Tag: grad school


22

Sep 2015

How I Learned Chinese (part 4)

It seems to have become a tradition of mine to drag this series out over years and years, but this part should be the last one I need to write for quite some time. Just a quick sum up:

Part 1 (2007): How I got started in Chinese in college
Part 2 (2007): How I coped with no one understanding me after arriving in China, and how I got to a decent (intermediate) level of Chinese
Part 3 (2012): How I updated my goals to help me power through the “intermediate plateau”

This post is more of a look at how I learned, rather than specifically what I did. I’d also like to look more closely at the relationship between study and practice. This balance is essential to any learner’s long-term progress, but there’s no one-size-fits-all solution.

Learning Timeline

First, a quick timeline of my experiences:

1998-1999 (STUDY): Started Chinese classes at UF. “Practice” consisted of meeting a language partner once a week, but it barely made a difference.
2000 (PRACTICE): Arrived in China and started using my busted Chinese. Was dismayed to discover my Chinese was decidedly not awesome.
2001 (STUDY): Found a professional tutor who was able to help me fix my major pronunciation issues. This, in turn, led to much more efficient practice.
2001-2003 (PRACTICE): Lots of speaking practice with people around me (details here), some self-study on the side, but the major emphasis was practice.
2003 (STUDY): One-semester HSK course helped me identify some holes in my self-studied Chinese, especially in more formal Chinese.
2004 (PRACTICE): My first job in Shanghai was English-related, but I still got to use Chinese for most of my work. I learned a lot.
2004-2005 (STUDY): Prepped for grad school, using a tutor.
2005-2007 (STUDY/PRACTICE): Masters program in applied linguistics in Chinese. Heavy components of both practice (everything was in Chinese) and study (there was plenty of vocabulary and sophisticated grammar to learn).
2006-2013 (PRACTICE): Working at ChinesePod was tons of great practice, but I also learned a great deal, even if I was never directly “studying.”
2010-present (PRACTICE): Building AllSet Learning, learning to run a business, managing Chinese employees, was all done in Chinese. More great practice. And learning all day long.

The Role of Study

Especially in the beginning, you need a helping hand to learn Chinese. It’s very hard to start “practicing” without some kind of structured study. Many learners turn to schools for this, and tutors are another option (both have pros and cons), but it’s hard to argue that some kind of formal study is not helpful for most people.

The key is that study alone will rarely lead to real fluency. At some point (preferably in the elementary stages), you need to be given ample opportunities to speak Chinese in a natural way. Hopefully this is motivating and fun, and not something scary. If the end goal is spoken fluency, you have to start practicing speaking. Exorcise those demons of bad Chinese!

Study itself has many forms, however, and I’ve found that many learners appreciate school lessons in the early stages, whereas 1-on-1 tutoring becomes much more useful once there’s a good foundation, and concrete goals for how Chinese can be applied start to take shape. So for me, the “schooling” was OK as my first three semesters’ foundation and then as HSK prep. Tutoring helped me fix the very specific pronunciation problems I was still having when I first arrived in China (I really needed individualized attention for that). Later, again, tutoring made the most sense once I had the concrete goal of getting into grad school and needed help learning some specific material. (I also had to spend a lot of time managing my tutor, though… There was no AllSet Learning back then!)

I remember very clearly, sitting in my Chinese syntax class in grad school, listening to the professor detail some finer points on the relationships between certain Chinese prepositions and verbs, and thinking, “these are the ultimate advanced Chinese lessons. The meta-lessons that even native speakers are clueless on.” So there was always a strong aspect of “study” within the “practice” of grad school in Chinese. Once I started working, though, “practice” really became the main focus, and “study” was relegated to an ongoing “as needed” self-directed activity.

The Role of Practice

My real “practice” started when I arrived in China. It was the reality check I needed, but also a source of motivation. To quote part 2:

> OK, so I already knew when I arrived that my pronunciation wasn’t great. I knew I got tones wrong sometimes. I knew I had been fudging Mandarin’s “x” and “q” consonants for two years. But I wasn’t prepared for the end result: people frequently just plain didn’t understand me. At all.

> At first I tried to downplay it with “that guy was just not used to talking to foreigners” or “it must be my Beijing-centric pronunciation.” That attitude didn’t really help me. I got through the denial stage pretty quickly and ended up with a firm conviction: the problem is me. I then gathered all my resolve and launched into a relentless campaign of self-criticism.

That was kind of rough. It would have been nice if I had been prepared for actual communication in Chinese in progressive stages. I got through the initial shock, though.

The early years of practice in China were both the hardest and the most fun. They were the hardest for me because I had to force myself to talk to strangers regularly, and often my non-comprehension made those conversations quite awkward. Oh yes, I dealt with a lot of awkwardness. But my psyche was protected, in part, by this weird “I can’t believe I’m in China talking to people in Chinese” euphoria that imparted a certain delusion of unreality. And so in many ways, it all felt like a weird, fun dream.

The “delusion of unreality” slowly wears off as you get to the Intermediate stage, however. Most things Chinese people say in Chinese are no longer “funny” or “crazy” because you’re used to Chinese culture, and you’re used to the way people speak. To give a simple example, you stop thinking, “it’s so weird that Chinese people are always asking me if I’ve eaten” every time and you start thinking of it as a normal greeting. You stop “hearing Chinese” and you start just listening to people. And just talking back.

It’s at this point that the practical application type of “practice” becomes really important. For me, it was my initial training job in Shanghai first. Then it was the work of my Chinese language masters program: following the lectures, completing the readings, writing papers, etc. Then it was directing ChinesePod lesson development. And then it was my work at AllSet Learning (and later Mandarin Companion).

Bob and Weave

It’s all about a Mix

If you look at my timeline, you’ll see a lot of vacillating between “study” and “practice.” You’ll see long periods of “practice” broken up by mostly shorter periods of intense “study.” And you’ll notice that the “study” is heavily concentrated in the beginning, whereas “practice” is heavily concentrated in the later stages.

Hopefully you never have a total lack of practice in the beginning (even if it’s just with a teacher), but practice should really ramp up over time until it’s just “application” (using Chinese for normal communication or work or whatever). Similarly, your “study” looms large in the beginning, but should never go away completely (even advanced learners pick up new vocabulary all the time), as it shrinks down in overall prominence.

It’s not that I concocted this; it’s not a method. It’s a very natural process, and I’m merely reflecting on how these principles played out in my own experience. Through my work at AllSet Learning, I often help frustrated learners, and a study/practice imbalance is one of the major sources of frustration. Some learners have unrealistic expectations about how far traditional “study” can take them, fluency-wise. Others have been immersed in “practice” for far too long and are not even sure how to go about addressing the gaps caused by years of neglecting “study.” I admit that it’s partly just luck, but somehow I managed to strike the right balance over the years.

I can’t say I learned Chinese the fastest or to some mind-blowing level, but I achieved my goals and have the skills to apply it in my career. I’ll never stop studying Chinese (“活到老学到老,” as the Chinese say), but especially due to the strong “practice” components of the past 10 years, I do feel confident in saying “I’ve learned Chinese.” (Just not all of it!)


13

Apr 2010

An American Master’s in Education, in Shanghai

Following a post entitled Why China for Grad School?, I interviewed Zachary Franklin about his half-English, half-Chinese economics master’s program. This time I interview Micah Sittig, who is earning a master’s in education through a quite different program in Shanghai.


John: Can you tell me what graduate degree you’re working on?

Micah: I’m working toward a Master’s in Education from the University of Oklahoma (OU). I’ve been teaching math and science in the English division of a private school on the outskirts of Shanghai for four years now, and this is the first time that the school has teamed up with a university to offer this kind of opportunity. Naturally I jumped at the chance because it means being able to stay in China and earn what I feel is a US-quality advanced degree.

John: What kind of program is it? Is it meant for foreigners?

Micah: It’s an intensive, two-year master’s offered by the University of Oklahoma. The College of Education sends professors to Shanghai during vacations for one week of class, 62 hours total, including a practicum that we’re just finishing now. It’s a general Master’s in Education that is meant for teachers from preschool up through high school, and includes courses like Intro to Teaching and Learning, Educational Psychology, Theory and Research in Education, and Instructional Technology. Enrollment was not limited to foreigners, but only 3 out of 15 students are native Chinese, probably because the entire program is being conducted in English. I suspect that some of the professors were mentally prepared to teach a majority Chinese class, but that doesn’t mean they lowered the pace or difficulty of the material.

John: In terms of course content and professors, how does your program compare to comparable programs in the States?

Micah: In theory the content is offered at the same level as it was in the United States. Some professors have tried to get our input from a Chinese perspective, but the majority of the students are from the US or other nationalities, and the Chinese students either don’t participate much in discussions or have a hard time bridging the cultural gap with the professors. The Tech Ed class also had a heavily modified syllabus since many online tools aren’t available in China; thanks a lot, GFW! The professors are what you’d expect anywhere—some good, some bad—but overall I’ve been very happy with the caliber of the instructors and the level of instruction.

John: Education in China has long been the focus of various debates. Has Chinese-style education impacted the content of your program?

Micah: Due to the nature of the program, it hasn’t been impacted by Chinese-style education. However, my wife Jodi is concurrently studying for a second undergrad degree in early childhood education at ECNU and what has been interesting is comparing the teaching style and content in courses or topics that we’ve both studied. Jodi’s classes, of which I’ve been able to sit in on a couple, place a much greater emphasis on content than on practice. One particularly bad teacher would just spend the lecture talking through the text and pointing out facts or passages that test questions would be taken from; it was a textbook case of teaching to the test. Add to that the Chinese reverence for (their 5000 years of) history and you have a lot of content to cover. On the other hand, I felt like my program emphasizes practice over content, sometimes to a fault. In some classes the professors spend a lot of time talking about how we feel and what we do in our classrooms, and neglect to give us a framework on which to organize our ideas. As you might expect, the teacher with the most organized notes and Powerpoints was the one prof of Korean heritage.

John: Can you share any information with readers interested in the program?

Micah: The first OU cohort will be graduating this summer and a second cohort is being considered that would start classes early next year. Please contact me if you are interested in joining the next cohort or just want more details, and I will put you in touch with the program coordinator at my school.


Micah’s website has his contact information, as well as links to his blog and his Twitter account.


12

Mar 2010

The Value of a Master’s in Chinese Economics

In a recent post entitled Why China for Grad School? I opined:

> Aside from reduced cost, there is one main reason a westerner might choose to go to grad school in China over a western country: because one’s object of study is inherently Chinese. This includes Chinese history, Chinese art, Chinese language, etc.

There are definitely foreigners in Shanghai that have elected to earn their advanced degrees in China, but in fields other than those mentioned above. Curious about how they see their education, I’ve decided to interview a few. The following is an interview with American Zachary Franklin, a writer who also maintains the blog Writer’s Block on his website, DeluxZilla.


John: Can you tell me what graduate degree you’re working on?

Zachary: I am currently a first-year master’s student working toward an M.A. in Chinese Economics from Fudan University, a two year degree program taught through the School of Economics.

John: So what kind of program is it? Is it meant for foreigners, or is it all Chinese?

Zachary: It is an English-taught, M.A. program, focusing on both economics and the Chinese economy in the context of the past 30 years of development and where the Chinese economy is heading in the coming decades.

It is meant for foreigners. My class has 15 other students from around the world, including countries such as Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Hungary, Norway, Italy and the United States. This specific degree program has been around since 2006.

The difference between myself and the other 15 students is they are taking the degree completely in English, whereas I am taking half the degree in Chinese.

Both Fudan University and the Economics School have been extremely supportive and encouraging in allowing me to split my degree. What ends up happening is I take core economics classes — microeconomics, macroeconomics and econometrics — in English, learning theory and mathematical formulas, while getting to take more discussion-oriented classes in Mandarin. Last semester I took “World Economies” in Chinese, and this semester I am taking both “Regional Economics,” which focuses on why Chinese provinces have developed the way they have over the past 15 years, and “Chinese Dynastic Economic Thought.”

John: I mentioned in a recent blog post that I thought it mostly only makes sense to earn a graduate degree in China if the subject matter is inherently Chinese. I guess you would take issue with that statement?

Zachary: I don’t take issue with your statement so much as it is going to be a moot point. The invasion is coming. In the next 10 years there will be masses of foreigners from all corners of the globe coming to China to study in universities, in numbers far greater than what China has seen previously. In the United States alone, President Barack Obama said back in Nov. 2009 he wants to send 100,000 American students to study in China over the next four years. Even if you feel universities here need to change their methods and improve their standards, it won’t matter. The increased demand will naturally change the system. It has to.

Will foreigners be coming to China to study subjects such as Russian literature or peace and conflict studies in the Middle East? I don’t know, but it seems there are already several other universities around the world that have those programs and are more well-known for those degrees.

Instead, what we’re going to see is many coming to China to learn the language, but many more who already have a very accomplished level of Mandarin. To cope with increased overall demand, universities around China will have to adapt to handling a higher percentage of foreigners. They’re going to have to meet demands, change standards where necessary and offer a more diverse curriculum.

John: You almost make it sound as if the subject matter is only secondary, and the important thing is getting in with the Chinese before “the invasion.”

Zachary: Of course the subject matter is important, but as I am in China and studying economics, it is important to take stock in the economic changes happening all around and apply what I’ve learned in the classroom accordingly.

So, in terms of value, how do you see your M.A. in Economics from Fudan?

Zachary: I see an M.A. in Chinese economics from Fudan University to be three degrees — though I am certain I will only receive one of them from the school.

There is the obvious, the economics degree. There is also what I feel will be my completion of Mandarin. I spent 18 months in Beijing before coming to Fudan, reading, writing and speaking Chinese six hours a day, five days a week, in an intense program at a private language institution. Trying to earn a master’s degree utilizing my Mandarin was simply the next logical step.

The last degree is the least obvious, but nonetheless one that is of great importance. I feel my time as a student at a Chinese university allows me to understand the educational system in this country. For the majority of Chinese students graduating, what they study at school goes to the industry where they will eventually begin work. Understanding why they’ve chosen a particular major to continue their education, what their classroom activities are doing to prepare them for the real world, where they hope to see themselves in five or 10 years; all this contributes to understanding the people around. And 10 years from now, who knows where my former classmates will be and what field they will be working in.

John: How do you see your M.A. in Economics from Fudan compared to one you might get from an American university? What are the trade-offs?

Zachary: Economics is economics regardless of where one is studying. There are core principles everyone is taught and everyone understands. The differences come when one considers where I am located and the language I am using to obtain my degree.

I am studying economics in China, and I’m using another language for part of the degree. Physically being here is priceless in terms of the perspective I am being exposed to. You cannot compare studying economics in Shanghai — with so much going on around — and studying economics 9,000 miles away in the United States. I step out my front door every morning and see everything Americans can only read about in the New York Times. In my mind, there are no trade-offs when you think about it like that.


You can follow Zachary’s progress in his M.A. on Writer’s Block.


23

Feb 2010

Why China for Grad School?

I chose to earn my master’s in applied linguistics here in Shanghai, through a Chinese-language program at East China Normal University (华东师范大学). While I’m certainly not the only foreigner to ever do this, I get a lot of inquiries about it, as more and more non-Chinese focus on China. Although I’ve written a bit about different aspects of grad school in China in the past, I find it difficult to offer a very useful comparison simply because I’ve never attended any graduate courses in my home country of the United States; I’ve only ever done it in China. Still, I’d like to share some of my thoughts on one big question: why would an American choose to do graduate studies in China?

Why not?

The question implies that there are good reasons not to pursue higher education in China. Indeed there are, so I’d like to get them out in the open right away. I obviously can’t cover the issues for every school and every program in China, but these are the big ones I personally encountered:

You have to have the Chinese level for it. Remember, this whole post is about earning a degree all in Chinese, not through an English language program. To be fair, it’s not as hard as you might imagine; most Chinese programs welcome foreigners with the minimum Chinese language skills to handle the curriculum. The entrance test you’ll be given is not the same one the Chinese students must take, and the selection criteria tend to be far more lenient. Still, you’re going to need an HSK score of 6 or better, and you’re going to need to be able to write Chinese (yes, by hand) if you want to get into one of these programs.

Inferior instruction. Ouch. Yes, I said it. In many cases, you’re simply not going to be getting a great education (by international standards) at a Chinese university. Many programs are not up to date on the latest theory in the field. Do your research.

No strong emphasis on originality. When it comes time for term papers, teachers actually stress: don’t download your paper from the internet. Yes, they have to say it.

Much less wilingness to experiment. As a master’s student at ECNU, I was repeatedly discouraged from doing an experiment, urged instead to rehash some grammatical topic from a slightly different angle (keep in mind the field is applied linguistics). I gather from anecdotal evidence that in many fields, the academics most interested in research go abroad (and often don’t come back).

Less academic freedom. Your advisor makes a huge difference. I know of multiple cases where an advisor would not allow his student to pursue her own academic interests because the advisor didn’t know enough about that topic to be helpful (or perhaps the advisor wanted the student to research something else for his own reasons). Students often have no choice of advisors, which can sometimes mean that a student has very limited input on his own thesis topic.

The “extended undergrad” experience. It’s a tough time to be a young Chinese graduate. The job market is not good. As a result, many undergraduates are continuing on to grad school to delay their job search and to try to improve their qualifications for the jobs they do eventually compete for. The result is an overall dilution of the academic passion and initiative you might expect in a graduate program.

Boring teacher-centric teaching model. In my case, in four semesters of courses, only two placed any emphasis on discussion. (Those were my two favorites.) For most classes, the professor simply stood at the front of the class and lectured.

Then why China?

Aside from reduced cost, there is one main reason a westerner might choose to go to grad school in China over a western country: because one’s object of study is inherently Chinese. This includes Chinese history, Chinese art, Chinese language, etc.

A reader once wrote me for advice on graduate level studies, saying:

> I want to do field research on speech patterns of Chinese-Mongolian bilingual speakers in Inner Mongolia, specifically how their exposure to Chinese affects their command and use of Mongolian.

In this case, it appears studying at a Chinese university makes sense, although she shouldn’t rule out the possibility of completing coursework in the States, but going to China for the field research. But she’ll have to dig for programs like that.

In my case, because I intended to stay in China long-term, it made sense to study in China both for career reasons and for Chinese study reasons. This does not mean that I found the master’s degree a “perfect match” however. I was fortunate enough to have a great advisor, but I really struggled to stay motivated when encountering some of the issues above. And although I was in a good location to conduct the experiment I wanted to do, I received little to no guidance in its execution. There were definitely times when I wondered if doing the degree in China was worth it.

By going through it, I did gain a deeper understanding into Chinese academia, even if what I experienced as a foreigner was “Chinese academia lite.” We did take the same courses, have the same professors, and get forced to attend the same student meetings. One question I cannot yet answer, however, is if those insights are worth some of the other aspects of my education which I sacrificed.

As I mentioned above, I can only speak from my own limited experience, but I would love to hear from those of you that can add to the picture.


08

Jul 2009

Busy July

I’ve spent the last few weeks reexamining my priorities and trying to free up a bit more time to do the things I enjoy most. Work remains both rewarding and demanding, but progressing in piano and continuing to work on Sinosplice are important to me. So far in July, however, I’ve needed to spend a lot of my free time just trip planning.

I’m preparing to go back to the U.S. this weekend for a two-week visit, and I’m taking with me not only my wife, but also my in-laws. My mother-in-law has never left China. Oh, and we’ll be attending my little sister’s wedding. It’s going to be an interesting little cultural affair.

Also, at already over a year since graduation, I’ve finally started putting my master’s thesis online. Now that all the pain of the actual writing is nearly forgotten, I’m starting to recall more clearly that my topic was, in fact, pretty damned interesting. It deserves a few posts.

First, though, it’s time for a visit to Obama’s America. I’m looking forward to it.


03

Nov 2008

Remember that thesis thing?

I announced way back in May that I passed my master’s thesis defense, and I promised to write more about it, but you’ve seen very little about it here. Why? Let me explain.

First, once the thesis was over, all I wanted to do was breathe a sigh of relief and forget about the thesis for a while. I was in no big rush to blog about the content of my thesis.

After my thesis was behind me, I became much more caught up in work. I found it hard to find good blocks of time to devote to putting my thesis findings on my website. The procrastination that served me so well in the early days of my thesis work had returned to help me out with the thesis website aftermath.

I had long planned to do it all over the October holiday, but laziness and a few days of flu destroyed that plan. It’s much easier to do quick one-off blog posts than to dig back into my research, so it has remained untouched.

Realizing that it will never happen if I don’t put forth a more determined effort, I have decided to put time aside to work on it instead of blogging. So I won’t be blogging at all until I finally get my thesis experiment results up on my website. I expect to finish it this coming weekend (November 9ish).

What you can expect:

– A new item in my Language section devoted to my thesis
– An overview of the experimental procedure
– An overview of the results
– A blog post or two discussing various aspects of the process

I’m not sure whether I’ll put the actual full thesis up for download. I’m definitely not translating the whole thing, but I might put it up in its original Chinese. The only problem is that a data error was identified after I completed my thesis, so if I do put it up, I’ll want to put up a corrected version. That will take more time. We’ll see.


Nov. 10 Update: Taking longer than I expected. (Forgot I don’t have MS Office 2007 on my computer right now, which I need…)

Nov. 16 Update: I’m running into some MS Office-related problems, but more importantly, I have to prepare for a business trip, so this project is going to have to be put on hold again.


17

Aug 2008

The Effect of Tonal Language Experience on the Acquisition of Mandarin Tones

This is the new, improved sequel to a comment I originally left on a Beijing Sounds entry entitled Zhonglish — Revenge of the Non-Native English Speaker.

From Chen Qinghai’s doctoral thesis (2000), Analysis of Mandarin Tonal Errors in Connected Speech by English-Speaking American Adult Learners: A Study at and Above the Word Level:

> 2.2.5.2 Tonal Language Experience

> Any language learning experience may have a positive impact on the acquisition of Mandarin tone (Bourgerie, 1995). The learning of another tone language may have greater effect on the learning of Mandarin tone (J-M. Lu, 1992). In order to find out if exposure to a tone language in childhood facilitates the learner’s performance in Mandarin tone, Sun (1997) used tone language experience as another between-subjects variable in her study. Her data show that subjects with tone language experience do have some advantage in distinguishing tone in phonologically modified contexts (p. 261); on the whole, however, their tone language background is not strongly associated with their tonal performance….

It’s hard to believe that tonal language experience doesn’t help much, but that’s what the experimental evidence suggests. I’d love to hear about more involved studies on this topic. We English speakers do like to look for excuses as to why tones are so hard for us (but this still doesn’t explain the rapid progress of Korean students!).

(The thesis quoted above was the basis for my own master’s thesis. I do intend to discuss it more, and to put some details of my own experiment online. Just need to find the time!)


03

Jul 2008

Visa Games

This week I’ve been busy gathering paperwork so I can (1) go all the way back to the U.S. to get my new work visa, and (2) graduate for real, like… for real. (And you thought passing the defense was enough? Nope, sorry… Not nearly enough red tape to make it final.)

I’m not too bitter about visa inconveniences brought on by the Olympics. It’ll be good to see my family and take a decent-length vacation from work (a vacation where I have no thesis to work on).

One of my American co-workers has been trying really hard to get to the Olympics this summer, but I can’t stay far enough away. With all the hype and over-the-top emotional build-up, I can’t imagine the Olympics in Beijing turning out better than a half-victory. Lots of things are bound to go wrong, but many will go right.

What I want to know is: after all this is over, what proportion of this country is going to scratch its collective head and wonder, what were we thinking?


23

May 2008

Eve of the Defense

It’s Friday night, and I’m doing the opposite of partying. Tomorrow morning I defend my masters thesis.

Originally I thought I’d be spending the evening going over my presentation, anticipating questions, and practicing my answers, but I suddenly got these three 硕士学位申请书 (Masters Degree Application Forms). I have to fill out six pages of academic history and mini-essays by hand (in Chinese, of course). In triplicate!

What a waste of my time. I can’t wait to graduate…


May 25 UPDATE: As some of you noticed from my Twitter status, I did, in fact pass my thesis defense. It actually went much smoother than I expected. I’ll write more on this soon.

In the meantime, even after my defense is over with and I have been granted an MA, I still have more paperwork to finish before it’s official. Arrgh…


23

Mar 2008

Easter Events

Xujiahui Cathedral

Xujiahui Cathedral

Today was Easter, a good good day to complete the rough draft of my thesis. It came out to about 27,000 characters (40 pages). I still have a bit to add and polish, but the majority of the workload is now off my shoulders. What a relief.

Today Easter mass at Xujiahui Cathedral was packed. My wife and I couldn’t help chuckling at the little Chinese kid behind us, continually pestering his dad with questions:

> What does “hallelujah” mean? Does it mean “I’m awake now?”

> Why did they put out the carpet? It’s not raining today. [In Shanghai you frequently see mats or even broken-down cardboard boxes by the entrances of buildings on rainy days to help collect the water off of people’s feet. In this case, it was a red carpet leading to the altar.]

> What happened to the bishop’s hat? Did someone cut it open? It looks like someone cut it open.

> What’s a prophet? [先知]

Happy Easter!


09

Mar 2008

YouTube and Flickr: DENIED!

OK, I’ve gotten over this annoying message I see anytime I try to access a Google Video:

Google Video in China

I’ve gotten over it mainly because I don’t ever use Google Video. YouTube has everything. Today, for the first time, I got this:

Youtube - Denied in the PRC

(Text reads: This video is not available in your country.)

Thanks a lot for spreading this helpful practice to YouTube, Google. This is so annoying. Has anyone else in China gotten this? Fortunately I’ve only gotten it once, for this video.

While I’m on the subject, Flickr has been misbehaving a lot recently too.

Flickr - Denied in the PRC

Other people have also noticed it. The Access Flickr Firefox plugin doesn’t help, and the problem itself seems erratic. Any solutions?

P.S. I’m up to 12,000 characters in my thesis. 2,000 more to go for today…


18

Feb 2008

Thesis Crunch and a note on Pinyin Tooltips

My thesis is taking up most of my free time these days. The deadlines are coming real soon and I have a lot of work left to do. (How could I have ever known an experiment would be a lot of work??)

The good news is that I have a pretty good idea of how the paper is going to turn out, even if I don’t have all the particulars nailed down yet, and I think it’s pretty interesting. The bad news is I have to have 30,000 Chinese characters on paper to turn in way too soon!

Anyway, for that reason, over the next month I will probably not be posting as frequently as my usual one post every 2-3 days, and when I do post, they will likely be quickies. Once all this is over, I will have a lot to say about my Chinese grad school experience. But it just wouldn’t be prudent to say too much yet.

On a wholly unrelated note, I finally managed to add javascript tooltips to pinyin on my site, like this: 拼音. The cool thing is that the tooltips are all still in the HTML markup and will work without javascript, but if you have javascript enabled you get the fancy ones. (On the site only, you lazy RSS-reader readers!) Anyone interested on how I did this? I could make it a topic of a future post if there is interest. I have to thank Brad for his help with the javascript, but the specifics can come later.


15

Dec 2007

Plan G

The experiment continues. The human element complicates any experiment, but having to gather my data from human sources and then to also have human help (not me) gathering the data is rather… vexing. Fortunately my experimental design allowed for some flexibility, because I have gone from Plan A to Plan B to Plan C… and I think I’m on something like Plan G now.

I’m not sacrificing quality; it’s still going to be good, but I will be glad when it’s over.


08

Nov 2007

Chinese Learners Wanted

I am doing a small experiment for my Masters thesis, and it involves recording the Mandarin Chinese of Westerners. If you’re a “Westerner” (exactly what that means will have to be defined after I examine the size of the pool of learners I can work with), and your Chinese is at the elementary to intermediate level (equivalent to 1-2 years of formal study), then you’re who I’m looking for!

The recording session will be in Shanghai at the end of November, and should only take about an hour. I will try to make it as fun as possible.

I can’t tell you the exact nature of the research until after the recording (and it’s changed a bit from what I may have posted earlier), but let me assure you that it’s utterly fascinating. Don’t miss out!

Please e-mail me if you’re interested. My e-mail is at the upper right corner on my website.

Update: Thank you to all the readers that have e-mailed me trying to help out. I really appreciate it. Let me answer a few common questions, though:

1. Yes, it has to be at the end of November. (My thesis comes with various deadlines.)
2. Yes, it has to be in Shanghai, in person. (It has to be a controlled experiment; it’s not just for fun.)


21

Jun 2007

Thesis Proposal in China

Today I had to officially submit my masters thesis proposal to a panel of professors at East China Normal University. In Chinese, the verb for going through this process is 开题. When you propose your thesis topic, you have to give each professor on the panel a copy of your proposal, or 开题报告. Then you summarize what you’d like to do in your thesis, and ask the professors any questions, if you’d like. The professors ask you questions about the scope of your thesis, controlling certain variables, theoretical basis, how your thesis will differ from existing research, etc. If all goes well, they will give you a few recommendations, approve the topic, then sign some paperwork and it’s all over. (I wish I could compare the process to an American version, but I’ve only ever been a graduate student in China, so I can’t.)

My thesis proposal was approved. I still have to revise the scope of my experiment somewhat, but I’m going to be studying some of the problems that North Americans have with the tones of Mandarin Chinese as upper elementary level exchange students in China.

In preliminary research on my topic, the most relevant and interesting paper I came across was a research paper by Dr. Qinghai Chen, who is currently a professor at the University of Michigan. Dr. Chen’s doctoral dissertation was done at Brigham Young University in 2000, entitled “Analysis of Mandarin Tonal Errors in Connected Speech by English-Speaking American Adult Learners: A Study at and Above the Word Level.”

The part of the abstract that intrigues me most:

> Findings at and above the word level jointly led to a summary of tonal error patterns, a discussion of relevant learner factors, an acquisition order of tonal contrasts, a set of criteria for better tones, and pertinent pedagogical suggestions.

So far I have been unable to get a full copy of the dissertation. I have contacted Dr. Chen and am awaiting his reply, but I’m afraid he might be on vacation or something. If anyone has an electronic copy of this paper, I would greatly appreciate the help!

Update: I got several e-mails offering help in acquiring Dr. Chen’s doctoral dissertation, including one with a PDF copy of exactly what I’m looking for (and within 12 hours of publishing this post). You readers are awesome! Thank you.


16

May 2007

Grammaticalization: Articles for Chinese?

This week in grad school class about Chinese grammar, we covered the topic of grammaticalization. Of interest to me was one paper in which the author made a case for the demonstrative pronoun 这 beginning to take on the role of definite article in Beijing dialect. In this usage, is pronounced “zhe” (neutral tone). The author also examined , and the same thing is not happening.

This made me think of English. We have the demonstrative pronouns “this, “that,” “these,” and “those.” Our definite article is “the.” Might “the” have evolved the same way? It seems almost the same… Just as 这 goes from fourth tone to neutral in the change, “this” perhaps lost its final consonant and the vowel was reduced to a schwa. Or actually, “the” could just be capturing the initial consonant sound of all four of those demonstrative pronouns. Does anyone know anything about the historical grammaticalization of English? I Googled it but didn’t find much.

The paper also talked about the development of an indefinite article (like “a” or “an” in English). The author explains that in Beijing dialect, 一个 is often shortened to 一, but is pronounced “yí” (second tone) rather than “yī” (first tone). It stays second tone because in 一个 the 一 has to be second tone due to Mandarin’s tone changes for 一. It’s not normal for that tone change to stick if you remove the reason for it, though. The author says this tone change sticks no matter what noun precedes it, and gives the examples of 一狮子, 一熟人, 一老外, 一耗子 (which demonstrate that the second tone sticks no matter which of the four tones follows it).

So it makes you wonder… if this trend in Beijing dialect becomes a rule, will it make it into Mandarin as a whole? How soon might students of Chinese have to learn the Chinese definite and indefinite articles?

The actual article goes into 11 pages of examples, as well as semantic and syntactic analysis. If you’re interested, it’s called 指示词“这”和“那”在北京话中的语法化 and it’s by 方梅, published in 2002.


26

Mar 2007

Semantic Flavors of "My" in Chinese and English

My end of the term pragmatics/semantics paper looked at the use of the English word “my” in certain constructions and compared it with the corresponding “我的” constructions in Chinese.

When you say “my X” in English, it could actually mean a variety of things, but we generally expect it to mean something like “the X that belongs to me.” Such is the case for “my book,” “my blog,” my hand,” etc. When X is a societal unit or group, however, the semantic relationship is no longer the default. Let’s take a look at these examples:

– my parents
– my family
– my class
– my gym
– my university
– my bank
– my company
– my hometown
– my city
– my government
– my country

So when you say “my parents,” are you expressing that your parents belong to you, or that you belong to your parents? Or is it another relationship altogether?

(more…)


13

Mar 2007

Homework Excuse Note

So last week my hard drive stopped working right before the deadline for my semantics/pragmatics paper. I was able to get an extension, but “I had computer troubles” is the “dog ate my homework” excuse of the modern age, so, conscientious student that I am, I felt the need to get documented “proof” of my computer troubles. I had the computer shop that fixed my hard drive write up a note and put the company seal on it.

Yeah, the whole idea sounds kind of silly, but not nearly as silly as it ended up looking. The computer guy used a tiny scrap of paper to scrawl the note. It just looks ridiculous (and yet, somehow… awesome?):

Homework Excuse Note

Anyway, I thought I’d share it because I kind of enjoy the challenge of reading handwritten Chinese. This note isn’t too difficult to read, although a little challenging in parts. If you want help deciphering, though, click through to the Flickr page.

Translation of the note:

> Pan Ji‘s teacher: Hello.

> Due to a computer hard drive failure,

> data could not be read.

> computer company, Chen Hua

> (examined from the 8th to the 10th )


09

Mar 2007

Forced Break

Wednesday my hard drive died. When I tried to boot my computer, I got this message:

> OS not installed

Yikes! Luckily I had my Ultimate Boot CD, but even that is of little use when your system has decided that your main hard drive (the one with Windows installed on it) is no longer there.

That hard drive was only three months old, so the company I bought from will replace it free of charge, but they can’t do the data recovery. Furthermore, if I want them to replace the hard drive right away and give me the bad hard drive back so I can find someone to recover the data, I need to pay for a new hard drive because they need the bad one to return it to the manufacturer. They’ll refund my money when I return the bad hard drive.

I think I’m just going to pay for the bad hard drive, then when I return it, exchange it for a new one. I’ll then have three 160 GB hard drives. That will be nice (especially if they stop breaking).

Anyway, I am on a short break. Once I get my computer back tomorrow I need to rewrite my 3000 character semantics/pragmatics paper that was due today.

UPDATE: It turned out the problem was that an IDE setting in the CMOS spontaneous changed. I still can’t figure out how that would happen, but anyway, it was an easy fix and no data was lost! The guy showed me which setting to change if it happens again. No charge. I didn’t end up buying another HD after all, and I got a signed, stamped note proving my computer was broken to give to my school. Heh.


22

Oct 2006

Metrosexual: 9 Chinese Translations

When I mentioned a presentation on homosexuals in the West for my critical discourse analysis class, I gave the Chinese translation of “metrosexual” as 都市玉男. That’s not the only translation, though. In his research, Pepe turned up quite a few other translations currently in use online. Here are the ones Pepe collected, along with their literal meanings:

metro

“Metrosexual”

1. 都市玉男 city jade man
2. 都市美型男 city beauty type man
3. 都市中性美男 city neuter beauty man
4. 都会美直男 city beauty straight man
5. 都市生活自恋者 city life narcissist
6. 花样美男 variety beauty man
7. 花色美男 variety beauty man
8. 雌性男人 female man
9. 后雅痞 post yuppie

Translation Notes

1. 都市 means both “city” and “metropolis,” as does 都会.

2. 美 could also be translated “beautiful” in all instances above

3. The same word “variety” was used for both 花样 and 花色, even though they’re different words. When examined at the character level, both contain the “flower” character, but the latter also contains 色, which in other words can mean “color” or something close to “sex.” I’m not sure exactly how the use of these words impact the feel of the Chinese translation.

Translation into Chinese can be pretty tough. I do find it very interesting to see the variety of translation attempts when a new, diffult to translate English word appears in Chinese media. Usually a certain period of time is required while society settles on one or two, effectively pushing out the rest, which are then are mostly forgotten by society.

After several years of hype, the whole metrosexual fad seems to be dying, and the English word might just die with it. If it does fall out of usage, though, that doesn’t necessarily mean its corresponding Chinese translation will. The Chinese might decide to keep the word around for their own purposes. Time will tell.



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