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 ...

Chinese journalist’s on-camera eye roll lands her in hot water

Chinese journalist's on-camera eye roll lands her in hot water
ZHENGZHOU, HENAN — Honest displays of exasperation can sometimes get you in trouble in China. During an arranged Q&A session with a government official attending the national party congress meeting, a US-based reporter (at right with the mic) launched into a long-winded introduction to her softball question. Another reporter, Liang Xiangyi of China Business News, at first looks amused, then exasperated, and finally rolls her eyes toward the sky and looks away. Her honest reaction to an obvious suck-up question quickly went viral on Chinese social media, with many commenters praising her for expressing what they felt. Memes like the one below were also swiftly circulated. Then the censors jumped in and cleaned all such commentary off the ‘Net. Liang has reportedly lost her press credentials to cover the National People’s Congress now being held in Beijing. Meanwhile, netizens in the USA are questioning whether American Multimedia Television USA, the media outlet represented by the long-winded reporter, Zhang Huijun, might be connected to the Chinese Communist Party in some way. Here’s a translation of Zhang’s query. You can see Liang’s reaction to it in this YouTube clip. Similar clips have been removed from China’s video-sharing sites.

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.)

Keith Olbermann rakes Trump over coals for not accepting possible Clinton win

Keith Olbermann rakes Trump over coals for not accepting possible Clinton win
JISHOU, HUNAN — Keith Olbermann has justly raked Donald Trump (R-Blowhard) over the coals for his coy suggestion that “we are going to have to see” whether to acknowledge Hillary Clinton as the winner of the election Nov. 8. During last week’s debate, moderator Lester Holt had asked the bombastic Trump if he would support Clinton if she won the election. Trump said yes, but a few days later told The New York Times, “We’re going to have to see. We’re going to see what happens. We’re going to have to see.” Trump has also told supporters at his campaign rallies to watch for voter fraud at the polls, leading others to worry about Trump supporters interfering with the voting process, or about possible violence after the results are in. Responding to these remarks on his GQ webcast, The Closer, Olbermann in a fiery broadside salvo accused Trump of single-handedly overturning the entire American electoral process and demeaning the previous 57 presidential elections by suggesting he would not accept the outcome as binding. “Get out of the election,” Olbermann said. “Get out of this country!” Citing close and pivotal elections from 1864 to 1960, Olbermann noted that no candidate in ...

Chinese-made ‘grandpa’ cartoon addresses territorial disputes in So. China Sea

Chinese-made 'grandpa' cartoon addresses territorial disputes in So. China Sea
JISHOU, HUNAN — In an effort to convince the wider world that China has an expansive territorial claim to a large portion of the South China Sea, the People’s Daily has released a three-minute cartoon history lesson that is sure to convince the United Nations tribunal considering those claims. A decision by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague is expected on Tuesday, but China has announced it intends to ignore the court’s decision. So there. Entitled “Grandpa Tells a Story,” the wise grandpa tells his inquisitive granddaughter the history of China and its long-standing claim to the South China Sea and especially to islands just off the coasts of four other nations, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines. (See map above.) Taiwan also has overlapping claims with China in the area. First, he tells her Chinese fishermen were the first to discover the Spratly Islands 2,000 years ago, during the Han Dynasty. They found them with the help of magnetic compasses, which the Chinese just so happened to invent. Apparently, other fishermen in the area were clueless. Then, sailors during the Yuan Dynasty explored the South China Sea. Six hundred years ago, the navigator Zheng He (sailing in ...

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.

Attendee posts YouTube video of N. Korean defector’s talk in Beijing; transcript below

Attendee posts YouTube video of N. Korean defector's talk in Beijing; transcript below
A recording of North Korean defector and author Hyeonseo Lee’s talk in Beijing March 27 has been posted on YouTube by a member of the audience. Taken with a cellphone camera, the hour-long video captures most of Lee’s remarks at The Bookworm-Beijing before a small, mostly non-Chinese audience. The video is shaky and the audio is not especially clear. I’ve provided a partial transcript below. Lee’s sharp criticism of China’s policy to repatriate defectors back to North Korea was already reported by Agence France Presse, and re-published widely across Chinese social media the same day. Chinese immigration officials then told Lee she would have to cut short her visit to China, and return home to South Korea immediately. Lee is the author of The Girl with Seven Names, a memoir of her escape in 1997 at the age of 17 from her hometown into neighboring China, and her eventual arrival in South Korea in 2008. She later returned to northern China to smuggle her mother and brother across China to join her in South Korea. She has also appeared at TED events and spoken to human rights organizations across the world about the situation in North Korea, and the hardships ...

Controversial Hong Kong indie film, #TenYears, wins Asian film award

Controversial Hong Kong indie film, <em>#TenYears</em>, wins Asian film award
An independent film depicting a dystopian Hong Kong in the year 2025 won top honors at the Hong Kong Film Awards this weekend. The film, Ten Years, reflects the fears Hong Kongers have about the effects of reunification with mainland China. In five vignettes, the film suggests oppression familiar to readers of George Orwell’s 1984 will be normal, and that the freedoms present-day Hong Kong enjoys will slowly be eroded away. Needless to say, the film is banned on the mainland. According to the BBC, censors have blocked reports referring to the film’s award. Limited screenings are planned for the USA, and other countries. Produced on a HK$500,000 budget, the film has made HK$6 million so far, despite HK theaters limiting or canceling screenings, fearing government interference. No such interference occurred, however. Hong Kong citizens have been increasingly worried that the mainland government will exert more control over the special autonomous region (SAR), despite formal agreement in 1997 of the “one country, two systems” policy. That agreement, reached as Britain returned its former colony to China, assured that the mainland government would not interfere with the politics and laws already established in Hong Kong. But mainland authorities have so far ...

Miss World Canada Anastasia Lin speaks to National Press Club

Skip to 5:34 to miss all the introductions, if you like.

VIDEO: The 1960s-style cartoon promo for China’s latest 5-year plan

So, either someone with a wry sense of humor, or with no sense of cultural relevance, produced this English-language cartoon to promote China’s latest five-year economic plan (十三五 shisanwu, the Thirteenth Five-Year Plan). Here it is on YouKu.com. Here it is on YouTube. As Shanghaiist points out, no groovy cartoon can make any five-year economic plan at all interesting, especially to teenage bands cruising a Peter Max China on top of VW Combis.

VIDEO: Why do Chinese students come to American colleges, universities?

The BBC posted this video in June. Chinese students at the University of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign explain why they prefer to study in the USA. The main reason: they can study what they want. In China, your major is pre-selected for you, based on your performance on the college entrance exam (gaokao). High school students list five preferred majors on their exams, and the exam section with the highest score determines which of the five possibilities is assigned. So, this is why I’ve had students who prefer physics and math, but ended up being Business English majors. Their gaokao scores on the physics and math sections were too low. Parents are also fed up with the Chinese gaokao system. If they have enough money, they will send their children abroad for their university education, sparing those kids three years of intense, high pressure preparation for the gaokao. You can read more at the BBC.
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