Sunday, November 25, 2007

Is 'Engrish' another form of English?

Today I found a discussion of 'Engrish' at Wikipedia. I am fascinated - after laughing at many of the photos on the previously mentioned site - by what we find so hilarious and incongruous in the collocations of Asian 'Engrish.' Sometimes the words make no sense at all, but the funniest signs, of course, are those that are comprehensible but somehow break our rules of appropriateness in specific contexts. It's so hard to get students to understand humor (cartoons, funny 'Engrish,' headlines with double meanings, etc.), yet here we have many examples of it being apparently unwittingly produced.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

More Funny Signs in 'Engrish'

This site has a great set of photographs of English signs in Asia. You can watch them as a slide show. Have fun!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

iBT Writing using a Wiki

Yesterday, my TOEFL students used the wikispace for their third online writing. All went well except for one glitch. When students are in 'edit the page' mode and click to look at 'discussion,' they lose their writing if they haven't clicked on the 'save' button. There was no message to warn a student that she hadn't saved her entry. Thus, she lost 20 minutes of writing her response to an integrated writing task.

As I recall, when I started this blog, 'blogger' also did not warn you that the draft of your post had not been saved. Now there is an automatic save function so that even if you forget, your writing has usually been saved in draft form. Until Wikispaces changes their system to do automatic 'saves,' I don't see any way around the accidental loss of writing in my wiki, except to inform students repeatedly to back up their entry by clicking 'save' periodically. They always have the option of handwriting although they won't be able to do that on the real iBT.

The online edits went well for those students who wanted to update their writings. You can see the original, unedited essays by clicking on the 'history' button above a student's writing. Some students who I didn't expect to make editing changes or rethink/redo their previous writings did. I wish that Cambridge also had online writings because I think I could get my students to do more rewrites if they didn't have to handwrite a previously written letter or report. The idea that the students' writing is public seems to be simultaneously intimidating (thrilling!) and motivating.

For students who finished their writing activities early, I had created an online crossword puzzle with vocabulary from the previous week. That also proved to be intriguing to them. In fact, they got so involved that they worked in groups to complete it during part of their break time. All in all a successful afternoon using online resources!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Am I an 'Anglo' because I speak English?

Part of the lunchroom discussion this week was about what politically correct (PC) term to use to refer to a 'White' person. I'm Asian American, but my husband's family came from Eastern Europe. I tell my students that he's 'Caucasian.' However, that term is always met with blank stares, followed by "What means that?" Then, I proceed to use 'White' or 'non-Asian' and get nods of understanding.

Although we often use 'White' and 'Black'/'African-American' in our ESL classes in discussions of prejudice and discrimination in the USA, one of our male instructors said that he really doesn't like to be called 'White' and prefers the label 'Anglo.' However, another instructor asserted that 'Caucasian' was the most PC term, especially in business and in the city of Chicago where she grew up. In addition, since her ancestors came from Eastern Europe, she said she would not want to be identified as 'Anglo,' which could indicate 'English' roots. However, if we see 'Anglo' as identifying Americans by their first language, I could also be considered 'Anglo,' although most people would then think I had 'White' blood in me.

Then, we went on to consider what the best label is for someone from Mexico or from Latin America. Should we say 'Hispanic' or 'Latino/a'? Our Mexican-born instructor dislikes the term 'Latino' because, for her, 'Latino' includes Italians and other Latin-based language speakers. Her first choice for herself would be 'Mexican' and secondly, Hispanic.

To make the discussion even more complicated, one teacher pointed out that 'Native Americans,' who used to be called American Indians, actually prefer that original ethnic label. I can understand their position since people who are born and raised here in the United States are also 'native Americans.'

As if the topic of 'color' (race) were in the air, this morning on NPR (National Public Radio), I listened to commentary about a summit held in California's capital, Sacramento, in which educators gathered to discuss recent findings about the effects of race on educational achievement. In the NPR (National Public Radio) broadcast, the terms 'White,' 'Black,' 'Asian,' and 'Latino' or 'Brown' were used, so to the producers of that show, those labels must be PC. What should we call people like my children who are mixed 'White-Asian' or Tiger Woods? Do the labels matter as much to government once you're out of school?


It's hard to speculate about future discussions of educational achievement in California (or across the USA) where there will always be diversity in people's value systems. For many people, education only has value if it leads to successful employment afterward, and that really depends on personal or family networks, motivation, previous experience, demonstrated ability, and yes, good luck! In California, many of our students would benefit from the opportunity to do apprenticeships to learn skills in fields such as auto mechanics, masonry, plumbing, food preparation, or landscaping (actually quite vital jobs). However, people in these 'trades' (professions) are rarely discussed. I don't remember my children having the opportunity to shadow a 'plumber,' for example, on career day (because who would 'aspire' to be a blue collar worker?) .

If you want to hear and see some of the latest discussion about the Achievement Gap Summit in Sacramento, CA this week, here are a few links: one to news10/abc and another from which you can get to several other related stories.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Simulating the iBT (TOEFL) with limited technology

I'm teaching the iBT TOEFL course again. When I taught at UCSD's English Language Institute, I handled one of the two classes that covered the Listening and Speaking portion of the test. The university has a great language laboratory which allows instructors to simulate test conditions for these two parts of the iBT. Since I'm at a private language school now, I need to be more inventive and creative in simulating the iBT since we lack the space for a dedicated computer lab.

One of the challenges and pleasures of having a wiki is finding ways for my students to use it profitably. Since our computers (9) are not equipped with the expensive software of the university and we don't have a staff of computer techs to handle any glitches, I am having my students do one part of a writing test online, using my wikispace. To see some of their products, you can click here. Each student has his/her own page that (s)he can add to or correct as (s)he likes. Since the students' work is public, I've suggested that they make editing changes and corrections. That seemed to get their attention, but I'm waiting to see if they will correct themselves online.

In the future, I will try to load our computers with Audacity and purchase some headphones with mics so that iBT students can do online recordings. However, at present, I plan to record test-takers with a regular tape recorder or my digital hand-held recorder. The advantage of the digital recorder is that a student can see the seconds going by and know when to stop. This method would approximate the online experience. We'll see....

Friday, November 9, 2007

Fun Gadgets for Your Blog

I hope you enjoy the new gadgets I've added to my blog. I do, and here are the links if you'd like to add them to yours. There are two visitor maps: one is a spinning globe (but there are other formats to choose from), and the other is a map of the world which shows red dots to mark where people have logged on from. I put two up because I loved having something move on my page and instantaneously seeing if anyone is looking at my blog. I have no idea if the numbers or locations are real or not, but I like to believe they are.

I've also tried previously to put up a calendar on my blog, but I found Google's calendar difficult to mark and link to this page. The one I've put up is extremely easy for one who's not techno-savvy. Localendar is currently free for me as are the maps.

So, here are the links:
- to get to "," open up the calendar on my blog and click on the name "" at the bottom of the page, below the displayed calendar
- Spinning Globe
- World Map

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Halloween Festivities

To give our students a taste of Halloween, the entire school dresses up for the occasion. Then, each class creates a design for a pumpkin and carves and decorates it.

At noon, we take the pumpkins down to La Jolla Cove and have a pizza party. Afterwards, we have a variety of games and activities, including sweep the pumpkin, identify the body part (reach into a paper bag and feel the material), and pumpkin and costume competitions.

Unfortunately, my camera battery decided to die before the games started, but I think I captured some of the feel of that day. The idea was for all to let their hair down and use their English in a fun social setting, mixing native speakers (the teachers) and students. Flavio said, looking at me and the other "graduate", "Better late than never!" That English was music to my ears.