I had a great time interacting with other teachers at ACTFL 2008. Yes, what we do at Praxis Language is quite different from what the teachers in the trenches do, but it’s important to connect with them, to hear about how the classroom is changing, how the students are changing, and maybe even about how we might converge in some areas.
I sat in on some particularly interesting talks on CFL (Chinese as a Foreign Language). Only half a year after I finished my own thesis, I felt I really needed to be reminded of the wide world of academic pursuits… some of the research was quite fascinating. I’m planning to revisit some of the topics here in my blog in the next few weeks.
In the meantime, I’d just like to draw my readers’ attention to a cool product I ran into at ACTFL: Skritter [China-friendly link]. It’s a really well-executed online system for practicing character writing, and it has built-in support for Integrated Chinese. Check it out.
I’m really looking forward to meeting some of the brightest and most passionate language educators that my country has to offer. If you will be in attendance and would like to meet up, by all means, send me an e-mail.
While we’re on the topic of Military Weaponry for Kids, let’s explore that book, shall we? Here’s what the book’s cover looks like:
The big name on the front is 画童学画, which could be cleverly “translated” as “Draw Child Study Draw.” Here’s what a few of the pages look like:
Each page basically does three things: (1) teaches the kid how to draw something across the top, (2) using pinyin, teaches the kid how to say the name of the object in the middle, and (3) gives the kid practice writing the character at the bottom.
1. The characters offered for writing practice in the book are at a kindergarten level, but the weaponry vocabulary is at a much, much higher level. (I don’t even know the names of some of those guns in English. Clearly I come from a totally un-war-like culture. Ahem.)
2. The part at the top that “teaches drawing” isn’t helpful. I used plenty of those “learn how to draw” books growing up, and this one just sucks.
3. Hey, this book is pretty useful for someone like me to learn weaponry vocab. Among the Chinese vocabulary taught in the book are: machine gun, heavy machine gun, handgun, rifle, semi-automatic rifle, uzi, revolver, hand grenade, flame thrower, rocket launcher, smoke grenades, tank, aircraft carrier, bomber plane, fighter jet, guided missile, stealth bomber… and more.
4. One of the guns is called a 来福枪 (lit. “come luck gun”). Hehe. Wenlin says it means “rifle” (a kind of transliteration) but it looks more like a shotgun to me.
5. Oh, right, I almost forgot: why do little Chinese kids need to be learning this stuff??
This kind of children’s book is not very uncommon; you can find similar books in almost any bookstore in China. (See the book here.)
Sort of related: see also Peer-See’s highly amusing entry on teaching incomprehensible weirdness to the children through bizarre blocks.
Anyway, recently Dr. Xie visited Shanghai. He stopped by ChinesePod to discuss some academic issues with Ken, and I also had a dinner with Dr. Xie during which we chatted about the state of academia in the PRC, thesis topics, and other fun things.
During our chat, he talked about what it was like, as a native of Shanghai, to make periodic visits after living abroad for twenty-odd years. Never mind the tremendous changes in the city; here’s an exchange he had with a cab driver:
> Driver: So you’re visiting Shanghai from abroad, huh?
> Dr. Xie: Why do you say that?
> Driver: Well, I know you don’t live here…
> Dr. Xie: How can you tell?
> Driver: Well, first, you speak flawless Shanghainese, but you gape at everything around you like a tourist. Second, you don’t dress like a local. And third, you don’t smell like a local. You use some kind of fancy perfumey stuff.
I found this conversation highly amusing.
* Note that in the paper Dr. Xie translates “podcast” not as 播客, which has enjoyed popularity in the PRC, possibly due to its cute similarity to 博客 (blog). Dr. Xie uses the term 网播 for “podcast.”
Since I don’t have classes over the summer, I figured it was a good time to start learning something new. I started learning Korean. To fit Korean into my hectic schedule, I hired a Korean foreign student from ECNU to come to my apartment and tutor me once a week. Why Korean? Well, I have several reasons:
1. Korean looks cool. I’ve always liked it. I like the way it sounds, too (more than, say, that overrated language French).
2. Korean (mostly) uses a phonetic writing system. The last two languages I tackled seriously have been Japanese and Chinese, and let me tell you, I don’t have time for any more of this “memorizing thousands of characters” crap.
3. It would be great to have some ability in all three of the official languages of East Asia. With English and Spanish, I’ve already got most of North America, South America, Australia, and Europe covered.
4. Outside of Korea itself, China is a pretty good place to study Korean (see below).
Anyway, I have had three classes so far, and I’ve learned a few things:
> As you probably know, I’ve spent much of my year teaching a choir made up of migrant children. As you probably know, migrant children are among the poorest in the city. They aren’t allowed into public schools so their families have to pay double the tuition of a public school to send their kids to poor quality schools created specifically for migrant children. The Shanghai Migrant Children’s Choir has performed in four concerts, including a concert with 5 time grammy award winning artist Steven Curtis Chapman, and the choir has been featured in over 12 TV and newspaper publications in China. Now, a friend of mine and I are starting a music school so that these children have a permanent place to learn music. We would also like to give the children a place study after school and attend free tutoring lessons.
> Because the migrant school that these children used to attend was in such poor shape, we’ve coerced the local government to allow our choir kids into public school. They say that they will let the kids into public school ONLY if the students’ English skills are up to par. So, right now, our most immediate need is an English tutor. We need a college-age native English speaker to come to our school once or twice a week for the month of August to tutor 26 migrant children. The tutor will have a native Chinese speaker assistant from Fudan who can assist the tutor. The school is located 5 minutes away from Fudan University in Jiangwan district. All transportation costs will be covered.
If you are interested, please e-mail me and I will give you the necessary contact info.
I haven’t updated for the past few days because over the weekend I was feverishly preparing for my one exam this semester. It was the Modern Chinese (现代汉语) exam. I’ve actually already taken another version of this exam before in order to get into grad school, but my advisor thought it might be beneficial for me to study it again more in-depth in order to make up some credits.
Preparing for this exam was not fun. I have already learned the material once, and it’s all fairly easy to understand, but I had to memorize so much material this time. The focus of the exam was grammar, so it was mainly focused on categorizing. That means memorizing tons of lists: the 14 Chinese parts of speech, the 12 types of phrases, the 10 types of complex sentences, etc. There were many such lists. I found the actual analysis (such as by 层次分析法) to be OK, but the memorization was killing me.
I think the experience of taking an exam with Chinese undergrad students really gave me a good look into what it’s like to be a Chinese college student. It also reminded me that I’m not a college kid anymore, and that my memory is much less accepting than it once was. More than anything, I just don’t have the patience for that kind of learning anymore; we live in a world of limitless resources at our fingertips. Memorization of this kind of thing is for chumps!
I noticed that the one essay question on my exam was the same as one of the ones on the first Modern Chinese exam I took: what are the main distinguishing grammatical features of Modern Chinese? On the one hand, this is a very important question directly relevant to anyone who wants to teach Chinese. But on the other hand, it kind of strikes me as tied to the Chinese pride issue.
The exam wasn’t too bad, but I really hope it’s the last exam of this type that I have to take.