I ran across a blog post over at Dalian blogger Kim’s great new spot, East-West Station, and it got me thinking.

In the post, entitled “The Years BC“, Kim recounts the (often entertainment-industry induced) rather skewed knowledge he had of China before moving here last year. He shares tales of stereotypes, evil villains, kung-fu legends and the fact that in his younger years, like most of us, had no idea China was different from Japan (and Korea was just unknown).

For a while now I’ve wanted to find a topic to launch group writing projects here on Lost Laowai in an effort to bring together fellow Sinosphere bloggers in a creative and constructive manner. Well, in true Chinese form, why come up with something new when you can just copy the brilliance of others? 🙂

ifiknewchina.gifSo, welcome to Lost Laowai’s 1st Group Writing Project.

A group writing project is a good way for bloggers in the ‘sphere to come together and get to know other semi-related blogs and possibly make some new friends while doing so.

It’s also a chance for lesser-known blogs to get some extra traffic from people who might not normally run across their site.

To participate, here is the process to follow:

1. Write a post relating to your pre-China knowledge of the Middle Kingdom

  • Check Kim’s or other submissions for concepts or ideas.
  • Feel free to add, subtract or modify this idea – be as creative as you can. As long as it sticks to the theme, it’s fine.
  • You can write it in any form you like (songs, poems, rants, humorous posts, as told by fecal art, anything you want).
  • Come up with a snazy title for the post that might attract some interest from other readers.

2. Let us know when it’s done.

  • Once you’ve posted your story, simply fire us off an e-mail (Contact in left sidebar) with the following information:
    Title of Post, Post’s Link, Your name (or online alias)
  • The deadline for this group writing project is Monday, June 18th.
  • You don’t have to link back to this post – but it might be a good way to get others involved and help this project grow.
  • Additionally, you are more than welcome to use the graphic above in your post. Simply download it, or just link to it from here.

3. What happens next?

  • I’ll be doing a “daily” post of submissions on here. Additionally, I will also be adding your post to a central “If I Knew Then What I Know Now” submission list to make it easy for everyone to view all the posts related to this group writing project.
  • The final list will be posted next Tuesday, June 19th.

4. Don’t be shy – get around.

  • This is where you take over. Get out there and see what other people thought about China before winding up here. See if they compare to your own pre-China notions. Leave comments and make connections with other Sinosphere bloggers.
  • There is no formal ‘judging’ as this is not a competition. Instead, I suggest perhaps you can surf through the submissions at the end of the week and list the one(s) on your blog you feel were the best and share the linky linky love.

Discussion

17
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  12. I am a semi-retired teacher/principal from Queensland, Australia. After 40 years in Australia and Papua New Guinea, 37 as principal of more than a dozen schools, I accepted the first of three contracts to teach in China.

    During our time there, I wrote many articles for the schools or the teacher training programmes I led. One of these is attached.

    But, my most enduring memories of our time in China are of the friendship and generosity we were offered by students, teachers and others. So much so, that, before I left this year, I told my friends, “My home and family are in Australia but my heart is in China. ” Hopefully, I will be able to join it later this year.

    TEACHING ENGLISH AS A FOREIGN LANGUAGE

    It is my understanding that all students in China are expected to learn English. The reason for this was explained before our first visit to China. However, it was not long before it became obvious to me that the programme was not succeeding for a very simple reason. English, like Chinese, French or any living language is a means of communication. It is NOT primarily an examination subject.

    We soon found that very few of the young people we met in shops, markets or even as teaching colleagues, had any real understanding of the language. It was very rare to encounter anyone who was actually prepared to attempt to communicate in English. A few could resort to a written “conversation” to negotiate a sale. In TianMen and again in Songjiang, I found only one person in the many businesses we frequented who would greet us and then communicate with us in English.

    What made this even more difficult to understand was spelt out in some of the official texts I used in conjunction with my teaching. One had the following quotation:

    Nothing should be spoken before it has been heard.
    Nothing should be read before it has been spoken.
    Nothing should be written before it has been read.

    As I have pointed out to students and teachers , we all learned our mother language by listening, then copying the sounds we heard, then, when we were familiar with the language, we learned to read and write. This is apparently the official policy for teaching English but it is a far cry from reality.

    Of course, I realize that China has a huge population and any significant change to teaching programmes or methods presents an enormous task, but, considering the billions of Renminbi that are being invested in ESL, there is certainly a need to improve the outcome.

    While we were in Shanghai, an announcement appeared in the press that oral English tests for public servants were to be introduced. Assuming that there is a commitment to the development of English as a second language throughout China, this is a positive step. But, just as we all learned our Mother tongue as an Oral language, it is imperative that this happens for ESL. Also, bearing in mind that we learned our basic language at our mother’s knee, learning a second language is a simpler and more enjoyable task for the very young.

    I know that many schools and kindergartens in China are now adopting this principle. My advice to them would be to encourage their teachers to develop and use their English and show their students that it has value in communication. However, for the upper primary and secondary schools and even through University, the pressures of English for Examination as opposed to English for Communication creates a barrier to the learning, understanding and enjoyment of English as a living language.

    In each of the High Schools where we worked, I was able to establish an English Room which provided students and their teachers with an “English Only” facility where they could meet to speak, listen to and read English. They could bring their ‘problems’ to seek help. They could watch English language films . They could listen to English music. They could question and occasionally argue the cultural differences we experience. Above all, they were able to develop friendships across class and grade levels and between students, teachers and families.

    This informal approach to language development, at least for the time the students were able to visit the rooms, did give them that different attitude to the language.

    I referred previously to the teaching of English as an examination subject. In one of our schools, and, I expect , many others, students are advised that Oral English is not important because there is no examination. This does not have to be done in the form of a direct statement. If teachers keep students back so they are late or cannot attend the Oral English classes, this indirectly tells the students the same thing. This certainly is a serious impediment to the use and understanding of the language. I found that this is compounded by a very strong cultural trait.

    In all of my formal classroom sitations and even more in the three teacher training programmes I was able to take, my main difficulty was trying to overcome the reluctance to “have a go”. This is considered the basis of a great deal of “western” teaching. Students are encouraged to try, whether or not they are confident of the correct answer. “What do you think?” is a common question which, of course, has no correct or incorrect answer. The student may be thinking something that is incorrect but, it is the explanation of that thought that is that student’s correct answer. Perhaps the only incorrect answer is “Nothing.”

    The Chinese reluctance to attempt in case they make a mistake, especially in a formal situation builds a barrier to oral expression. Students and teachers will not respond in case they are wrong and “lose face”. Older teachers at my groups would not respond for that reason, younger teachers because it is culturally unacceptable to “show up” older colleagues.

    These cultural aspects have resulted in what I call the “My English is Poor” Syndrome. This was the standard introduction to most verbal contacts in China and appears to be the excuse for not trying.

    We have a common saying “You learn from your mistakes”. Students are actively encouraged to try, to give their ideas, to challenge statements. In the informal English Room environment, I was able to encourage this approach. Students were prepared to take a risk, to laugh at their own mistakes and, when mistakes were made, to laugh WITH their friends, not AT them.

    So, if the teaching of English as a foreign language is to have any real value for the millions of Chinese students and teachers who spend so much time and effort learning and teaching, it needs to have purpose. The purpose of any language is communication and most communication is carried out orally. This would indicate that the reason for teaching English should be to enable the students to communicate among themselves and with others. This will not be achieved by teaching obsolete Grammar rules and completing thousands of multiple-choice tests, [most of those I saw were VERY poorly prepared and often incorrect].

    When/if I return to teaching in China, I hope that it will be to a changing culture of English teaching where ability to communicate will be the aim and enjoyment, the method.

    As a footnote to this article, I returned to TianMen in February 2009, six years after we had left to visit many of our student and teacher friends. I was delighted to be approached by a number of young people with offers of assistance or just to use their English. This, in a city where we previously had difficulty finding even English teachers who would speak. Perhaps the ‘wheel has turned’.

    • Thanks for flagging up this old post, yang guang, with another esoteric comment.

      I myself have been teaching in China for a year, and it was interesting to read about Rex’s experiences. I absolutely agree that emphasis in education needs to shift towards oral English and away from boring grammar tests. But how do we get Chinese kids to communicate amongst themselves in English? Surely they’re not going to do this just for fun?

      There just aren’t enough situations where Chinese people are called upon to use their English. Often when I meet people here who’ve studied English for a long time they’re absolutely dying to practice their spoken English.

      Just an idea, but maybe schools could establish links with schools in English-speaking countries to partner-up kids for language practice over Skype, or some other video-calling software? Sort of like an updated version of the pen-friends we had when I was studying French in secondary school?

      • Thanks for your comments Danny. I’d forgotten I’d posted this. As for how to get the students AND teachers to speak English, I found that first , the English Rooms, full of ONLY English resources gave them somewhere different to go in their busy campus. Then, a box at the door with this sign, “Please leave your Chinese here and collect it when you leave” set a light hearted tone for the ENGLISH ONLY environment.
        In each school, I found that visitors would voluntarily adopt the role of English Police and I often heard “SPEAK ENGLISH!” above the chatter in the rooms.

      • If you want children to learn English effectively, you should focus on a few aspects of the language.

        1) Phonics – I use Hooked on Phonics with my students and it works like a charm. I have a 4.5 year old boy, who has learned with me for 4 months, reading “Green Eggs and Ham.” Focus on the reading ability, and the grammar and vocabulary will follow!

        2) Dialogue – I have made up my own Dialogue materials, recorded in my own voice, and given it to my students to listen to while they play with there toys. The dialogue is for basic English childrens communication. (I have 2 students that are fluent speaker after using this technique for one full year, everyday)

        3) Story books – Increase the children vocabulary with build in context. Story books are different than learning phonics content because the stories are more interesting. Find a package of leveled reading books, starting from the most simplistic.

        4) Creative writing – Have your students to some creative writing exercises. I used a book from the foreign language bookstore for creative writing. Started at the beginning of the series and went on through.

        Teaching English is so much more than grammar and spelling.

  13. The Principalof our Nanjing school asked metocompile the materialI produced for classroom use as a resource for Chinese English Teachers. This became an unpublished “text book” , “ENGLISH IS FOR COMMUNICATION”. This is another of the articles.

    STORIES IN THE CLASSROOM

    It is my understanding that all students in China are expected to learn English. The reason for this was explained before our first visit to China. However, it was not long before it became obvious to me that the programme was not succeeding for a very simple reason. English, like Chinese, French or any living language is a means of communication. It is NOT primarily an examination subject.

    As I have pointed out to students and teachers , we all learned our mother language by listening, then copying the sounds we heard, then, when we were familiar with the language, we learned to read and write. This is apparently the official policy for teaching English but it is a far cry from reality.

    The Chinese reluctance to attempt in case they make a mistake, especially in a formal situation builds a barrier to oral expression. Students and teachers will not respond in case they are wrong and “lose face”. Older teachers at my groups would not respond for that reason, younger teachers because it is culturally unacceptable to “show up” older colleagues.

    To overcome this reluctance, I commenced writing short dialogues in the hope that, if the students were “being someone else”, they would be less worried about making mistakes. This was quite successful so I extended the scope of the dialogues to include not only “real life situations”, but fairy stories and fables. Now, the students could become anyone or anything, a little boy in Ancient China, a mouse or even an Ugly Duckling.
    Then, if there was a mistake, it was the character who made it, not the student.

    So, Story telling and “play acting” became the key to most of my Oral English teaching.

    To use this strategy in your classroom, I would suggest that first YOU become the storyteller. Do not just read the dialogue, BECOME the story.
    It is better to over-act than to just speak the words, demonstrate the feelings of the characters, make the story live. Then, perhaps in a following lesson, let the students become the characters and read the scripts. Record it as a “Radio Play”, Film it for a Television presentation, Perform it at a school function. [Many of these stories were performed by my Primary School students in Papua New Guinea at end-of-year concerts. All of those children had English as their second or third language.]

    So, my suggestion for the use of Story Telling in the classroom corresponds to the way you learned your mother tongue, you LISTENED,
    you COPIED and you PRACTISED. Your students should enjoy the lessons and, as I have always believed, they learn better if they are having fun.

    I hope that you find this material valuable in your development of English as a SPOKEN language. That is the key to learning any language.

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