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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Culture Clash in Classroom

In one of my textbooks I included a lesson discussing on cluture clash. I gathered some well known information, such as Thai people don't like other people touching their heads, and if you want to eat something using your hand in Malaysia, do not use left hand, etc. In the class, students and I would discuss personal experience related to this topic, and exchange stories and learn some new words and expressions.

This type of culture clash in the textbook is so obvious. And just recently I realized culture clash is an everyday experience for all the teachers who are teaching somebody from other countries.

Most Chinese people are direct, and Chinese language is a direct language. English is quite a hidden language compare to Chinese. Now direct Chinese speaking teachers are teaching not-so-direct English speaking students. I can understand better why this culture clash can have a deep impact on one's learning a new and so different language.

Chinese teachers say:"This is wrong. You should do this. I have corrected you before." Students might get a bit hurt (thinking this is the interpretation of you're stupid) and sometimes would lose interests completely. The result is teachers won't have any job satisfaction and students didn't learn anything. To avoid this problem, it is good for teachers to say:"It's quite good. If you do this, it will be very good." It will encourage students to work some more and be self motivated. And that is very important in eventually achieving the desired results. For good Chinese teachers who are teaching other countries folks, I do urge them to know their students well. Only if they know well of their students culture (not only what they eat and drink, but also the way of speaking and choice of words they use and much more), can they be good at teaching them a new language, and help them know more about a different culture, to built understanding and trust.

However, to only rely on teachers' part is not a good idea for students. The fundemental key of learning a new language well still lies within. I will discuss about this at another time.

A Madarin Study Blog
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Thursday, September 15, 2005

How Fast Can You Learn?

" I want to learn fast and be able to talk to Chinese people when I travel around China." This is what most people's wish when they start their first lesson. I have kept a record of how fast a person can learn, let's say from zero or near zero till finish Intro Level A. There are people who have taken lessons before they came to MSL, but I put them into Intro Level A. The reason is that after initial level assessment, I found out that their knowledge is all scaterred quite randomly and couldn't build up a decent small talk, and therefore, they couldn't start higher.

Now let me get back to the record. Most people finish Intro Level A in 28 hours. Some people think it's just right, some people think they need a bit more time, and some people think they can finish in 24 hours. Then this year April, Wantanee and Tim started their Intro Level A, then they finished Intro Level A in 12 hours. It's not like going through the motion of knowing the meaning of different words, it is that they can talk quite decently in Mandarin and can use what they know quite well. The most amazing part is that they are very busy people, they travelled around and had many trips. So these the lessons were all conducted quite randomly and they can still retain what they had and used it very well. They came back from a trip in Sichuan and Yunnan in China last week, and when they were in China they spoke nothing but Mandarin.

But last month came Paul. He set this record in a new height. He did a wonderful part on studying before the lesson and spent hours and hours in doing assignment. So the record is he finished his Intro Level A in 8 hours! The last 2 hours of these 8 hours were reviewing and checking and making sure he got everything right. And he did. He is so dedicated and determined and fast.

So next time, if you are going to ask "how fast can I learn?" , you know the answer now is 8 hours to complete Intro Level A. I seriously doubt if anybody can do any faster. But I never know.

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Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Being Practical Pays

I am quite a fan of Bill Bryson (except his The Lost Continent, which I think is quite mean.). I recently read his Neither Here Nor There where he talked about travelling around Europe. It has some very funny part.

Here I would like to quote (on page 76) his words on talking about his experience in learning French. He was in Wallonia, France. And,

"... hardly anyone in Wallonia speaks English. I began to regret that I didn't understand French well enough to eavesdrop. I took three years of French in school, but learned next to nothing. The trouble was that the textbooks were so amazingly useless. ... at no point did they intersect with the real world. ... They were always tediously preoccupied with classroom activities,... How often on a visit to France do you need to tell someone you want to clean a blackboard? How frequently do you wish to say, "It is winter. Soon it will be spriing"? In my experience, people know this already"

What a laugh!
It shows for all the purpose of learning a new language, being practical is quite important. At least you can eavesdrop!

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