27 February 2007

Must students understand language mechanics to achieve language usage?

Private Sub Reply_to_message_about_grammar()
Dim MESSAGE as String
MESSAGE = "Hello," & Chr$(13) & Chr(10) & Chr$(13) & Chr(10) & "I think the goal is to teach our students to use the language. "
MESSAGE = MESSAGE & "Sometimes trying to study the mechanics makes it more difficult and confusing. "
MESSAGE = MESSAGE & "The same is true with computers. Most of us just want to use programs. "
MESSAGE = MESSAGE & "Trying to study computer language makes it more difficult and confusing."
MESSAGE = MESSAGE & Chr$(13) & Chr(10) & Chr$(13) & Chr(10) & "However, computer people should understand programming. Teachers should understand language mechanics."
MESSAGE = MESSAGE & Chr$(13) & Chr(10) & Chr$(13) & Chr(10) & "Dave Kees"
End sub



I think the goal is to teach our students to use the language. Sometimes trying to study the language mechanics makes it more difficult and confusing. The same is true with computers. Most of us just want to use programs. Trying to study computer language makes it more difficult and confusing.

However, computer people should understand programming. Teachers should understand language mechanics.

Dave Kees

Bob - Effective student monitoring, formative & diagnostic assessments and differentiating instruction

A teacher lamented: "If, as is the case with many teachers, they have 10 or 11 separate classes once a week for one and a half hours - and, an average of 50 students in each class, - they see around 500 students for a total of approximately 26 hours during a full semester. If there is any super teacher that can focus on the performance of every one of their students under these conditions and, realistically, expect to achieve, even, 90% motivation then they have outstanding expectations."

Different teachers have different ways to appeal to and win the hearts and minds of their students. Some teachers do it through the example of their professionalism, sometimes augmented by humor and love, and the confidence that the teacher is able to instill into their students that he will be able to take their English to a higher level.

But in large classes there are students who are slipping through the cracks. As you implied, how can they "focus on the performance of every one of their students under these conditions" rather than just, what I'll call, "broadcast teaching"?

This past semester I was experimenting with a system I like to call "Bob". In a way, "Bob" is a computer system I'm using consisting of an Excel file and Visual Basic program. But it is more an extension or appendage of me as a teacher and many of the things I'm doing with my students. Technology isn't running my classroom but I am using technology to help me do what I need to do easier and better.

I must say it has helped me keep track of my students ten times better than before I began to use it. Of course, I'm a bit absent minded and always have trouble remembering things, people, names, etc.

For people who are interested in this sort of thing you need to know what to do after you gain the ability to closely monitor each student. For example, built into the system you would have some Diagnostic and Formative Assessments.

The next step is grouping the students or segmenting them. (Bob enabled me to develop the name cards or name tents that I spoke of earlier.) Then you can apply what they call "Differentiating Instruction" to better meet the needs of the students and their motivational triggers in a more individual way.[2]

I think most teachers teach to the middle level of the class. We don't teach to the bottom students but we don't teach to the top students either. We teach to the middle students. This is perhaps the normal effort of teachers. Teachers who make a greater effort may try to do something for students who are lagging. But there is also a significant number of students who are doing very well in our classes. If we don't pay attention to their needs they will be stuck at an academic ceiling, possible boredom and lost opportunity to develop. We need to offer them a degree of more challenging work so they can climb higher than the class average to which we are teaching.

By effective use of available technology all of this is possible to the degree that I think you could manage 500 students.

I have a couple hundred students and until using this system I never felt I was really on top of monitoring them. The system is so powerful that recently I set up for a new group of only eight students and the system felt like overkill, too much for such a small group.

From this I can see how all of my students are doing at a glance. Areas that are in pink or dark pink indicate some areas of concern. Areas that are white indicate above average achievement. These colors appear automatically according to the data. If I want detailed information I can drill down into the data but the colored Dashboard provides a good overview.

The Dashboard is a summary consisting of totals or weighted averages of all the other data I'm tracking on other sheets like the daily attendance record (AT), classroom interaction (CIA), homework scores (HW), quiz scores (QUIZ) and bonus work.

It is a system I developed myself and is still a work in progress. It is an Excel file. In addition I've added programming elements that allow Bob to send out SMS messages through my mobile phone to 150 students automatically updating them on their scores.

26 February 2007

Know your students, know your ESP

Mert Bland on developing English training for special purposes (ESP): "I always begin where the students are and work outward in a kind of spiral. Like, have each one describe what he does. Ask questions. Have him teach you what security and facilities maintenance are all about. He should know more than you."

Mert makes a good point here. It's very easy for the teacher to make wrong assumptions of what the students need. You should also ask your students for copies of their incoming and outgoing Emails so you can see what your students communicate about, what kind of language they use and what kind of errors they make. When I start a training I get 10 Emails from each student. I have collected thousands by now and have a pretty good insight into real business writing.

Many teachers think that the students need to expand their vocabulary in their professional field. However, I've found that professional vocabulary is one of the things they learn first while on the job and they are often more in need of improving their grammar to support their vocabulary. This is a big relief for the teacher who may not be conversant in their particularly technical field.

Lower level students will need more functional help, how to describe or plan certain actions; ie: planning the work schedule for security staff. Higher level students will not have much trouble with this but will need help in discussing concepts and ideas; ie: future trends in security and maintenance.

The best way to figure out what they need is, like Mert suggested, talk to them about their work. You could also ask for a tour of their facilities and this will give you lots of ideas of things to talk about with them or you can even help them learn how to do the tour in English.

One final thought is that in some cases it is best to not always fit the training too closely to their job. I was teaching Business English to some students from Caltex and found some Caltex materials and a video clip on the Internet. I formulated some lessons around this Caltex material which I thought would really hit the target of what the students need. I suppose it did but the students hated it. They told me they deal with Caltex stuff all week and they'd like to get their minds off work a bit when they studied English.

5-paragraph essay writer

24 February 2007

Evaluating speaking and validity

A teacher, who has his students do a class presentation as the sole English speaking evaluation task, defended his approach by saying: "I guess this just shows that there is more ways than one to skin a cat - the principles of public speaking are things that we can use every day in our lives and, if it helps to build up the confidence in the students to use their English, then it seems as good a technique to use as many of the others."

Indeed, there is more than one way to accomplish a task. But there are also good ways and bad ways, effective ways and ineffective ways.

I can't say for sure but I'll make a guess that you haven't taken a TESOL course or had any formal training to be an English teacher. I'll admit my formal training is skimpy but I study as much as I can.

Brown & Yule explained some of the challenges of speaking. "...it should also be borne in mind that even native speakers of English find that a straight description is easier, in some sense, than telling a story and, in turn, that telling a story is easier than a justification of an opinion....This is a rather general guide to the level of difficulty. Naturally, a short narrative involving a single character and only two or three events may be easier than a lengthy description covering many details and relationships."

Here is a list of examples of speaking that Brown & Yule point out:

1. Static relationships

a) Describing an object or photograph
b) Instructing someone how to draw a diagram
c) Instructing someone how to assemble a piece of equipment
d) Describing/instructing how a number of objects are to be arranged
e) Giving route directions

2. Dynamic relationships

a) Story telling
b) Giving an eye-witness account

3. Abstract relationships

a) Opinion-expressing
b) Justifying a course of action

If you are familiar with the IELTS speaking test you can see these elements in the test. First the examiner asks some basic information or a description of something. Then to tell a story of something like a holiday you took. Then finally he will ask for some opinions on some topics.

He works from easier tasks to more difficult tasks. Students should begin having difficulty at some point during the test by which the examiner can see the student's level of competence.

Of course, as Karen pointed out, there are different kinds of tests and what we are talking about are not IELTS English competency tests but more like a pass/fail type test.

But my point is that there are a lot of different demands English speaking tasks make and it's important to match the task to the need and to achieve validity.

Brown explains: "The general concept of validity was traditionally defined as 'the degree to which a test measures what it claims, or purports, to be measuring' (Brown, 1996, p. 231).

"Validity was traditionally subdivided into three categories: content, criterion-related, and construct validity (see Brown 1996, pp. 231-249). Content validity includes any validity strategies that focus on the content of the test. To demonstrate content validity, testers investigate the degree to which a test is a representative sample of the content of whatever objectives or specifications the test was originally designed to measure."

So a test of General English would not be valid for Business English students. A Public Speaking test would not be valid for General English students. Would it be good for General English students to be competent in Public Speaking. Probably. Does the ability to speak publicly show competence in a general English speaking situation? No. Could the specific anxiety generated by speaking in public interfere with General English production? Absolutely.

General English requires the ability to negotiate meaning, explaining, understanding when they are not being clear to the listener and using appropriate strategies (circumlocution or defining terms), turn-taking, etc.

To this the teacher questioned: "Why??? What support do you have for this statement. In my years in China, the correlation is pretty strong, good english communicators give good speeches. This seems natural."

I meant invalid as far as content validity is concerned. Are you familiar with content validity?

As explained by Underhill the question is:
"It is relevant? Do the items or tasks in he test match what the test as a whole is supposed to assess? Where the objectives of the programme are set out in detail, for example in a syllabus that lists skills or functions, then the content validity can be assessed by comparing the kind of language generated in the test against the syllabus. The questions then is whether the test produces a good sample of the contest of the syllabus."

Using a public speech as a way to test general English is like giving a driving test on a motorcycle instead of a car.

Brown & Yule (1983) Teaching the Spoken Language, Cambridge University Press. Brown http://www.jalt.org/test/bro_8.htm
There is a lot of good information about testing at: http://www.jalt.org/test/news-title.htm

The spiral of English teaching in China

A teacher commented: "After a long teaching career I am sad to see these things go in cycles..."

Language teaching screeched to a halt during the Cultural Revolution but began to pick up in earnest about 1980. Still, China had a lot of catching up to do not to speak of the need to overcome the natural inertia that is always a part of the academic territory.

I wouldn't say that things are turning in a perfect cycle. I would say it's more like a spiral. Although it is turning when it comes around it gets closer to the center.

Many foreigners who work here, not just teachers but all foreigners, wish that their work or business was more organized.

I think teachers wish they had more support and instruction in how to go about their jobs. They would like better planning on the part of the school to eliminate last minute changes. I think they would like better classrooms, equipment, materials and books. The would like better salary and living conditions. They would like higher standards in all areas.

I think China is going in that direction. Of course, it will take time. Academia doesn't change at the same speed as it takes Chinese contractors to throw up a shopping center or apartment building.

But one thing that the improvement seeking teachers will need to be aware of is that China will also have higher standards for foreign teachers and many current teachers will not qualify. China will formulize the requirements and certification for teachers.

Additionally, when the ministry of education starts dictating what books to use and exactly what to teach and how to teach it teachers will have a whole new set of complaints. Gone will be the relative freedom teachers have today to accommodate their approach to the specific needs of individual classes.

Public schools in New York began a program where every school teaches the same page of the same book each day in every school. People who want the government to step in may not be aware of what they are getting.

Up to now I think, considering this being the most populous nation in the world with perhaps also the greatest desire in the world to learn English, the Chinese are doing a pretty good job. Rather than the government dictating what everyone should do and how to do it while perhaps not really knowing the best way to go about it, the government is allowing quite a bit of freedom and hopefully seeing what is working well and what is not working well.

As for the present, the foreign teachers here are like pioneers. The conditions are not so easy. Many things are rather rough. The compensation may seem meager. But as soon as conditions improve and living standards improve you can be sure the teaching field will become crowded with highly qualified teachers coming over.

23 February 2007

What would "distributed teaching" be like?

Perhaps you've heard of the idea of computing tasks being farmed out to many different computers? Science and business use distributed computing to solve complex problems when the power of one computer is not enough. SETI is a rather big and public example of this. It uses tens of thousands of computers around the world to help with computations related to the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence.

Already technology is playing a role in our teaching. Ten years ago Email was not widely used. Ten years ago the Internet as we know it was just a baby. Now we use these things quite extensively. Many of us are using them in our teaching as well. We have set up websites, we communicate with our students and other teachers through the Internet. Email and VOIP (Internet telephony) technology have eliminated the sense of distance between each other and makes almost everyone in the world feel

Each new technology opens a new door to opportunities we didn't think of before. So we have to be constantly reevaluating the possibilities because what we can do today is something we couldn't do yesterday.

What would "distributed teaching" be like? Seeing how distributed computing has impacted computing, how would distributed teaching impact teaching? What would distributed teaching be like?

Perhaps a network of teachers in different locations forming a team and each one applying his specialty to work together on each other's students?

These are some questions I've been asking myself lately and, frankly, I don't really know but think there might be some interesting possibilities there. What do you think?

21 February 2007

Grouping students for pairwork or groupwork

Here are some practical ways to manage a classroom of students in fixed seating. These methods work quite well and I use them constantly.

First you start with a classroom of students. In this case we have 48 seats but some classes may be less. Larger class sizes do exist but are not the rule and you can adapt the methods below for larger classes. Sometimes you may have many more seats than students and the students will spread out and some will sit near the back, etc. I will sometimes assign the latecomers to fill in some of the empty seats in the front part of the class and/or when it comes time to do pair or group work I'll have some students move to sit near others to make up the right number. When I create pairs or groups I usually walk through the class pointing at each student and showing the student his or her partner(s). Here is our classroom of students:

0000 0000 0000
0000 0000 0000
0000 0000 0000
0000 0000 0000

Obviously, when it comes time for pair work they can talk with the person next to them. This is usually a friend anyway and someone it is easy for them to speak with. Here the pairs are indicated as either "xx" or "oo":

xxoo xxoo xxoo
ooxx ooxx ooxx
xxoo xxoo xxoo
ooxx ooxx ooxx

I used to have all kinds of sizes for group work but now I strictly limit myself to arranging 4 person groups with rare exceptions. I firmly believe this is the ideal number for group work. When there are more there is a greater tendency for students who are not talking to space out or get distracted. In the example below you can see that some students only have to turn around to create the four person group. Again, the groups are differentiated as "x" groups of four or "o" groups of four.

xxoo xxoo xxoo
xxoo xxoo xxoo
ooxx ooxx ooxx
ooxx ooxx ooxx

Sometimes you feel that the dynamics are not working so well in the pairs. Perhaps some people seem to resist talking to the person next to them. Perhaps some folks who are sitting together are too chummy. I also think it's good to get students out of their comfort zones, out of their seats, as it gets them a bit more stirred up and although they show a bit of reluctance at first they always wind up enjoying it. Mix things up by giving each student a number or letter, counting them off up to half the students and then repeating the counting. The students then find their partner ("a" finds the other "a" and "b" find the other "b" if you use numbers). In this case students might just stand up in different places of the classroom to do the exercise.

abcd efgh ijkl
mnop qrst uvwx
abcd efgh ijkl
mnop qrst uvwx

But if they sit down it might look like this (below). All that is really important is that a & a get together and b & b, etc. They can be standing around in different places in the classroom but if they did sit down and put themselves in a nice little order they could look like this:

aabb ccdd eeff
gghh iijj kkll
mmnn oopp qqrr
sstt uuvv wwxx

You can do the same thing when making up groups. Just try to find a way to count them off so that they are not already sitting near each other. Especially when doing groups like this the students may abandon trying to sit in seats when doing the exercise. It is really helpful for the students to get out of their seats as it gets their bodies more involved in the class activities (though not in a TPR way) and when their bodies get more involved their minds get more involved.

abcd efgh ijkl
efgh ijkl abcd
ijkl abcd efgh
abcd efgh ijkl

But if they sit down it might look like this (below). All that is important is that a & a & a & a get together and b & b & b & b, etc. Note that two students will turn around to talk with their partners behind them. So the 2 a's in front will form the group with the a's behind them and all talk together.

aabb ccdd eeff
aabb ccdd eeff
gghh iijj kkll
gghh iijj kkll

These arrangements will work well with intermediate and advanced students and they will talk and talk. You may have problems with low level students, beginners, etc. as they have a harder time expressing themselves in English and will be more tempted to talk in Chinese. If your students need a little more help to not resort to Chinese you'll be surprised how effective a "policeman" is. The policeman is told to make sure everyone sticks to English. In this example, groups have been made and one student, marked with a "1", is asked to act as a policeman. Using our earlier example of groups of four seated students it could be like this:

1abb 1c1d 1e1f
aabb ccdd eeff
1g1h 1i1j 1k1l
gghh iijj kkll

These methods are tried and proven. As long as care is given in assigning good speaking tasks and students are interested in learning English these arrangements will result in a classroom of happy noisy chatting students.

"Google Alerts" to alert you to interesting news

Teachers are always looking for material to interest students. I'd like to say I've had great success using Google Alerts.

Alerts is a service that scans about 4000 news sources every day and sends you an Email of links to these sources that fit your criteria. For example, I'm teaching at an American company that works with McDonalds. I have alerts set for "mcdonalds" "kfc" and "logisitics china" (without the quotation marks).

I get lots of interesting news from these alerts. I found out about the death of McDonald's CEO before my students did so they heard about it from me first. I have passed on to them detailed information about McDonalds new menu in the U.S. which, with all likelyhood, be coming to China in a couple years. I also passed on information about new technologies in logistics and warehousing.

This also helps you to tailor your class to your students need, as in English for Special Purposes.

The feedback from my students has been very enthusiastic. They said they are learning lots of interesting things about their industry and also how to explain things in English about their industry.

These students are managers or department heads and all use computers. Using features of Outlook I can put this news into messages and set the date for each message to go out. I usually gather up about 5-6 news stories and set them to go out one a day. Of course, if your students don't have computers you can make printouts to work with.

Using highly interesting material you will see students make a greater effort to apply themselves to understanding and learning it than they would with generic material that is of little personal interest. Students will tackle material that would normally be over their head.

You can set the search criteria in exactly the same way you would a regular Google search. Have fun!

Speaking ideas borrowed from Edward de Bono

Here is one idea that takes no preparation and can keep your students talking for a long time. I'm borrowing from de Bono's Lateral Thinking. De Bono, in one of his books, spoke of the importance of trying to see situations from various perspectives. Also I'm taking some ideas from Willis and Willis' Task Based Learning and Nation's Just Say It:

Tell the students story where there can be different viewpoints. For example, there was a story in a newspaper about an eagle that escaped from its cage in a zoo and was difficult to capture. It was perched on a high branch and is resisting the efforts of the keepers to lure it back to its cage.

Divide the students up into four equal groups. Ask each group to imagine a different viewpoint in the situation. One group should imagine and discuss the viewpoint of the keeper, another group should consider the viewpoint of a newspaperman, a third group should consider the eagle and another group a passerby.

The groups should discuss each viewpoint and from that viewpoint how they would describe their feelings and attitudes in that situation.

After they get started, check on them and make sure they are getting some ideas. You can further seed their discussion with these ideas:

Alternative viewpoints

The keeper's point of view: the bird may fly away and get lost or shot unless it is coaxed back soon. It is uncomfortable having to climb up trees after the bird and one feels a bit foolish. Someone is to blame having let it escape.

The newspaperman's point of view: the longer the bird stays out the better the story. Can one get close enough to get a good picture? One ought to find some other interest such as different people's ideas on how to catch the bird.

The eagle's point of view: wondering what all the fuss is about. Strange feeling not to be in a cage. Getting rather hungry. Not sure in which direction to fly.

The onlooker's point of view: hoping the eagle will fly away and be free for evermore. Amused to see the strenuous efforts being made to catch the bird. The eagle looks so much better out on its own than inside a cage. Maybe one could show how clever one was by catching the bird when no one else could.

Each group of students could develop what they would say to represent their viewpoint. After some time the teacher would take one student from each group to form new groups. Then each person would discuss their viewpoint in their new groups.

Afterward you can have a general discussion of the situation and talk about any interesting things that the students contributed to the talk.

Making reading comprehension more interactive

A teacher asks: "How I may turn a reading comprehension exercise to be more activity orientated and also one which would encourage the students to talk or communicate with each other?"

Doing speaking activities in conjunction with reading activities is a very good idea. After a reading students have been exposed to some new vocabulary in context and with the appropriate grammar support.

This makes it easier than telling the students, "OK everybody, talk about pollution."

1. Before allowing the students to see the story ask them what they know about the subject. You could have them talk in pairs and exchange what they know about it. Then read the story.

2. If the story is talking about different places or different people, have your pairs or groups talk about which one they think is best, worst, they'd like to visit, etc. and why.

3. If it is talking about a famous person this is a great idea (adapted from a list member's suggestion). Have each student write down a question they would like to ask that famous person if they met him/her. Then have the students circulate around the classroom asking each other their question. The student answering the question would answer as the famous person. After both students get a chance to ask and answer they exchange questions and find other students to do it with.

4. You could try Nation's "Say It!" (documented below).

5. A little simpler approach is to get two characters out of the story (if you're doing pair work) or four characters (if you're doing group work). Then assign students to tell the story from the characters' perspective.

Say It!

In Say it!, learners work in groups of about four people. First they read a Say it! text carefully until they have reached a good understanding of it. They discuss their understanding of the text to make sure everything is fairly clear. Then they do the tasks in the Say it! grid, which is a collection of simple verbal tasks related to the reading (see the following example).

One learner chooses a square for the next learner to perform, for example square B2. The learner does this task while the others observe and, when the student has finished, s/he calls a square, for example, A3, for the next learner. This continues with some learners doing the same task several times and with some tasks being done several times by different learners. Often the tasks are like role plays and require the learners to use the vocabulary that was in the reading text, but to use it in a different way.

This helps the development of fluency by providing lots of associations with the vocabulary used in the task, that is the associations from the reading text and its discussion, and the associations from the Say it! role play. Although the Say it! activity does not involve large amounts of repetition, it involves preparation by the learners.

That is, the learners prepare for the spoken task by studying the written text. This preparation should increase the fluency with which learners do the spoken task.

The following is an example of a Say It! activity (Joe, Nation, & Newton, 1996, p. 6). The story is called "Castaways Survived on Sharks Blood."

Three fishermen who drifted on the Pacific for four months told how they drank shark's blood to survive. The fishermen from Kiribati told their story through an interpreter in the American Samoa capital of Pago Pago after being rescued by the ship Sakaria. Kautea Teatoa, Veaieta Toanuea, and Tebwai Aretana drifted 400 kilometers from home after their outboard motor failed on February 8. They said four ships had refused to help during their ordeal. When they were picked up on June 4 they had eaten the last of a one meter shark four days before and drunk all of its blood. "I have not prayed so much in all my life," Mr. Aretana said.

You are Kautea. Say what helped you survive.
You are Tebwai Aretana. How did you feel when the ships refused to help you?
You are a sailor on the Sakaria. What did you do to help the fishermen?
You are Tebwai. Explain why you were in the boat and what happened after it broke down.
You are Kautea. How did you feel when you caught the shark?
You are the captain. Explain why you stopped.
You are Veaieta. Explain what caused the problem.
You are the interpreter. Describe the appearance of the three men.
The journey was called an ordeal. Why?

Comments after the Beijing TEFL Conference

A teacher attended a TEFL Conference in Beijing and reported back on the key points (in italics below) with my comments.

1. The emphasis throughout was that students, not teachers should initiate most of the work.

Students can do this only if they are given some direction and training how to do it as well as the power and the freedom. What kind of work are they supposed to do? Preparing for exam work? That doesn't give them much leeway.

2. Don’t go to extremes. All new and no old usually causes problems. Add the new to the old and discard some of the old.

This is fine as long as they don't use it as an excuse to have all old and no new. Professor Li Xiao Ju introduced the communicative approach in 1980 and they nearly stoned her as a heritic. Around 1990 the Education Ministry accepted the communicative approach but had to back down over stiff resistence. Now they have the "eclectic clause" which means they pick and choose what they want from communicative approach often picking nothing.

3. Listening – Xian Medical College. Listening plus is the answer. Teacher of Listening is regarded as a ‘button pusher’ for a machine. Isolated skills impair learning. Each teacher, half their classes were left as normal and half the classes were given the new program. They used the same text book. Students in LISTENING PLUS listened in the normal way, and then listened seeing the text, with some words or phrases removed. In pairs (or small groups) they then discussed what the missing words were. They were also given exercises from the CCTV series ‘Let’s Talk’. The students discussed and so listening had a context, conversation, discussion.

This may be a good way to start off with new or lower level learners. It focuses intense concentration on one word rather than teaching the student how to glean meaning from a recorded conversation or lecture. Because some students try to do listening word by word it makes it difficult when such a strategy is impossible and they have to get the gist from the recording. The former is considered the "bottom-up" strategy of the traditional approach and the latter is considered part of the "top-down" strategy of the communicative approach.

4. English is imbedded solidly when a person is exposed to English for 90 minutes without a break. IMPLICATIONS: Whenever we interrupt the English learning with Chinese, we break the 90 minutes and thus the students’ chance to learn well. (Classes thus should not have a break.)

Interesting. Did they support this with research? You cannot just make a statement like this without some research behind it. Normally no one would assert such a thing unless they did some testing. Did they say anything about the long cherished habit of teachers explaining meaning of words or grammar in Chinese?

5. Essential to include tasks in learning, but not to overdo it. Task should come after the language has been learned, not before. Not TASK BASED LEARNING but TASK SUPPORTED LEARNING.

Using tasks before teaching, an alternative to the old PPP approach, is a way to stimulate the students' mind and get them engaged in the subject. Authors, movie directors and gamesters use the technique constantly. Throw out a challenging idea. "What is the one common characteristic all millionaires have that you may have, too?" "Can you connect the nine dots with only four lines without lifting your pencil?" "When she got out of the taxi she handed the driver a copy of an Email instead of the taxi fare. The driver objected but when he began to read the message he couldn't stop his tears."

This is the appetizer. It makes the student hungry for the answer. This gets the student activated on a certain subject. He calls into service all of his mental faculties, ideas, understanding and experiences. He sorts all of this and focuses everything he's got on the problem. When the teacher later offers more vocabulary, gambits, phrases and grammar it all gets added to the student's personal resources before all getting filed away again at the end of the exercise into the student's mind.

8. Computer testing; don’t just put the paper questions on the computer.

To fully use the computer the program should be designed to take the students' answers and analyze them.

CALL is Computer Aided Language Learning. But ICALL is Intelligent Computer Aided Language Learning, using the computer to guide the student a little more intelligently. ESL Blue on the web is a good simple example of this. The BULATS test, made by the same people that did the IELTS test, is a smart test which changes itself according to the perceived skill of the student allowing the test to more closely zero in on the students level of skill.

9. "Currently the standard expectation for College English is too high." Prof. Wen Qiu-fang. L2 speakers should be the model for L2 learners, not L1 speakers. Since 1880’s it has been advocated that L1 should not be used to teach L2. It is not new.

Interesting idea. This touches on the idea of Global English and the fact that the communication partner most students will have when they join the workforce may well NOT be a native speaker of English.

I have found, from learning some French, that I can communicate best with non-native French speakers who also learned a little French. It seems that we know the same vocabulary and our grammar is very simple and possibly primitive even to the extent of being incorrect but easily understood by those like us.

10. Grammar is essential AFTER the language is known, not to teach the language. Learn the words, the form, the context (internal as well asexternal) before you learn the grammar. Grammar is to allow the student to go on and develop the structure in other situations.

Right. That's similar to what Krashen says. Grammar instruction is more like repair work.

11. Obstacles to overcome. Fear of teacher; teach students to question. Fear of standing out; teach students to be original and, whether you agree or disagree, respect the opinion. Allow others to question it without degrading it. Learn to agree to disagree in many situations.

Very good. One big problem is the exam which reduces all comment, reaction and idea to "right" and "wrong" answers. Many of my students cannot accept a comment like, "Well, in American we would say..." The student answers, "On the test it has to be right or wrong." Since many teachers are getting judged by how well their students do in exams it remains to be seen if teachers will find a way to shake loose from the shackles of "teaching to the test".

Another teacher issue is the respect teachers customarily and traditionally receive. This is kind of nice and a great change to some of the attitudes some students in the west display towards teachers. Although many of us foreigners are casual or even too casual with our students, I think it will take time for this to change with our Chinese colleagues.

To my colleagues who think Chinese are idiots

Some of my foreign colleagues in China shock me with their attitude.

I would like to ask my colleagues to:

1) To remember we are guests in this country. Many of the members on our list are Chinese. The way some of us talk on this list is highly disrespectful and at times downright offensive to our Chinese hosts and colleagues.

2) To remember we may not be as great as we think we are. Some of us are entertaining illusions that our own countries and cultures and education systems are perfect or certainly beyond the problems that China has.

Cheating, plagiarism, the evil exam system and more are all well represented in our own countries so we shouldn't be shocked to see it here as well.

It is the attitude that some of my colleagues have voiced that has been shocking. And such attitude has caused some of us to balance the argument with reminders that things are not so rosy in the west.

If I said that American teachers are good for nothing and that American books are only good for wiping our bottoms I suspect my message would not be well received by foreigners. It is bad enough that a couple of my fellow foreign colleagues say this about Chinese teachers and books but to make it even worse other foreign are not shocked or do not even notice.

Certainly we may have different viewpoints on methodology and certainly some teachers are better than others. But when you go to Chicago to get your visa that Chinese consulate employee you are conversing with so well behind the counter probably learned English the Chinese way. You'll be surprised how many millions are speaking English pretty well without ever having a foreign English teacher. The fact is, the Chinese English teaching method works. It's just that we think some of our western methods work better.

China is struggling under the double burden of huge population and relative poverty. I think we should cut China a little slack and quit complaining that they are not as great at things as we think we are. I think we should wake up and realize that we are not as great as we think we are and, frankly, some of us foreigners are idiots.

Can we get ourselves and our students out of the box?

A teacher wrote: "Can you imagine a scenario like this? A Chinese with an undergraduate degree in history from America and a master degree in sociology from UK came back to China and tried to explain to a bunch of EFL students how Electoral College system from America can be adapted in Chinese countryside."

As an EFL teacher you have a duty to help your students learn the English they will need. If they are going to be involved in teaching villagers how to vote then this would be useful.

Aside from that, while I applaud your desire for an unconventional approach I believe you are still operating much too much inside the confines of the "box".

Here is a little story I plucked out of one of Tom Peter's books. Although it is more business related and a bit long please bear with me as there is an important lesson here.

Corporations are so boring. Stanley Bing in Esquire encounter with a job candidate that went nowhere.

He comes in and seats himself carefully on the edge of my guest chair. He is staring at the toys on my desk, trying to suppress the realization that I am an infantile nit whose job he could probably do much better...Of course he does not play with the toys. He looks out my window instead. 'Nice view,' he says rather perfunctorily, but he does not say, 'Wow!' - which is what my view of the canyons and spires of high-mercantile capitalism deserves...

'I'm looking for an entry-level position in public relations. Maybe corporate marketing, if I get lucky.' he says.

'Really?' I say. 'Like out of the entire realm of human possibility, that's what you want to be doing?' I'm sorry. He's really starting to tweeze my bumpers. What 24-year old really and truly wants to be in corporate marketing for God's sake? I look him over as he burbles on about targeting demos or retrofitting corporate superstructures or some frigging thing like that. The guy makes me want to stand up o my desk and yell, 'Booga-booga!'

Instead I say, 'Didn't you ever want to be a rock musician or a forest ranger or anything?' He looks at me like I have a banana peel on the end of my nose. It's quite clear to me that since he was in high school, he's been preparing to be a ... communicator. That's actually what he says.

Screw it. There's no poetry in this dude. No soul. No surf or wind or whalebone in his eye. He's ... desiccated. He makes me sad. I kick him out of my office.

Whom do I suggest we hire? I suggest we search for the young woman who went to MIT to study computer science, was doing fine, and then mysteriously dropped out midway in her sophomore year, said the place was the dreariest institution ever created, and took off around the world, maybe to work with Mother Teresa, maybe just to hang out. We really don't know.

Why would I hire her? I'll tell you. She's demonstrated - at least one point in her life - the gumption to do something exciting, maybe extraordinary, something that breaks the mold.


Too many of our students are climbing academia as if it were the ladder to success and happiness. As Stephen Covey pointed out, too many people climb the ladder of success only to find that it's leaning against the wrong wall. Their definition of living has become money.

If you want to be able to offer your students something of real meaning then why don't you go off to the countryside for a year yourself and experience the tribulations and the joys these people experience. It's different if people go to experience this themselves as opposed to being forced to do it by political ideology. Then go to India and do the same for a year, maybe with Mother Teresa's people. After that go spend a year as an intern at a corporation in Manhattan and then a year in Iraq as part of the rebuilding process.

At the end of that four year plan you will have something to think about. After you put all of those experiences into perspective and make personal sense out of all of that then you will have something to talk about.

Education reform or education revolution?

I am not faulting him. I'm sure he's a great guy, especially after your commendation. Your assessment of his situation is where lies the problem:

"However in the field of Chinese academia he realizes he must have the paper background (degrees) to support his theories in developing new and better teaching methods in the Chinese university system."

It is this "change the system from within the system" idea that is the death of many a true reformer. What kind of degree did Mao receive to qualify him to start a revolution? What degree did Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak have to qualify them to revolutionize technology? What degree did Li Yang have to qualify him to launch a new English teaching methodology in China?

And of those highly degreed individuals who are in China, what new thing have they brought into academia? I am currently using a book to teach a college intermediate-level English class which was written recently by an American PhD who lives in China. It is the most complicated thing I have ever used. You have to be a native English speaker just to understand the explanations. There is no hope for my students to understand it.

Every Chinese person today who is involved in business has gone out and got themselves an MBA. Great. Now there's a million MBA holders. Everyone is doing the same thing. No one is thinking differently. They are all marching lock-step in the same direction.

I knew a couple Americans who came over to China after graduating from a University of Texas course on Entrepreneurship. They were going to start a business here. They lasted six months. Haha! By the time universities start teaching it, it is not revolutionary. It's too late to go back to Jobs' and Wozniak's garage and start Apple again.

I felt a spark in his message. There was a spark of someone who is not afraid to do something different. I wanted to fan the flame a bit. But you cannot be different by doing things the same. I am not criticizing him, I'm pushing him.

Finding suitable authentic newspaper materials for reading

It is not easy to find authentic newspaper materials that are at an accessible level for students and interesting as well. Krashen always recommended reading materials that were L+1, a level just slightly above the student's level which causes the student to have to "reach" a little.

I have scoured the Internet for years for such things. Something I like is from a column called "The Boss" in the NY Times. They have a simple life story of a top boss. Typically the story touches on things about the person's childhood, school, influence of parents, first jobs and the lessons of life.

They are also success stories and lots of students have some hopes to be successful in life and find these stories interesting. At the bottom is an example of one of "The Boss" stories that you can find in the NY Times.


There are a couple approaches involved in reading. I don't recommend "pre-teaching" the vocabulary from the text as many course books do, notably in China is "New Concepts" (which is actually a very old concept course book being written in the 1960s and only receiving superficial modifications just recently.)

Although pre-teaching sounds like a practical idea it is very boring for the students. Good teaching allows an element of mystery and curiosity and the thirst for knowledge. Good teaching provides the salt first and then the water. The good teacher gets the student to search his memory, his personal resources in his recollection, and draw on what the student already knows to apply to the problem. Good teaching also gets him to personally recognize what he doesn't know which causes him to be curious and want to learn it.

So typically, before letting the students look at the material, get them to talk about what they know about some of the points in the story.

Pre-teaching sort of digests the text for the student leaving little mental exercise beyond simply trying to remember what he was told a couple minutes ago.

Encourage the students to guess the meaning of what they don't understand. You'll find, in a text as below, that there are a few words the student may not know and may not really need to retain.


I think it was H.D. Brown who talked about the Active Vocabulary, Latent Vocabulary and the Unknown. Some vocabulary the students encounter is destined for their Latent Vocabulary, words that will be important for them to be able to read or recognize when they hear them but are not necessary for them to be able to produce them on the spot like their Active Vocabulary. Some words they may only see once or twice in their lifetime and could well do without ever learning them. So equal stress should not be made on all words that students will encounter. Some words should be pointed out more than others because they will be more useful for students.

I've always said that language learning is like packing a suitcase. You've got to choose what you will likely need and leave the rest behind. Our students don't have an unlimited capacity to retain everything and that's one place where the teacher is most needed. Decisions about what to teach are as important as decisions about what NOT to teach.

It is not a sin to finish a reading exercise with the student not understanding 100% of the words. The teacher has to remember that sometimes English is a buffet. The student does not need to eat everything but he should eat enough to grow.

In the sample text below the intermediate student might need to acquire vocabulary like: headhunter, recruiter, certified, pulled me out of school, over the course of my career, I was No. 2 for eight years, early on.

However, this following vocabulary may not be as important to retain in the student's Active Vocabulary: Amgen (company name), squadron commander, adventurer, overstate, hammered people, flight physical, class of ship, at the top of his lungs.

Still, the student could be encouraged to guess some of these and should be encouraged to find that he can figure some of these out without a dictionary. He may be able to figure out: adventurer, overstate, hammered people, class of ship.

Some words the student can easily forget without serious damage to their English competency like: Admiral Hyman G. Rickover (name).


Of course it is an ideal time to do some speaking after all the time invested in reading the text. There is a lot of vocabulary covered in what they just read and some speaking can help to consolidate it and allow the student to test his understanding and usage of it.

If my goal was solely speaking and I wanted to use a text I'd use a very short one. "The Boss" is too long for that purpose. But if we used a long text for something else then let's roll into a speaking exercise. Here are a couple ideas that could be done in pairs or small groups:

1. Students could be asked to talk as if they were the characters. In "Say It" fashion, they could do a short monologue explaining themselves and what happened and why they felt the way they felt and adding in made-up details and parts of the story.

2. They could try to isolate various aspects of the story such as the lessons of life and people of influence and discuss those. Then they could follow up with their own personal lessons of life and people of influence.



Ready for the Admiral
As told to GLENN RIFKIN - June 20, 2004

I had no background in health care or biology before I came to Amgen. The only time I touched biology was in ninth grade, and I didn't do very well.

I was working at MCI when I got a fax one day from a headhunter, asking if I knew anybody who wanted to be president of Amgen. I had never heard of Amgen and didn't know what it was. This was 1992. I checked it out and asked some friends, and called back the recruiter and said, "Yes, I want to be president of Amgen."

It was already a 12-year-old company with 2,000 employees, two successful biotech products, and it was clearly going to be a success.

I was ambitious, and I wanted to be a C.E.O.

My dad, who is still alive, was a naval aviator and a career naval officer. He flew jets early on and was a squadron commander. It's hard to overstate the psychological impact, as a young boy, of seeing airplanes come out of the sky, knowing that your father is flying one.

My mother was a very strong, independent woman who was a real adventurer. She loved travel, the arts, literature. When I was a senior in high school, my mother pulled me out of school to go to the Los Angeles Philharmonic to see Isaac Stern play the violin.

I went to the Naval Academy at Annapolis and studied aeronautical engineering on the misconception that it had something to do with flying airplanes. When I failed the flight physical in graduate school because of poor eyesight, I had to decide, at age 23, what to do with my lifelong ambition thwarted.

A friend had joined the submarine force, so I decided I'd go see Admiral Hyman G. Rickover about that option.

Rickover was famous for grilling people, and he asked me why I hadn't come to see him when I was at Annapolis. I told him that I wanted to fly, but since my eyes didn't work, he was the second choice.

It was not the answer Rickover was accustomed to getting. He usually hammered people for failing grades or poor performance, and I had none of those things.

After about 45 seconds, he said, "Get out."

In those days, that was the highest praise you could get from him. It meant you'd been accepted.

Later, when I was the chief engineer of the Memphis, which is in a certain class of attack submarines, on its initial sea trials, I encountered Rickover again. Admiral Rickover would ride every ship on its initial sea trials. So there I was in the control room and Rickover was screaming at the top of his lungs, "Where's the chief engineer?" He thought the ship wasn't performing properly.

I told him: "Admiral, you're wrong. I'm the chief engineer of this ship, and you certified me, and I'm here to tell you that you're wrong. The performance you are looking for is from another class of ship, and here's the data."

There was a real twinkle in his eye before he went on to attack me on another point.
That experience paid off when I left the Navy and was interviewing for a high-level job at General Electric. Jack Welch asked me, "Have you ever taken a risk in your life?"

I replied that at 27 years old, when you are guiding an attack submarine all alone in the teeth of the Russian fleet in the North Atlantic, that was a risk.

I mentioned Tom Clancy's "Hunt for Red October," which gives a pretty accurate depiction of what it was like.

I guess he agreed because I got the job at G.E. and later became part of Welch's staff. I left the Navy because I was a typical young guy in a gigantic hurry.

In fact, over the course of my career, the one place I've been patient is at Amgen, where I was No. 2 for eight years before becoming C.E.O.

The real challenge is to not demotivate the students

Shoppers 'set their own prices'

A supermarket reportedly let customers pay what they liked for their shopping after a thunderstorm knocked out the cash tills. The Mirror says the Asda store at Monks Cross in North Yorkshire was soon packed as word about the give-away spread. Bosses reportedly let people guess their shopping bill rather than make them wait for power to return. Manager Colin Storey said: "It was worth it to keep our customers happy."

The question is not IF vocabulary should be taught but HOW. Those of us who adhere to more communicative approaches believe it should be presented in an authentic way that interests and engages the student. We believe that once the interest is aroused it will allow vocabulary to be retained much better.

After reading the above story the students will be very interested in understanding: thunderstorm, knocked out, cash tills, packed, give-away, worth it.

Imagine one teacher asking this:

"Students, remember the ten words we learned on Monday?" or

"Students, remember the story about the supermarket that let customers pay what they want?"

In which case will the students best be able to retrieve the words and use them in a proper context?

The story above came from the Ananova news website. They have a special section called Quirkies and it's full of curious news items under the categories: Eccentrics, Quirky gaffes, Strange crime, Sex life, Animal tales, Sporting quirkies, Showbiz quirkies, Business quirkies, Heartwarmers, Rocky relationships, Bad taste and Unlucky.

Of course, the teacher should create some opportunity for the students to use the words they learned. Perhaps they could talk about what they would do if they were a manager or customer in that situation or if they were a business consultant examining it.

People have a natural curiosity and motivation to learn things. As Andrew Littlejohn, author of Primary Colours and Cambridge English for Schools, said when he visited us in China, "It is not the teacher's job to motivate the students - it's the teachers job to not de-motivate them."

Using a "podcast tour" as a teaching exercise

A teacher asked: "Does anyone else have good lessons for teaching directions?"

Here's an idea that goes beyond the box.

This is an article about a really cool idea. They have developed dial-up audio guided tours through various cities. I think it's fantastic.

When I went to Beijing and visited the Forbidden City I opted for an audio cassette recorded tour. I think it was Roger Moore (AKA James Bond) who narrated it. It was great. He told you to go to the left, look up and then explained the ceiling. Then told you to walk over to the door and he told you about the door. He was kind of funny, too, and slipped in a few jokes. I really enjoyed that tour.

This is something teachers could do. Teachers could record a tour for their students to listen to. Lots of students have MP3's these days.

The teacher could guide the student through part of the city or campus or whatever. The teacher doesn't have to give a straight tour but could tell little stories about what the place reminds the teacher of ("This is where my bicycle was stolen"), could relate it to places in the west by comparing ("These McDonalds are exactly the same all over the world"), make up a drama to go along with the surroundings ("She was sitting there, on the park bench, when she saw a shadow moving behind the bushes"), make it like a treasure hunt ("Your next clue will be on the second tree to the left"), a city crossing ("Take the number 12 bus to the third street past Beijing Lu, get out and walk to the right") or other personal comments ("I liked the lunch box meals they sold here until the time I got sick for three days"), etc.

On a recent trip to Macau I was thinking about doing something like that. I was following some tour from a book but it was a bit boring. So I thought about making my own tour in audio but just invent stories and totally crazy made-up things to make it at least more interesting than the tour book although not as factual.


NEW YORK — Would you like Steven Tyler to tell you to "walk this way" in Boston, or Jerry Stiller to escort you through New York City?

The Aerosmith rocker, "Seinfeld" actor and "Aliens" actress Sigourney Weaver are among several stars lending their voices to new cell phone-guided tours of U.S. cities, a technology-based project that trades unknown docents for high-wattage celebrities.

In the "Boston: City of Rebels and Dreamers" tour, for example, visitors to the Massachusetts capital can call a special number and be treated to Tyler's quirky take on Fenway Park, Boston Common and other historical hotspots.

"Eh, this is Steven Tyler. This stop is about gardens that even a rocker can love," the raspy-voiced rocker says, describing Boston's public garden. "Don't worry, we'll get to that rocker stuff later."

Do teachers need to know grammar?

Forgive me for beginning with an off-topic question but I'll explain why I am doing this later. Did you sleep good last night? Please answer it. Before you go on reading this message think of your answer. Did you sleep good last night?

One teacher told me that she is running into some problems in teaching correct English form for the CET test.

This kind of problem divides the men from the boys (and the women from the girls). Many of us are opposed to teaching grammar rules in our classes as, according to many theories on English teaching, it does not facilitate or even impedes acquisition.

Consequently, there are many of us who are teaching who don't have a strong grasp of all the grammar rules. (I'll put my name on this list.)

We have a tendency to lean on what "sounds right" but then sometimes have a difficulty knowing why something is right (or wrong). Surprisingly, this is often not a problem for the work that native EFL English teachers do as they focus on helping students learn to communicate.

But occasionally there is a time when the teacher has to get into the mechanics of the language and saying "it doesn't sound right but I don't know why" or "there are no rules for English anymore" just doesn't do the job. (Some teachers employ elaborate schemes to avoid having to explain a grammar point or even event some academic gibberish and get off the subject quickly.)

Let's look at driving. You may happily drive your car for years without really understanding how it works. Perhaps you know something is wrong when you hear some odd noise but knowing when your car "sounds" right or wrong is sometimes not sufficient. If you can interpret a distinctive knocking sound coming from the engine whenever you accelerate you can know exactly what is wrong and how to fix it or what mechanic to get to help you. Some people are drivers and some of are driver/mechanics.

Some of these tests revel in the realm of grammar mechanics and are a minefield for teachers who are not well grounded in the mechanics of grammar and usage.

A large percentage of native English speakers use incorrect grammar. This is a vast gray zone. On the one hand a certain way of saying something is incorrect. On the other hand if enough people will use it then it will become accepted.

Let's look at our question at the beginning of the message. For some of you it sounded odd and some of you didn't notice. Some of you knew exactly what was wrong and some only thought it did not sound right.

A lot of Americans think nothing of saying "Did you sleep good?" and it has almost become accepted speech even though "good" is an adjective and "well" is the adverb we need. These kinds of things are in the Twilight Zone of English usage. I think Britons would have little tolerance for such usage but it is no problem for Americans.

The dictionary reminds us here that "[good} should not be used as an adverb with other verbs: The car runs well (not good). Thus, The dress fits well and looks good."

Many people say they speak "good English". They are actually stating that they have chosen one good English over the bad Englishes and they can speak it too. However, we still don't know if they can speak that good English well.

Lots of teachers would like to steer clear of such a job as master mechanic of the English language. But if you find you have such a job then take it as a heaven sent opportunity to dig out those grammar books and get it all straight in your mind.

Although we may not think teaching grammar rules is good pedagogy it does not excuse the teacher from not knowing the rules.

Business English or "Office English"

A teacher said: "I have been in business most of my life & found business letters from Australia, New Zealand, America & Canada were written in a fairly casual way. Letters from South Africa & Europe were more formal."

The vast majority of letters our students write will not be "letters" but rather Emails and they won't usually be sales letters or apology letters or late payment notification letters or any of those types of letters found in every “business writing” book, but will be what I call "office" letters. They will be reminding someone that the XYZ label needs to be applied to the front of the boxes or customer ABC wants to know what has happened to his order. This has been my experience after studying hundreds of company Emails.

The standard length of these communications is 55 words, about 3-5 sentences and very informal. This sort of writing will constitute about 90% of the writing in English with the rest being reports and presentations. (I’ll include 30 writing samples from one company below.)
Writing constitutes about 90% of their communications in English. About 8% will be speaking on the phone and only about 2% will be face-to-face.

Typically, a professional will already have a firm grasp of the primary language for his profession. He will be very familiar with the technical terms. However, he will be making grammar errors or errors with other vocabulary not directly related to the profession. Sometimes the company, as P&G and others companies, will have their own company lingo, a vocabulary only used in their company. In this case, some students need to learn some more general words that the rest of the world uses. For example, P&G never has any "problems". However, they certainly have some "issues" that need to be dealt with.

The ESP (English for Special Purposes, like English for Manufacturing or English for Information Technology) does not need to teach these special words to professionals but does need to help the student learn how to use them properly in sentences.


30 Samples:

=======================EMAIL 1:
Kindly to inform you that Z H has invited S T to be the speaker of OOC touch point seminar.
The seminar will be held on July 27 evening ( Pls see the attachment for the detail rundown).
On Z H’s introduction, S T is a very very good speaker and he can speak fluent mandarin too. He is a world class speaker.
We think it’s maybe a good opportunity for agency promotion, we wonder whether you need to invite him too?
If yes, we should inform R B the schedule today.
Your reply today will be highly appreciated!

=======================EMAIL 2
The under insured’s leaflet has finish it’s final design, I’ve submit to L for her comment.
I’ll attend HR training this two days, A will forward the confirmed design to you ASAP.
Anything urgent pls contact A or G.
Thank you!

=======================EMAIL 3
Dear all:Kindly to remind you that as GZ's inactive orphan policy lead size is not so sufficient. GZ have 2 selection criterias: 1. For the target customers who is inactive for 5 years(the same as SH), 2. For the target customers who is inactive for 3 years. Thank you for your attention.

=======================EMAIL 4
Kindly be informed that the marketing plan of Under Insured campaign has been approved by our GM, I’ve fax the hardcopy to you, pls check it.
As the time is very tight, can we finish the whole approval circle in two weeks?
Thank you very much!

=======================EMAIL 5
Considering the under insured campaign is LG channel, to give more information and motivation to our agent, I modified the tracking report: 1. Add a new report named: billboard 2. Modify the agent score card( for team) I've discuss with B, he has agreed with the revise.
Thank you!

=======================EMAIL 6
Many thanks for your kindest support to make it happen! We strongly believe that Mr. A T is the right person for our seminar. Your continuous support is the key of our success!

=======================EMAIL 7
Dear both,
D has already invited a guest speaker from HK agency. He is called A T ( Senior District Director).
well, he is a very very good speaker and he can speak fluent mandarin too. He is a world class speaker, so u guys need not worry his ability :)
Kind regards,

=======================EMAIL 8
I’ve double checked these cost items, and they are all right. Furthermore, I’ve mastered how to use correlative forms, and I’ll ask Y’s help when I have other questions.

=======================EMAIL 9
There is the final version wording of “NML Campaign” we prepared in the attachment, please help to check whether it is ready to apply for approval program.

=======================EMAIL 10
To conduct the campaign better and more conveniently, we prepared three “Production Tracking Reports” for agencies, and we’ll update them every two weeks from now on; Furthermore, because the data in today’s reports just update to June 1st- when our campaign have only launched for ten days, so some items just for your reference. If there are some questions or proposals about these reports, you can contact us further.

=======================EMAIL 11
Attached the wording of “Coupon Recapture Campaign” and the “TWN brochure” for your references, please help to design it according to our discussion just now. Thank you so much.

=======================EMAIL 12
I am A -member of “Direct Distribution Department”, unfortunately, I have to deal with some affairs in my family, which make me can’t take part in the Birthday Party at “Q.” Club. Best wishes to other folks sincerely.

=======================EMAIL 13
Because the “Performance Report0615” is compared with “control group”, so we submitted the figure excluding the data relating to “control group” at the first time, that made the data in this form was not match to the other ones. We revise it correspondingly, and we will submit the “total leads group data” from now on. Pls kindly find the latest reports in the attachment.

=======================EMAIL 14
We wonder whether S Branch has executed some campaign about “Cease Policy”, if yes, pls kindly e-mail the correlative campaign materials to us. Thank you so much.

=======================EMAIL 15
Attached the final-edition design of leaflets for GZ under insured campaign, please kindly help to follow up the CHO’S approval. Furthermore, because we have much trivial work about the leaflets to do before 1st August, such as printing, so the feedback given before 14th July is so appreciated. Thank you very much.

=======================EMAIL 16
According to last Friday conference’s decision, we will have a further discussion about “PIF” of correlative products. Next Monday or Tuesday (7.3/7.4) is fine with OOC, wonder whether you are also available. If not, please kindly inform us what time is the most reasonable in your opinion.

=======================EMAIL 17
Because GZ should also submit correlative performance reports about “Birthday4 Campaign” to GZ Agency Office tomorrow, so I want to conform whether we will receive the tracking reports today. Thank you very much.

=======================EMAIL 18
Dear all,For this urgency, I should inform you to attend the tele-conference for the SDM Phase II launch failure on this Wednesday.Time: 14:30 -16:30 on the 12th Jul, 2006 (Wed)Conference Number: (83xxxxxx)

=======================EMAIL 19
Thanks for your helping to generate this TIPS report everyday by manual! But would you pls send this report everyday before 10:30 am, otherwise, the data would be delayed one day. BTW, when would you set up the system to send out the auto pay failure report for renewal case automatically?

=======================EMAIL 20
Per tele-conference between Call Center and SDM today morning, according to TM team's request in order to improve the first time auto-pay success rate, SDM operator will postpone the submitted time of FPA & ROPADD Application Form for one day from now on. Thus, all the AF is submitted in today from CT call center will be transferred to A/C by tomorrow noon.

=======================EMAIL 21
According to call center's work station request, 30 for A one month and 35 for H cash tow month. Seen from the below w/s arrangement, there is 23 gap in first half of Oct and 53 gap in second half from 88 total w/s that requested by call center in Oct. Thus, the 23 and 88 would be out of our marketing cost budget. How to cover this?

=======================EMAIL 22
I want to issue one problem is that the OT hours in Oct is more than before month, according to local "劳动法"(labor rule), it is need to control the OT under 36 hours for individual OT hour, but there are around 40 TSR are above that. Is it any other item has been included in the "OT" field? Another, compared with OOC, their average OT hour is only 8 hours.

=======================EMAIL 23
According to the incentive balance, the negative need to be covered by the next coming campaigns. Pls give us the projection and incentive scheme based on the overused incentive. For the pilot campaigns, the negative is 48,980 and 7,887 for rollout by Jan 25. Details see below file.

=======================EMAIL 24
According to your projection, only the TM cost has already achieved 66% of the TARP, it is more higher than 30% of ROPADD benchmark. Would pls let us have a discussion for it this afternoon!

=======================EMAIL 25
DearsPer discussion this morning, it is suppose the TYPA period equal to actual campaign end date plus 1 week since the new flow of TYPA, so the period set up 4 weeks because the campaign period is 3 weeks from your information before in telephone. For the printing is doing, so the period would not be changed. Pls note!

=======================EMAIL 26
The captioned product plan to promote on touch point--Customer Event. China have many Festival, we could cash in on the public holiday to cross/up sell the product via TM campaign. FPA's premium rate is too higher for OOC selected target customers and a few commission rate is preferred for OOC product too.
Thanks for your kindest support.

=======================EMAIL 27
Are you planning to promote this product in which touch point or any current campaigns?

=======================EMAIL 28
Attached pls find the PRF of Ever Festival PA 2 for OOC.
The product idea comes from EF(Sponsor channel), there are some differences in benefit and premium rate, pls find the details in attachment.
The target launch date was set at the end of August 2006.
Should there has any question, pls feel free to contact me.

=======================EMAIL 29
Local account need us provide a new monthly breakdown on the new budget. GZ and Agency's production are over adjust, let's have a brainstorming to add new campaign on this afternoon 2pm to 2:30pm? Pls kindly confirm your availability. Thanks.

=======================EMAIL 30
Could you provide a monthly breakdown for the updated budget? We need to input into the system by month. Thank you very much!

Teacher qualifications

"While I think standards are crucial, we need to be wary of the 'closed shop' syndrome."

I cannot brag about any of my qualifications. Most of what I know has been from plowing through books by people like Professor Nunan. I have also extensively explored journals and academic papers on the Internet, have written authors and experts with my questions as well as made a heck of a lot of mistakes in the classroom. I have tried to honestly face my shortcomings and learn from them and I think I have to some extent.

My current interest is in action research led teaching. This would be a teacher who uses action research on a regular basis to test broad theories, Krashen's CI or Truscott's error correction, as well as to study his students so as to know the students better than they know themselves.

Additionally I've set up an online training program to teach ESPs in Electronic Manufacturing and Logistics. On behalf of Cambridge University Press I've traveled across China to give talks to Chinese English teachers to promote the communicative approach of Jack Richard's New Interchange. I've developed what I think is a very effective system of "speaking homework" and what is proving to be a popular method of "movie homework".

But I have to face the fact that these years of experience and study may not look as good or add up to a guy who has an MA and one year of experience. So I'm glad I can still find work.

Is it worth it for a China-bound teacher to get an MA?

A teacher commented: "Re Market forces - they should play a part, give the tremendous shortage of qualified teachers (not just language teachers) worldwide, but do not seem to have led to an increase in pay and conditions."

A backpacker just getting off the plane from his last stop in Thailand, if he has some people skills, may be able to land a job at a university for 4000 Rmb/month. (About US$550.) A teacher with a certificate, applying at the same university, would probably get 4500/month. If the teacher had an MA he may get 5000/month and with a PhD would probably get 5500/month.

There would not be a big difference in their job descriptions. The teacher with the PhD would not be a consultant to the school designing courses or advising the school on coursebooks and curriculum. It is likely that he would be facing large classrooms of students and correcting stacks of papers.

I figured once that it could take several years to pay off an MA based on the small amount of extra pay an MA would bring. So I think one problem is the lack of appreciation for highly skilled teachers. Consequently, it could be career suicide for a highly qualified teacher to work in China unless he wished to do it for the experience.

Another problem is teachers who studied an MA just for the paper and the higher salary it should bring. We had one list member who acquired an MA and wrote on this list constantly about the low rates of pay for teachers with higher qualifications. However, he never got involved with discussions on teaching problems, student motivation, methodologies, etc. In the mind of many teachers the paper should equal pay.

Because the professional environment for foreign teachers is not refined here in China, I've considered it a field for roughnecks. The teachers here are sort of like pioneers. More refined teachers who are very serious about their academic careers are still in their home countries or in foreign countries that promise higher pay and academic prestige and security.

Many people forget how fast China has developed, that it has quadrupled its university enrollment in about ten years or something. But as China gets on top of the situation, improves the professional environment, higher academic qualifications will be required and more career teachers will move to China. The roughnecks will have to upgrade their skills or move on to the next challenging field that no one else wants to go to.

Chinese students and spelling

A teacher said: "I teach a number of mainland Chinese and they seem to have the same problem. Could it be that they too are taught and learn pin-yin as if it were Chinese characters? I do not know. I just have a strong feeling that the massive memorization needed for literacy in Chinese affects the approach to learning."

I have noticed that my students really seem to excel in spelling. They seldom misspell words. Perhaps this is because they are not taking the hazardous route of trying to spell by the way the word sounds but have learned the picture of the word.

This is similar to the issues with teaching children their native English. Some educators like to start children with phonics whereas others advocate sight reading. Perhaps, because of mastering the Chinese system of picture reading they are actually picturing English words.

If so, this would reflect a difference with the Chinese learner and could suggest that Chinese might be more capable of rote learning than other students. However, it cannot mean that the Chinese English language learning system of grammar translation and rote learning is more effective. If it was more effective then Chinese would be learning English faster than comparable students who are learning under a communicative approach methodology.

IELTS examiners - Standarized but not perfect

McDonald's has worked very hard to standardize the look and taste of their hamburgers. Of course, there is some variance. Not every hamburger is exactly the same. The cook may have squirted a bit more sauce on one or sprinkled a bit less lettuce on the other. But due to their standardization process every hamburger is almost the same as any other in any McDonald's around the world. That's the idea.

IELTS, like McDonald's, standardizes its examiners. They all have a set of questions they are to ask. They all have a set procedure they are to follow. They all have a rubric they are to measure by. They all receive training and monitoring and double checking to make sure that they are all as close to standard as humanly possible.

Is it still subjective? Yes. But the degree of variance due to subjectivity has been greatly reduced through their system. I will not contest that.

However, my contention is that this level of control is not sufficient to consistently measure slight changes in English speaking ability from a period like one semester of training. The issue is extremely important, meaning the pass or fail of thousands of students across China.

Teaching quality or teaching quantity in China?

Market forces are the 800-pound gorilla in the equation, especially in China. Switzerland, Germany, Japan and a few other countries are the "quality capitals" of the world, not China. China is the capital of cheapness. China has a positive trade balance with the west because everything is so incredibly cheap.

Will China improve teaching quality? Yes, but it must be done on the cheap. Will they hire PhD's? They would be happy to hire an army of PhD's if they can hire them at 4500Rmb/month. (About US$650.)

Setting aside the expense of quality, how about the system of quality? Academia is one of the hardest things to change in any country. Academics are not accountable to things like the sink or swim forces of market economics. A bad school can go on teaching for years at an educational deficit to thousands of students without anyone realizing it. Look at America. The majority of public school teachers in California send their children to private schools.

Looking at a place like Japan, which does know the value of quality, we get little encouragement. Korea spends more on English teaching than Japan.[1] Chain schools hiring foreign teachers with little or no experience at relatively low rates are all over the country.[2] This sort of low skill labor is going to always be with us and if business has anything to do with it then it will, for the most part, zlways have a McJob aspect to teaching English abroad.[3]


[1] "Slim Pickings From Trillions Spent on English Education - The amount of money spent on Koreans’ unending quest to master English was W15 trillion (US$1=W942) last year, three times more than the W5 trillion spent by Japan even though the population there is 2.6 times greater than Korea’s. The Samsung Economic Research Institute in a report titled "The Economics of English" on Wednesday estimated Korea’s English-related investment last year at around W14.3 trillion for private lessons and W700 billion for assessment." More: http://english.chosun.com/w21data/html/news/200611/200611160023.html

[2] "...brilliant teachers with years of experience and stacks of certificates probably won't receive any recognition other than a small monthly bonus in their payslip. The system is designed for entry-level labor, and Nova expects no special skills or talents. (Fair enough; most applicants have none to offer anyway.) Though students may occasionally present a challenge - I've been asked doozies like, "What's the difference between simple future tense and future perfect tense?" and "How do I choose between see, look at, or watch?" - overall the job requires very few brain waves." More: http://vocaro.com/trevor/japan/nova/level_up.html

[3] "McJob is slang for a low-pay, low-prestige job that requires few skills and offers very little chance of intracompany advancement. Such jobs are also known as contingent work. The term McJob comes from the name of the fast-food restaurant McDonald's, but is used to describe any low-status job, regardless of who the employer is, where little training is required, and where workers' activities are tightly regulated by managers. Most perceived McJobs are in the service industry, particularly fast food, copy shops, and retail sales. Working at a low paying job, especially one at a fast food restaurant, is also often referred to as flipping burgers." More: http://www.answers.com/topic/mcjob

The problem with teaching grammar

A teacher asked me: "...how else will a non-native speaker approach the levels of accurately applied grammar needed to pass international standard oral English exams except by studying grammar?"

Well, I would suggest not that way.

Today I was speaking with Jack, an upper intermediate student at an American company, and he was telling me about Tom Hanks and that "she" has made many great movies.

Why did Jack, an upper intermediate student, call Tom Hanks a she? Because he was unfamiliar with the grammar rule? Could the problem be remedied if he had 26 people sitting around him telling him what grammar errors he made?

Immediately, I pointed out the mistake to Jack but in the course of the following conversation and with me continually pointing it out to him he only got it right about 50% of the time. All of you on this list have students like that, don't you? What's the problem with these students? Are they stupid? Are they lazy? I don't think so.

Krashen is not against teaching grammar. He thinks it is useful to round out the training of a student who may be having a particular problem with a particular grammar point.
Some people are better than others at using their Monitor to correct their grammar. Heavy Monitor use hinders fluency. And even for the best of the Monitor users the efficiency of self-monitoring is very limited.

Many teachers will disagree with me but I think some rote learning and rule explanations can be helpful but not necessary to get a learner off the ground. But after the beginner stages the learner will need a lot of comprehensible input.

Then the teacher challenged me: "And is there any evidence, Dave, that CI has demonstrably improved Chinese students with their use of pronouns?"

Please note, I was only using the "he/she" to show in a simple way the difficulty of students employing even the simplest of grammar rules when speaking.

This is not only my observation and not limited to pronoun usage. As another teacher puts it,
"EFL students in Taiwan have studied English grammar extensively. However, it is interesting to note that most of these students make routine mistakes on structures which they know the rules for when speaking.

"Chinese students will, during classroom conversation, regularly omit the s that must be attached to the third – person singular form of verbs. The students indeed know the rules governing the third – person singular, as they have studied English grammar ad nauseam in high school.

"Unfortunately, most of these learners are not able to apply the rules during conversation. Mistakes include, "He live with his sister" or "She go to work at 8 o’clock." Lightbown (Brown, 2000: 275) states that, 'Knowing a language rule does not mean one will be able to use it in communicative interaction.' Chinese students have learned and know many of the formal grammatical rules; however, they have not truly acquired the structures."

Furthermore, Krashen points out that,

"Research consistently shows that conscious grammatical knowledge has a limited function, acting only as an editor of what is already produced.

"In support of this position are studies showing that even advanced students with a great deal of interest and experience with grammar are able to access only a small amount of their grammatical knowledge when actually using language. Even when students are deliberately focused on form and taught rules carefully, the impact of grammar study is weak."

Do textbooks reflect language teaching theory? Maybe not

Rod Ellis said: "The zero grammar approach was flirted with but never really took hold, as is evident in both the current textbook materials emanating from publishing houses and in current theories of L2 acquisition."

Rod Ellis says he's hedging his bets. For example, it sounds like he says he believes in just about everything except, of course, zero grammar. The same can be said about Krashen who also does not believe in zero grammar. The key is how much grammar.

While I don't subscribe to the zero grammar approach, I find that this statement can be very misleading. Many people may not realize that the type of textbook that is published may have nothing to do with current research and theory.

Jack Richards should know as much as there is to know about textbooks. He tells us,
"...it must be recognized that any set of working principles so derived must be compatible with the local context. Principles derived entirely from research and theory might not always fit well with the school teaching and learning culture....Both top down and bottom source of information are needed, or in publishing terms what can be called product-driven as well as market-driven factors."[1]

For example, zero grammar enthusiasts or people like Krashen, who is nearly zero, usually support Voluntary Free Reading[2], Extensive Reading and theories on the positive affects of massive amounts of Comprehensible Input. The idea is that the student will read lots of books that he chooses himself according to his interests. There will be no textbook for this and never will be so it is easy for "grammar" books to be more pervasive.

Although there are no textbooks, nor can there be, there is a lot of current research and activity going on about the positive effects of FVR, ER and CI. Yesterday I was reading a research paper called "Vocabulary acquisition from extensive reading: A case study" and published in Reading in a Foreign Language, April 2006.[3] Though it was focused on vocabulary it did discuss grammar and how both are acquired by reading without grammar study.

Krashen even hinted at something which almost sounds similar to Eisenhower's Military-Industrial Complex relationship,

"It could be the case that researchers are defending their own economic interests. They continue to search for a role for grammar not because they believe in it but because they have sold out to big publishers who make profits from grammar-based materials. I have no evidence that scholars have been deliberately dishonest, but the potential for conflict of interest exists."[4]

I don't think this alludes to a conspiracy theory. It's a fact that if you've built your life and livelihood around something that you will naturally wish to protect it. Teachers who promote FVR, ER and CI are striking at their own livelihood. They are promoting themselves out of a job.
Some people say, for example, cancer research is a big business and that there is much more
economic incentive to not find a cure for cancer than there is to find one.

So a few questions about publishers. Given a choice between publishing grammar textbooks or no textbooks, which would the publisher opt for? Is the publisher's primary concern language acquisition for students or is it profits through publishing? If a non-book solution to learning English appeared to be more effective than a textbook approach to learning English, would publishers invest in researching and promoting it?

Although most of the time publishers are the teachers' allies, we must bear in mind that they have their own priorities which may diverge from the priorities of the teachers and students.

[1] http://www.professorjackrichards.com/pdfs/materials-development-making-connection.pdf
[2] http://www.sdkrashen.com/handouts/88Generalizations/01.html
And http://www.sdkrashen.com/articles/pac5/all.html
[3] http://nflrc.hawaii.edu/rfl/April2006/pigada/pigada.html
[4] http://www.sdkrashen.com/articles/why_support/03.html

Become a researcher and turn your classroom into a lab

I think some teachers, when exposed to new teaching ideas or theories, like John Truscott's research on the ineffectiveness of error correction, have been wondering if it is all true or how does it apply to them. We can't simply accept all research at face value. Indeed, sometimes research is contradictory. Frankly, none of this really matters to us as individual teachers if there is no practical application in our classrooms.

The big question is, Does it work in YOUR classroom?

Let's find out. Here is an experiment for you to do.

EXPERIMENT #1 - Error correction experiment

Next time you ask your students to write something relatively short (perhaps 150-200 words), a letter, report, memo, as one of their exercises, correct the students' writing. Return their papers with corrections. As a class, discuss with them the most common errors and associated grammar rules. Collect the corrected papers back from the students. Assign the exact same task to them again. Collect the second attempt at the task. Hold those papers. A month or two later, ask the students to write the task one more time. Perhaps to give the project a little more meaning to the students tell them you will score their best effort of the three.

Match up all the students papers so that for Student "A" put together his first, second and third attempts and compare them. What would you expect the outcome to be? How would the three papers compare? How would the first attempt compare with the third?

EXPERIMENT #2 - Comprehensible input experiment

Again, give the students a relatively short writing assignment of the same type in experiment #1 above. Give the students a score on their writing but make no corrections. Collect the papers back from the students. Over the next month or two, give the students well written (perhaps by yourself) samples of writing assignment that you had given them. Perhaps they could take 5 minutes in class to read over these. Simplify the language to the students' level of English with perhaps just a few words that they may not be familiar with. Perhaps perk up the students' interest in what otherwise could be some boring reading by replacing the names of the people in the letter with student names and perhaps involve a funny situation. Over a period of two months and letting the students read, without offering any "instruction" or drawing special attention to how the writing was done, about ten different samples during this period of time, ask the students to do the task a second time. A month or two later, ask the students to write the task one more time.

Match up all the students papers so that for Student "A" put together his first, second and third attempts and compare them. What would you expect the outcome to be? How would the three papers compare? How would the first attempt compare with the third?

You could run Experiment #1 on one class and Experiment #2 on another class if you are teaching more than one class. You could even have a third class where you will ask them to do the writing assignments but offer neither the correction nor the good writing samples. This could be a "control group".

The results should be interesting. You will have to take into account a few things that may affect your outcome. For example, has English instruction in other classes affected the students' performance and in what way?

This will not be an experiment up to high academic scientific standards. But it should be a way for you to get some idea in real life with your own students in your situation what MIGHT work or not work.