: My family is in Kentucky now. (singular noun) BrE: My family are ...

Burning questions about teaching English in China #5: You can’t let me!

Burning questions about teaching English in China #5: You can't let me!
Puzzler #5: Why do students confuse the verbs “make” and “let”? Moving on from spelling errors and interesting ways to write letters, here’s a common error in vocabulary usage. This one puzzles me, because I had assumed the meanings of “make” and “let” are pretty clear. In fact, the two verbs are almost opposite in meaning. Yet, many students get them confused. Perhaps the trouble lies with dictionary definitions, because in looking at my own Chinese-English dictionaries, I can see their definitions could be confusing. For example, under “make” I see the Chinese word 让 ràng, which can mean “to let sb do sth.” Under the word “let,” I see the same Chinese word 让 ràng with the additional meaning of “to have sb do sth.” So, I can see how a beginning learner of English could confuse the two words. Bilingual dictionaries are great for quickly finding the meanings of words, but they often do a poor job of showing how those words are most commonly used. In fact, even the Merriam-Webster dictionary (English-to-English) can be confusing to a non-native speaker. Here is where textbooks and teachers need to step in and teach correct usage. “Make” and “let” are ...

Astrophotography: Moon and Venus, Jan. 31, 2017

Astrophotography: Moon and Venus, Jan. 31, 2017
HIROSHIMA, JAPAN — OK, I’m not really in Japan now, but I was when I took the picture. I’m just now trying to curate the hundreds of photos I took during my month in Japan, and thought I’d share this. It’s not super-sharp, because I had no tripod and tried to brace the camera against a window frame to steady it. The Chinese tune, “The Moon Represents My Heart,” (月亮代表我的心 Yuèliàng Dàibiǎo Wǒ de Xīn) most famously sung by Teresa Teng (邓丽君 Dèng Lìjūn) has been playing in my head lately. So, for me at least, a picture of the Moon seems suitable for the occasion. Camera geek details: Nikon D3300, Tamron 70-300 mm zoom lens @ 135 mm, f/4 1/500 sec, ISO 12,800. Teresa Teng was from Taiwan, and became one of the first non-mainland singers to become very popular in China. Nearly everyone in China knows this song, especially those who came of age during the Opening Up of the 1970s. Sadly, she died young from asthma complications at age 42. Now, for your listening pleasure, Miss Teng. (Scroll down past the photo.)

China has a bad rap, uh, rep, and this video aims to confirm, uh, correct that

China has a bad rap, uh, rep, and this video aims to confirm, uh, correct that
JISHOU, HUNAN — Let me be frank here. I’m an ignoramus when it comes to rap and hip hop. I freely confess it. But even I know the difference between good rap and horrible rap. This new video from the Chinese propaganda office falls into the latter category. I mean, you can’t even call it rap. It’s more like spoken word or — going further back in history — bad beat poetry. Of course, maybe it sounds better in Chinese, but the video is intended for a foreign audience and the spoken lyrics are in English. It begins: Regardless of all the prejudices in the past Today I wanna restore the impression you have on my country, China Which have been exactly fabricated by media for a long time As an individual citizen based in the south west of the country I wanna spit it then You guys can know better about what the truth is and How Chinese people access their own country And how much we don’t wanna be disputants Word, man. Word. Here’s the thing. China has decent rappers (in Mandarin or Cantonese). And maybe the performers on this state-approved video can rap pretty good in their ...

China dis-invites children’s choir after it sings Taiwan’s national anthem

China dis-invites children's choir after it sings Taiwan's national anthem
JISHOU, HUNAN — The Puzangalan Children’s Choir of Taiwan was supposed to perform in Guangdong next month, but China has canceled the group’s invitation, apparently for political reasons. The choir, comprising members of the aboriginal Paiwan people, had sung the Taiwanese national anthem at the inauguration of Taiwan’s new president, Tsai Ing-wen, last month. Since China considers Taiwan a province of the mainland, the song apparently hurt Beijing’s feelings. The performance at a choral festival in Guangdong was part of a fundraising tour for the choir. President Tsai has pledged $15,000 to offset the loss of income, the BBC reported today. Focus Taiwan TV reported today that the group has raised enough funds to attend the International Choir Festival organized by Cantemus Choral Institute in Nyiregyhaza, Hungary, in August. So, take that, China! For more information about the choir, you can visit their Facebook page or their website. Here’s an example of their singing.

Correcting a Facebook post: the drummer girl is from Taiwan, not S Korea 13

The video in question: JISHOU, HUNAN — So, while I was noodling on Facebook last month in the USA, I came across this video of a young street performer playing a mean drum cover. I was impressed, so I shared it on my timeline. The originator of the post said she’s Korean, which I found out today is wrong. The drummer is 羅小白 Luó xiǎo bái, who goes by the stage name S. White (小白 xiǎo bái), 20. She’s from Taipei, Taiwan, not South Korea. Here’s her Facebook page. [ADDENDUM. Hold the phone, Al! Commenter Jim Shreve has pointed out that both the original poster of this video and I probably have misidentified this drummer. First of all, I had her Chinese name wrong — now corrected — and worse yet, now I am pretty sure Jim is right and the drummer is not S. White, but her buddy, Vela Blue, the stage name of Chén MànQīng 陈曼青.] Here the same drummer performing another cover. The OP identifies her as S. White, but now I think she’s really Vela Blue. This one is definitely S.White performing. S. White and Vela Blue (who now has blue hair) sometimes perform together. Vela ...

Chinese rocker censored, refuses to appear on New Year gala show

JISHOU, HUNAN — China’s “godfather of rock,” Cui Jian (崔健), has refused to appear in the annual CCTV New Year Gala program, because censors told him he could not perform one of his big hits. “Nothing to My Name” (一无所有 Yì Wú Suǒ Yǒu) was the unofficial anthem of the 1989 Tian’anmen Square student protest, which the government would rather the Chinese public not remember, or even know about. Nearly everyone in China watches the CCTV New Year Gala, which this year will be aired Jan. 30. That’s a lot of people. Cui, 52, wanted to perform the 1986 hit, but TV censors said no go. Rather than acquiesce to their demands, Cui canceled his appearance. In spring 1989 Beijing students took to the streets, demanding greater democracy and freedom in China. A huge crowd of students occupied Tian’anmen Square for nearly seven weeks. Martial law was declared on May 20, and on June 4 and 5, the government sent in hundreds of thousands of soldiers, some in tanks and helicopters, to crush the protests. There were reportedly thousands of casualties. Before the crackdown, Cui had given a concert to the students during their hunger strike in Tian’anmen Square. Later, ...

Playing around with Soundcloud – Jazz bassist Linda Oh tracks

JISHOU, HUNAN — On my last free day before inflicting final exams to my students, I updated iTunes to version 11, started an NCIS season 1 download and checked out New Jazz Artists. Bassist Linda Oh caught my eye (and ear). She was born in Malaysia of Chinese parents, grew up in Perth, Australia, and now works in NYC. Bassists taking lead are pretty rare in the jazz world (one example being Ron Carter), so I decided to check out music. I like it. This track from her debut album is a bit avant garde, so if you’re not a hardcore jazz fan, you might not care for it. Her bass playing is really strong. (I like the comic book style cover art, too.) This one is more melodic. Enjoy.

Get a box of Beethoven for 99 cents

This is too good deal to pass up. I’m downloading it now from Amazon. Big Box of Beethoven

Another Italian earworm by way of China

JISHOU, HUNAN — During the Christmas party, one of the acts was a dance, (请你恰恰), by some juniors in class 4. The tune was one of those catchy ones that sticks in your head for days. And, it’s from the same studio that gave me — and China — another earworm, the “Rabbit Dance.” So, here are the students performing the dance. Again, if you can’t view the embedded video, you can download or watch it from this link. You’ll notice that some of the male dancers are in fact female dancers. Our college’s student body is predominantly female, but I found at least one professional performance online by a woman dressed as a man. So, there’s a precedent! Because my mind works this way, I spent some time trying to track down the source of this tune, and the dance. It’s sort of cha cha, but not really, and there are hints of electro/house/Eurodance mixed in with the Latin beat. If you’ve listened to Aqua, you’ll know what I mean. So, here’s the skinny. The Chinese title, Qing Ni Cha Cha, which means, “Please Will You Cha Cha?” sounds very close to the original English title, Chilly Cha Cha. ...

The dance video, as promised

The dance video, as promised
JISHOU, HUNAN — Here’s the dance we teachers did Christmas Eve. A student shot the video, so the quality is not quite professional, but you can at least get the idea. If you can’t view the video, you can download it from my server. Right-click to download, or click to view in a separate window. And here’s a photo of the whole crew.

My Western Culture articles/lectures 3: Music, part 1

JISHOU, HUNAN — This is the article I posted for my students to read before class last week. I didn’t lecture, but played the selections indicated in the article and made brief comments. ———————— This is the first article about Western music. Please read this before class. We will listen to the music in class, instead of my giving a lecture. Western Music How is Western music different from other cultures’ music? One major difference is the pitch 音乐音高 of the notes used. Most world music, and Chinese music, is based on a pentatonic (five-tone) scale 五声音阶: do re mi sol la (do) Most Western music is based on diatonic 全音阶 (or heptatonic – seven-tone) scales, such as the familiar: do re mi fa sol la ti (do) Putting it another way, let’s look at the keyboard of a piano. You can play pentatonic tunes using only the black keys. To play diatonic tunes, you also need some (or all) of the white keys. The origin of the diatonic scale dates back to ancient Greece, but perhaps earlier cultures in the Near East also used it. Seven-tone scales are also part of music from the southern part of India. The ...
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