Saturday, January 22, 2011

"Teaching English pronunciation"

Something I found on the Internet, which might be useful to English teachers in Vietnam. Go here to read.

And if you have a question or an opinion, please don't hesitate to let me know on this blog. All ideas are welcome.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Must-read: "A Brit’s take on American English"


A Brit’s take on American English
Posted by Vicki Hollett on July 17, 2010
The US is a hazardous place for Brits. Since moving to Philadelphia, I’ve inadvertently commented on my hostess’s homely (=ugly) home; I’ve offended my gay neighbours by mentioning their fairy (=holiday) lights and I’ve even described the deceased at a funeral as having a wicked (=nasty – but not in Boston, where I might have been understood) sense of humour.

But there are lots of mistakes I’ve avoided. I’ve understood that batteries don’t go flat here (they die instead) and at the hardware store I’ve learnt how to ask for rawl plugs (=anchors) to put in the plasterboard (=sheet rock) along with some polyfilla (=spackle). I can now dress myself in trousers (=pants) with turn ups (=cuffs) and a jumper (=sweater – take it from me, ’merican jumpers are not a fashion item you’d ever want to wear). So I like to think I’ve had a lot of successes here. When I’ve written something wrongly, I’ve avoided asking my co-workers to lend me a rubber (=contraceptive). And when I’ve forgotten my alarm clock, I’ve never asked my travelling companions to knock me up (=get me pregnant) in the morning.

But whenever I open my mouth here, I’m conscious that it’s always a bit of an experiment. People think we speak the same language and they reason I know what I’m saying, but I don’t. The lexical differences are fun, but they’re actually small fry. Learning how to structure my thoughts ’merican-style is the biggest challenge for me.

The different styles of politeness are tricky. Putting it crudely, I come from a culture where politeness is mostly about not getting in anyone’s way, but in the US it’s more about awarding esteem. I have to remember to show approval, warmth and friendliness, and that’s tough for a Brit. If you think about it, the stereotypical Brit is aloof, standoffish and reserved. Our customs dictate we should leave people alone so they can go about their business without us getting in their way. Meanwhile the stereotype of the American is friendly and garrulous – someone who gives you a run-down of their entire life history within five minutes of meeting them. It’s just not polite to hold back, so I’ve had to learn to show more solidarity, share and be open.

It’s not that one form of politeness is good or bad, but they are different. Have you had any similar experiences with British/American differences? If so, please do share. And in my best British, I do hope I haven’t gone on too long and reading this hasn’t been a bother. And in my best ’merican, y’all come back sometime and set awhile, ye hear?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Language change, and The Global Language Monitor website

The topic of this week's lesson is Language Change. As speakers of languages, we all know that language changes all the time. Like fashion, every year we have new words coming in and some old words dying out. Which is why we need new dictionaries to keep us updated.

For people who are interested in language, The Global Language Monitor website is a must. It is, as it names suggests, a chronicle of language changes. The URL is here:

There are a lot of interesting things on the site for a language lover. For example, you will find the origin of the word "wiki" in wikipedia, wikidictionary, or, of course, wikileaks. Read below:

The word ‘wiki’ is Hawaiian in origin and is usually defined as ‘quick’ or ‘fast’ especially when used in rapid succession: ”wiki, wiki, wiki!”. In computing, a wiki describes software that lets any user create or edit Web-server content. The WikiLeaks organization was originally set-up as a ‘wiki’.

Or, would you know this fact if not for GLM? Yes, English has MORE THAN ONE MILLION WORDS now. The number 1,000,001st word is "financial tsunami", they tell us. Continue reading here.

And the following a very interesting article to read before we end this entry on language change:

Ten years ago, no one had heard of “H1N1″, “Web 2.0″, “n00b”, or talked about “de-friending” someone on “Twitter” or “Facebook”. Now these are part of people’s everyday vocabulary.

The world is changing. Inevitably, so are our words.

The English language is going through an explosion of word creation. New words are coined – some, like “n00b”, may not even look like words; old words take on new meanings – “twitter” today bears little relation to the Middle English twiteren. According to the Global Language Monitor (GLM), in 2009 the English language tipped the scales with a vocabulary of one million words. Not good news for the 250 million people acquiring English in China.

GLM, the San Diego-based language watcher, publishes annual lists of top words and phrases by tracking words in the global print and electronic media, the Internet, blogs, and social media such as Twitter and YouTube.

Each year’s list reflects major concerns and changes taking place that year. For instance, from the 2009 list, we have to acknowledge the fact that technology is reshaping our ways of living (twitter, web 2.0).

We need to face up to the after-effects of a “financial tsunami” (stimulus, foreclosure), a pandemic (H1N1), the death of revered pop icon (MJ, King of Pop) and the debates over “healthcare reform” and “climate change” that mark the year.

A quick rundown of GLM’s top words/phrases of the decade is precisely like watching clips of a documentary of the decade. From the lists we are reminded of the series of world-shaping events from 9/11(2001), tsunami (2004) to H1N1 (2009), and we see the huge impact the Internet and new technologies have made on our lives, from the burst of the “ bubble” (2000) to blog (2003), Google (2007) and Twitter (2009), which represent a new trend in social interaction.

The lists are also witnesses of the influences of entertainment sector such as the film “Brokeback” (2004) a new term for gay to “Vampire” (2009), now a symbol of unrequited love. Michael Phelps’s 8-gold-medal accomplishments at the Beijing Olympics had created a Phelpsian (2008) pheat.

The Chinese equivalence of top words came in a more complex fashion. First there are lists of expressions only, not single words. Second, there exist two completely separate lists. One is the list of top expressions from mainstream print media, while the other popular Internet expressions is selected annually from netizen votes.

The mainstream list first appeared in 2002; the Internet version came out in 1999. What is most interesting is that the top expressions on the two sets of lists rarely overlap: The one being mostly concerned with what is public, official, involving macro concerns and interests; the other being private and personal, reflecting attitudes and feelings of the younger generation.

Just like the English top words lists, the Chinese mainstream lists also reflect major events, albeit with a different angle, for instance, anti-terror (2002), Saddam Hussein (2003), bird flu (2004), prisoner abuse (2004) and G20 Summit (2009). The Chinese press also seem much more concerned with the two Olympics and the two World Cups taking place during the decade.

Internet-spawned new words are also creeping into the Chinese language: texting, blog, Baidu (Google’s main competitor in China) and QQ (the Chinese social-networking site) became buzz-words in China, though somewhat later than their English counterparts.

The Chinese entertainment sector is leaving a much bigger impact on the language. Famous lines from Chinese movies or popular shows pass on to become everyday expressions. For instance, “Integrity makes the man” from Cell Phone; “You will pay for what you have done sooner or later” from the Hong Kong movie “Infernal Affairs,” which most Chinese people believe was copied by Hollywood in “The Departed.” ” Money is not a problem” a theme line from a popular skit has become the standard version to satirize certain Chinese people’s pompous attitude to money and concern over face rather than over efficiency.

Green living as a concept is becoming a focus of concern in China too, though on a delayed time schedule. Compared with the fact that “climate change” has dominated the English lists since 2000, the Chinese version didn’t become a top expression till 2009, though expressions like “energy-conservation society” and “energy conservation and emissions reduction” did make their way to the 2005 and 2008 lists.

Although Chinese top expressions demonstrate similar trends to those in English, there are a few most distinctive features. A strong political flavor is found in the Chinese list as reflected in top expressions like the Three Represents (2002), Scientific Approach to Development (2004), and Peaceful Development (2005).

Another most outstanding feature of the Chinese lists is the contrast between the mainstream print media and the Internet: The English lists represent the spread of words in both print and digital media, the Internet, blogs and social media. The Chinese Internet buzzwords are mostly used on the Internet; although many have passed on into everyday life, only a small number have crept into the mainstream media.

Unlike the mainstream media, popular Internet expressions represent what the ordinary Chinese people are actually talking about in non-official contexts. Most of the expressions are highly colloquial, living, creative, and can be cynical. Some of the expressions reveal the new values and attitudes towards current affairs. For instance, da jiang you, which literally means “on the way to get soy sauce”, speaks of a “not concerned” or “staying out of it” attitude. This attitude is also reflected in the expression: zuo fu wo cheng, which literally means “doing push-ups”, in other words not paying any attention to what’s happening.

Some Internet words have gained acceptance in the mainstream media. For instance shan zhai, which literally means “mountain village”. It has now been adapted to mean “counterfeit”, or things done in parody, as in “shanzhai mobile phones”, “shanzhai New Year’s Eve Gala”, and even “shanzhai celebrities”.

From a linguistic point of view, language is simply a tool for communication. When new ideas and concepts pop up, language needs to adapt itself to allow the communication of these ideas and concepts. If the Internet is reshaping our lives, the net-language is only reflecting such changes.

The author is associate professor at the English Department of Xiamen University.

(China Daily 04/16/2010 page9)

And, a final note: once you are at the GLM website, don't forget to read this very interesting article: The top word list of 2010. The link is here:

Enjoy, and see you in class!

Friday, January 7, 2011

APEC English Language Content Standards

Hi there!

My last entry was several days ago, and it was entitled "'Tis the season to be jolly". I believe you've been jolly and did not need something to read.

But I guess it's time we get back to serious things, and that is why I have this entry. I have something that all of you who are in English language teaching in Vietnam nmay eed to know.

Why? Because you know that Vietnam is having this grand national project to upgrade its English language teaching in the next 10 years (called Project 2020). And MOET is developing the new English curriculum for the whole education system (I am partly involved in this, that's why I know).

In order to do that, it's necessary to see what other countries are doing. So I search the Internet and found this site, which has almost everything Vietnam needs. You can go here to find out more.

Two important documents that are relevant to Vietnam:

1. Chinese English Standards

Read this introduction from the site:

Unofficial translation of English standards by grade level including language skills, attitudes, learning strategies, and cultural awareness (translated by the United States Department of Education).

This document is 53 pages in length, consisting of 4 chapters and an appendix. I particularly like chapter 4, Implementation Suggestions. Some really useful case studies with interesting ideas for teaching and assessment.

2. Chinese Language Proficiency Scales for Speakers of Other Languages

Guideline document for teaching Chinese to meet the needs of Chinese language teaching and learning worldwide.

Useful for (1) Teachers of Chinese in Vietnam and elsewhere; and (2) Teachers of Vietnamese who would like to develop proficiency scales for Vietnamese for speakers of other languages.

Read, enjoy, and discuss this with me, will you?

And for those students of mine, see you in class tomorrow!