International Mother Language Day 2014 – 臺語 (Taiwanese)

February 21, 2014 § 1 Comment

Eric K.:

wow, fascinating. I didn’t know they’ve created a system for writing Taiwanese. How awesome!

Originally posted on 思想語言 | Thinking About Languages:



I can speak Taiwanese, but I do not know how to write Taiwanese. This is my first time writing in Taiwanese. Writing in Taiwanese is important because words are the way we hand down language. If we lose our language, we will not be able to understand the words and stories of our elders. We must continue to write Taiwanese and read Taiwanese. Taiwanese is our language and we must use Taiwanese to write our own stories.

When I saw “Tweet in Your Mother Language on February 21″, I decided I would participate by writing a blog post. The first paragraph is in Taiwanese Min Nan, the second paragraph is the Taiwanese Mandarin translation, and the third paragraph is the English translation. There are many languages in Taiwan, and Taiwanese Min Nan is just one of them. Even though I have learned three languages in native…

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Chinese Extensive Reading Project – Journal Entry 1

January 24, 2014 § Leave a comment

2014-01-16 18.15.19It’s been a while since I’ve blogged. Many things have happened in my teaching world. Here’s a rough breakdown:

  • got the Lecturer’s position at the University of Taipei in Taiwan
  • left San Francisco, moved to Taipei, Taiwan
  • just finished my first semester, teaching four different subjects, 7 classes total (whew!)
  • just began winter break

This is my first winter break in Taiwan. Many people have suggested that I should use these four weeks to travel, which seems kind of obvious for anyone in a foreign country. And so yes, I have some travel plans. I also need to finish grading and planning for next semester’s courses. On top of that, I have a few ongoing projects going on that I need to work on, projects related to research. In other words, there’s more than enough to keep me occupied this winter break.

One of my personal goals this winter break that hopefully extends to the rest of this year as a New Year’s Resolution is putting effort into improving my Chinese reading skills. This past semester, I found out from my students that my Chinese reading level is around that of a Taiwanese 3rd grader. I’ve realized that if I want to pursue a career in Taiwan and operate independently without having to rely on co-workers to translate emails, websites, official documents, and campus notices to me, I need to improve my Chinese reading skills.

I thought to myself, how should I approach this? I found myself asking the same kind of question many of my students have asked me. How can I improve at (fill in the blank – language)? The traditional method would be to enroll in a class – there are many well-established Chinese language programs geared towards foreigners in Taipei. But I’ve taken Chinese classes all my life that it doesn’t seem like it would help much. Another approach would be to buy textbooks, language-learning oriented software or magazines, and other materials specifically created for language learning and create a curriculum/schedule for myself to learn. I’ve tried that before and as you can imagine, what happens is that motivation drops within a few days and it ends up feeling like torture.

The question I really found myself repeating in my head was, “What would I tell my students to do if they wanted to improve their English reading skills?” The first answer I thought of, almost automatically, is doing extensive reading. While that answer comes to me almost automatically, it doesn’t come to me because it’s something I’ve experienced. Rather, it’s something I’ve read about in research that has been confirmed to work. So I figure, if I’m going to talk the talk about extensive reading, I should at least walk the walk once. And what a perfect opportunity this is. If I’m going to tell my students that extensive reading works, it should be something I’ve experienced first hand, rather than just repeating things I’ve read from academic research.

My goal by the end of this spring break is to finish reading a book that one of my students recommended to me. My hope is that the next time a student asks me about how to improve their reading skills, I can use my Chinese extensive reading experiences as an example and model of how improve your English without the traditional textbooks and classes.

One thing I’ve learned so far (a few days into winter break) about extensive reading is that it is extremely difficult. Here are some things I’ve come across that make me feel like extensive reading is a difficult project:

  1. People aren’t supportive – Many people seem to be skeptical about extensive reading as a way to improve reading and writing skills. Many people still revert to textbooks and classes and question the effectiveness of extensive reading. While it actually feeds my curiosity and drive to prove them wrong, it also gets frustrating having to keep explaining my rationale for extensive reading..
  2. Motivation and interest are key – What gets you started with extensive reading is all the academic hype built around it. It’s THE way to help students improve their reading and to some degree their writing. However, what keeps you going is your inner motivation towards the subject matter you are reading. If you care enough about the subject, you will want to keep reading more about it.
  3. Take it one step at a time – Reading in a foreign language is difficult. I’ve started with only reading one or two pages in one sitting, just so I feel the satisfaction of reading and discovering more about the story, while also not reading too much to overwhelm me.

I hope to keep up writing my reflections about extensive reading in Chinese and any insights, thoughts, or observations about the process of extensive reading in general.

BBC News: “‘Alarming shortage’ of foreign language skills in UK”

November 21, 2013 § Leave a comment

BBC News: “‘Alarming shortage’ of foreign language skills in UK”

Schools should teach a wider range of languages, with language skills given the same status as the sciences and maths, argues the British Council.

More adults should learn at least one new language, say the authors.

Failure to act risks the UK losing out “both economically and culturally”, said John Worne of the British Council.

Ever-evolving English Language

November 20, 2013 § Leave a comment

Eric K.:

Just talked to my students about “selfie” and “twerking”. Glad we’re keeping up!

Originally posted on Ms. Ulas: Reader, Librarian, Teacher:



The Oxford University Press has announced that the 2013 Words of the Year are:  selfie, twerk, showrooming, bitcoin, and binge-watch.  It is interesting to see how the English language is so adoptive of new terms and continuously evolves and changes.  Every year some type of term that seems to have sprung out of pop culture or technology becomes an official word.  Some people may not understand what it means when Oxford University makes a term an official word.  Once Oxford “gives the okay,” that word is no longer slang–it is a recognized and accepted term.  It can now be found in dictionaries and can be used on a general and widespread manner.  

It is strange to see which words are created year after year–I think one of my favorites that have been ‘knighted’ by Oxford is ‘bootylicious.’  This was a word that singer, Beyonce Knowles, made up while…

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MSN Careers: 11 common interview questions that are actually illegal

November 12, 2013 § Leave a comment

The two that are most interesting to me are 5 and 6.

5. What country are you from?
If you have an accent, this may seem like an innocent question, but it’s illegal because it involves your national origin. Employers can’t legally inquire about your nationality, but they can ask if you’re authorized to work in a certain country.

6. Is English your first language?
It’s not the employers’ lawful right to know whether a language is your first language. In order to find out language proficiency, employers can ask you what other languages you read, speak or write fluently.

Taipei Times: Native languages to be compulsory

September 12, 2013 § Leave a comment


“The Ministry of Education on Wednesday announced that courses in the nation’s native languages would be compulsory from as early as 2016, news that was welcomed by most parent groups and teachers’ organizations.


Minister of Education Chiang Wei-ning (蔣偉寧) said that the revised education curriculum for the 12-year compulsory national education program would include Taiwanese (also known as Hoklo), Hakka and Aboriginal languages


The native-language classes would be complulsory from grade one through grade six, consisting of one class per week. Students have the option of choosing between Taiwanese, Hakka or one of the other Aboriginal languages.”

Read the full article:

Learning TSL, Last Day: Concluding Reflections

September 12, 2013 § 1 Comment

2013-09-13 01.05.08I haven’t been consistent in documenting the latter half of my TSL classes and it’s already come to point where I’m finished with my TSL classes! I will dearly miss it… I’m considering taking the next level but I’m not sure how my work schedule will be so I’m still on the fence (and the classes are held Friday night… really bad in terms of motivation to attend class). I wanted to reflect on what I’ve enjoyed about the class, where I see improvement, and what effect I feel this will have on my approach to teaching and language learning.

1. Second, I mean Third, I mean Fourth Language Acquisition

In my M.A. TESOL program, we started out our graduate program learning about second language acquisition. We also learned that while there is a lot of research being done on second language acquisition, third language acquisition and beyond is still an emerging field of research. So far, I’ve had classroom learning experiences with English, Mandarin, Spanish, American Sign Language, and Taiwanese Sign Language, in the order listed with varied degrees of exposure. In learning TSL, because it’s very much directly tied to Mandarin and American Sign Language, and ASL is tied to English, this four-language combo has made learning TSL qutie confusing sometimes. For example, in TSL class, if I’m confused with what the teacher is trying to explain, the first thing he’ll do is explain it to me using written Chinese on the board. However, my Chinese reading skills are quite elementary so the next thing the TSL instructor resorts to is using either English or American Sign Language, whichever he is more familiar with. While I understand his effort to use any linguistic means possible to help me understand, all the code-switching that happens between these four languages actually gets me more confused than before. Much of the confusion also comes from the different pragmatic usages and connotations words have in the different languages. For example, I became confused while learning how to sign “中國” (China, the country) and “中文” (Chinese, the language) in TSL because in ASL, there is one sign for both of those words, even though in English, we use two words to represent those ideas. As you can see, sorting out the different ways the four languages are used is complicating.

This brings me to my teaching. In recent Taiwanese news, students will be required to take a language class in one of Taiwan’s native languages (Taiwanese, Hakka, or one of the other Aboriginal languages). That means as part of the the nations compulsory education curriculum, Taiwanese students will grow up having formal classroom language learning experiences in Mandarin, English, and one of Taiwan’s native languages. I wonder if my students will experience the same kind of languages as I have had in learning English, Chinese, ASL and TSL… notably making connections between the languages but also experiencing confusion from those languages. This is certainly a topic I’m curious and interested in, something that I think if I were going to pursue a Phd, I would want to research.

2. English/Chinese/ASL/TSL only policy in the classroom

During my graduate study in the M.A. TESOL program, I found myself interested in the debate of the English-only classroom. I was interested in the idea of the relationship between an English teacher and English learner as a power dynamic, the acknowledgement of the native language(s) as useful for language learning, and the consideration of how appropriate using the native language would be in different teaching settings. My ESL teaching experience has mostly been with students of varied language backgrounds; thus, using and enforcing an English-only policy, to me, was important in creating an equal opportunity learning environment for everyone, where no one was left out of the loop because no one else spoke or understood their native language. I have also had the opportunity to teach beginning literacy level adults, all of whom spoke Spanish as their first language. In that learning context, it was incredibly helpful for both my teaching and their learning, if not necessary, to use Spanish to teach English.

As a learner, I’ve realized that all of my language learning experiences, except Spanish, have been in classrooms where the teacher enforced a total immersion environment. That is, when it came to learning Chinese, ASL, and TSL, the teachers only used the target language in their instructions and only permitted us to use the target language in our interactions with the teacher and other students. Especially when it comes to learning ASL and TSL, these were languages that were so different from anything I’ve learned before and languages that I had no opportunities for exposure to outside of class.

As a teacher, I’ve been strict with my students using their native language in class. So often, what happens is students will have side conversations and chat with each other using their native language. Because exposure to English in Taiwan is less accessible than when I was teaching in the U.S., I think it’s particularly important for my instruction and student’s interactions in my class to be in English. However, since everyone will be able to speak and understand Mandarin, I think it will also be a good tool to help them understand more abstract and difficult concepts in English. Thus, I plan to maintain my English only policy but also loosen my regulation of students using Mandarin to help each other.

3. Pragmatics, Interaction, and Communication

One of the things I would have liked more of from my TSL class is more interaction-based activities in class. I used to hate these kinds of activities as a student. I would have much rather just listened to the teacher. However, especially in language learning, I’ve found that without opportunities to practice using what we’ve been learning to communicate with someone, even when we spend so much time learning lots of vocbaulary, grammar, and sentence structure, the actual usage of the language is still underdeveloped and inexperienced. As a teacher, I understand that each class session is only two hours long and that we can only choose so much to cover. I would have much rather learned less vocabulary words and spent time practice using the more commonly-used vocabulary words. Even though that I know many of my students will groan at pairwork and groupwork in class, I truly believe that there is value in framing and structuring a class based around communication and interaction in the target language. After all, how are students supposed to perceive language learning as a form of learning communication (which seems to be a rare mindset in theTaiwanese education system) rather than memorizing words and grammar, if the teacher doesn’t structure a class that mirrors the communicative teaching mindset.


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