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 ...

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 ...
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