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Archive for February, 2006

One new thing I have to do for my first and second grader classes is to make some point cards. I give points to all of my students. I don’t give them any physical item, though. I just tell them when I give or take points, and I post their rankings on the wall, every class. They all know how many points they get or lose for any given homework assignment or test, and it’s kind of a waste of time to give them anything. Those are big kids. Little kids aren’t like that. Sure they look at the rankings each class and listen to my motivational speeches, but it’s not enough. If I REALLY want to motivate them, I have to give them some physical item that they can collect and hoard inside their pencil cases. Fortunately for me, other schools have long ago found the solution to this problem- point cards.

I spent about 4 hours today making .gif files of pictures to put on the cards. Fortunately, I was able to find most of the art I needed in the public domain. I tried to get a mix of really cartoony and less cartoony pictures. After that, it was just a matter of re-sampling the pictures to the right size (I used a lanczos 3 algorithm), editing them to be a bit cuter, and labelling them. I tried to make the “cooler” animals worth more, but I’m not completely sure what’s cool to Chinese kids. Local readers, I’d love your input on this. Here’s my preliminary layout of animals to use:

spider = 1 point mouse = 2 points pig = 5 points snake = 10 points rabbit = 50 points horse = 100 points elephant = 500 points whale = 1000 points lion = 5000 points dragon = 10000 points

The rabbit, the pig, and the elephant need to be resampled. That’s why they’re a little fuzzy. Also, do you think the lion looks too serious?

Update: Resampling complete. Lancoz 3 worked much better than spline did.

One thing that’s distinctive about my school, compared to other HFRBs is that we use “points”. At most elite bŭxíbāns, there is far too little positive feedback. To deal with this problem, my boss borrowed the idea of giving kids points from the Big Chains. We don’t do them like they do, though. Our gifts are good. Five percent of total revenues get rolled into the gifts. In other words, kids get things like PS2s, bikes, and computers when then graduate.

Kids can get points from a variety of sources. Anytime they voluntarily raise their hands and answer a question correctly, they get a point. They can get or occasionally lose points based on the quality of their homework and tests. At higher levels, they can also get points for each extra book1 they read. We rank the kids based on their points each class, and assign them ranks- A, B, C, and D. “A” students don’t have to do any taped homework, “B” students do half the normal amount, and “D” students get extra homework. We drill it into the kids every class, that more class participation and better homework equals less homework assigned, better gifts, and ultimately better English. They’re hooked on the less homework part from day one; the gifts are a long term goal, but within the first year any class will develop a few greedy point fiends2; and finally, the goal of better English takes forever to sink in. After dozens of motivational speeches3 over the years, it does sink in, though.

The results? This is the first school I’ve ever worked where 90% of the kids raise their hands whenever I ask a question. It’s getting to the point where its hard to remember how passive the kids were back when I worked at Sesame Street. Now they all pay attention and actively try to participate nearly all the time. And no matter what your views on language learning are, that’s a good thing. I used to think points were a stupid waste, back when I was at Joy. I was wrong. Points rule.

[1:]This is meant to be an extra push to get the kids into extensive reading. We start them out with the first level of the Oxford Bookworms series of graded readers. At the first level, they only include 400 headwords, plus about 20 vocabulary items specific to each individual book. Complex grammatical structures, such as relative clauses, are also rare in these books. By the second part of their second year, the students can read about 20-30 pages per hour. With the incentive of points we can get them to read over 50 pages a week.

[2:]It’s really easy for this to get out of hand. I have to spend a couple minutes every few classes explaining how meticulously I track how many times I’ve called on each student for extra points. It’s crucial to make sure it’s fair and make sure they know I’m making sure it’s fair. I do give D students more chances for extra points, though. That’s part of the system.

[3:]One of my favorite speeches goes like this:

“Everybody in Taiwan has to study English for years and years anyway, right? Isn’t it better to work hard for four years and have great English for life than to half-heartedly waste 10 years and never get much for your effort?”

I went to KFC with a buddy today. Their new 雞肉捲’s not too bad, BTW. Anyway, we heard the new Chinese cover of Madonna’s Material Girl, 拜金女郎. The Chinese version’s catchier, somehow. .. especially the part where it goes “yīnwèi wŏ zhīīīīīīīīīdào zhè shìjiè luànqībāzāo!” Today, I heard the song at this site. After that link dies, you can just find the song on Baidu. On the mainland the name has been changed to 拜金女孩.

品味要好 檔次 名牌最重要
手工打造 行銷 別人買不到
花光  什麼想要
別人看見 驕傲 女主角

因為知道 男人眼光 所以更加注意容貌
因為知道 什麼辦不到 大家有錢

身材美妙  韓國買得到
領導潮流 講究調 法國
帶領時尚 追求 鈔票
別人看見 驕傲 女主角

因為知道 世界亂七八糟 所以更加注意容貌
因為知道 有錢什麼辦得到 大家有錢

聽聽那邊唱歌就是 聽聽也沒有
聽聽那邊唱歌就是 聽聽也沒有

真愛美妙 真心 買得到

因為知道 什麼辦不到 大家有錢
因為知道 什麼辦得到 大家有錢

什麼辦不到 大家有錢
因為知道 什麼辦得到 大家有錢

有錢不錯  2 Comments Read more

A View From the Trenches: I am a Graduate Teaching Assistant at the University of Colorado and have used the Integrated Chinese textbook series for the past two years. I have taught both first and second year Chinese using this text. Therefore I was quite interested in the review of this series by Mien-hua Chiang in the May 1998 issue. However, after reading this review it was apparent the reviewer had no actual experience of using this text in the classroom. I think such an evaluation, by someone in the trenches so to speak, would be valuable to the authors in revising the next edition, and it is in that spirit I do so here.

The authors state that their intention in writing this book is to provide instructional materials which reflect a communication-oriented approach. This is indeed an admirable goal — as we all know Chinese pedagogy has a tragic dearth of textbooks using a systematic, proficiency-based style. Considering the emphasis given to this methodology in recent years, the lack of such work is all the more surprising. Does the Integrated Chinese series live up to this ambition? I regret that I must answer in the negative. I explain my reasons for this conclusion below, and invite readers to compare this text with the Yookoso series for Japanese by Yasu-hiko Tohsaku, which with a few faults notwithstanding, remains the best text incorporating the communicative approach I have yet used.

Format of Integrated Chinese

Despite the authors’ claims to the contrary, Integrated Chinese remains very much in the old tradition of grammar based, pattern drill, translation, and to a lesser extent, audio-lingual style of texts. The only things that could be considered ‘communicative’ about the text are the chapter topics. This is indeed its strong point. However, the main textbook has nothing communicative in it, save for the dialogues. What invariably follows the dialogues are pages of vocabulary lists, grammar explanations and pattern drills. Nowhere is the student given the opportunity to creatively and practically use the language. The workbook is not much better. The listening sections are OK, but the reading portions employ true and false exercises, which are a poor way to measure reading comprehension. There are almost no speaking activities for pair work. The authors state they wish to equally emphasize all four areas of language learning, but a careful examination of the workbook reveals it to consist of primarily reading, writing and translation activities. The few speaking activities that are included do not build on each other. Rather, the student is cast into a situation and is expected to be able to produce the correct language.

Specific Concerns

1) Pronunciation

This important first step is covered in the ‘Introduction’. As Mien hua Chiang has pointed out, the text is weak in its emphasis on the significance of tones. However, I believe she overlooks an even more vital and ludicrous shortcoming of this book: its introduction of Chinese sounds. Integrated Chinese is a text intended for freshmen students, who on average are eighteen years of age. Yet the explanation of Chinese sounds seems intended more for Noam Chomsky. For example, the introduction describes the Chinese sound zh as an ‘unaspirated voiceless blade-palatal affricate.’ D is a ‘tongue tip alveolar unaspirated plosive’. I could go on. I can assure the authors that their intended audience has absolutely no idea, or interest, in what these terms mean. It creates an immediate barrier to students in their production of Chinese sounds. This section needs an immediate, radical re-write. Do NOT use technical linguistic terms for an audience who are not linguists.

2) Grammar and Vocabulary

Part One of the First Year text contains eleven chapters. At my institution, we cover this book in the first semester. That translates to about a chapter a week. Only by moving so quickly can we complete parts one and two in an academic year. Each lesson has, on average, five to eight grammar points. Vocabulary, not including the supplementary sections, can contain anywhere from 35-70 items. The students struggle with internalizing such large amounts of vocabulary and grammar in five days of class time. My experience has been that they sufficiently grasp the grammar and vocabulary to succeed on the exam, but their retention rate is not optimal. This is where Integrated Chinese should take cues from Yookoso! An Invitation to Contemporary Japanese. The course would be much more effective if the more than twenty chapters of the first year course were condensed into around ten to twelve. Slow down the introduction of new grammar and vocabulary, and spend more time with what is introduced. Create legitimate communicative activities which allow students to consistently use the target language with each other in a guided, expressive manner, gradually increasing in complexity, such as those found in the Yookoso! An Invitation to Contemporary Japanese series.

3) General Appearance of the Text

Mien-hua Chiang briefly mentioned this point in her review, but I think it deserves more attention. A well-designed, attractive text making the most of contemporary graphics is a vital component to a communicative language text, and is also a major factor in the enjoyment of the course by students and the retention of them to the next level. Unfortunately, Integrated Chinese comes up short in this area as well. The most glaring fault is the appalling font for traditional Chinese characters chosen by the authors. Characters with a large number of strokes are in many cases simply illegible. This frustrates the students at home where no teacher is available, and wastes valuable time in in-class activities using the dialogues when they can’t read the characters. This problem is especially prevalent in the second year text. With the many fine fonts currently available for Chinese word processing this is an inexcusable flaw.\r\n\r\nI disagree with Mien-hua Chiang as to the quality of illustrations used in the book, and have yet to meet a student or colleague who likes them. The drawings are little better than stick figures, are generally unattractive and add limited communicative value to the course. The authors and publisher should invest much more time and money in this area, utilizing photographs, especially for the cultural information (which the text handles quite well), as well as authentic photos to accompany the chapter topics. Engaging charts, tables and graphs should accompany communicative activities which involve interviews and pair work among the students. Finally, the text should be hardcover. The Cheng & Tsui Company seems not to have put much stock in the production of Integrated Chinese, and frankly it shows.

4) Lack of Support for the Course by the Authors

In their introduction to the text, the authors state Integrated Chinese has been in development since 1994. They mention plans to include the utilization of the most current interactive technology, videos, a web site (the URL is printed in the text), and a resource/activity base for teachers. I have often visited the website over the past year and a half, and have found nothing which has assisted me in the presentation of Integrated Chinese. There is still no resource center for teaching activities specifically designed for the course, unless we allow for the addition of a few games which have been culled from the earlier Let’s Play Games In Chinese. These games, while sometimes useful and a fun diversion, do not really match the text and at best can be considered no more than supplementary material. I still am not aware of any videotapes accompanying the course. On a positive note, the audiotapes for the course have now become much more affordable. In previous years, the cost was so prohibitive that few students could buy them.


In sum, I think the authors of this text had the good intentions to produce a communicative text, but somewhere along the line lost track of their vision. This is evident in the course’s main strength — the chapter topics, which are genuinely communicative in nature. However, the presentation of the material and format of the course remains a throw-back to a previous era. In our first year course here at Colorado we simply do not use the text other than for general course direction. We do use the workbook and character book for homework assignments, but we design all lessons and activities ourselves. We hardly ever use the main text in class because it is void of communicative content. I would like to hear from other institutions which use Integrated Chinese. I also hope the authors will take a long, hard look at over-hauling this series, which has good potential, into a truly communicative material along the lines of those being produced now in so many other languages.

Review originally published in 1999 at University of Colorado at Boulder as Integrated Chinese: Another View for Journal of the Chinese Language Teachers Association.

the cover

The Far East Chinese-English Dictionary (遠東漢英辭典) is widely sold both in the west and in traditional character using Chinese regions, such as Taiwan and Hong Kong. While its primary market is Chinese people who are studying English, this dictionary is also very useful for English speakers who are studying Chinese. In fact, many prestigious US colleges use this dictionary along with the Oxford Concise E-C/C-E dictionary for their intermediate level courses.

a page

The dictionary is organized by radical and stroke count, and all characters are indexed by both zhùyīn and pīnyīn at the back of the dictionary. More common terms are highlighted in pink. With over 120,000 entries on 7,331 Chinese characters, the dictionary is very thorough. Obviously, it isn’t impossible to include everything, but in my experience the dictionary has more than fulfilled its stated goal of emphasizing wide application and current usage. From literary terms to scientific terms to idioms and even vulgar slang, I have never encountered a commonly used word that I haven’t been able to find in this dictionary.

a close-up


  • Accurate translations and clear explanations
  • Nearly any commonly used speech can be found
  • Radical, stroke number, zhùyīn and pīnyīn can all be used to find words
  • Fairly durable


  • Though characters are indexed by pīnyīn in the back only zhùyīn is listed next to the entries under any given character
  • No simplified characters are included at all
  • The characters are too small for students to be able to tell how to write them
  • Except for literary terms, the usage for words in this dictionary is very Taiwan-centric, yet the pronunciation suggest for characters is often unused in Taiwan, except by mainland immigrants

Rating: 4.5/5
Level: Beginner to High Intermediate

Back when I was working at Modawei, they wrote up this little summary about me. That way potential clients could learn something about me before seeing me in action. They framed it nicely on the wall, and then put it up on a snazzy (over-snazzy, one might say), website. I’ll get back to this in a couple paragraphs.

Lot’s of things at Modawei were snazzy. People there commonly wore full suits to teach ESL to 3rd graders. During training, management continually stressed the importance of presentation. Most of the teachers were taller and good-looking. When the students did oral tests in class, they came to the front of the class and lined up in fours. It looked slick. First Step isn’t like that. We don’t dress like slobs, but lets just say I don’t wear a tie to work anymore. When our students do oral tests in class, they stand up where they are and start asking and answering questions. Ron doesn’t want to waste the 30 seconds it would take each group to get to the front of the class. That would waste class time that could have been spent listening to and speaking English. A bit fanatical? Yes. His heart’s in the right place, though. Unlike every single other school at which I’ve worked, none of the questions they ask are memorized. That means the kids look bad sometimes. But it’s also good for their English to learn how to understand new sentences they’ve never heard before instead of leaning on memorization at the low levels.

the board

Remember that website where I said Modawei has snazzy teacher introductions? Well, at my current school, I’ve got a couple of paragraphs printed out on a yellow piece of paper and tacked on the wall. Very minimalist. And yet, somehow, my classes have filled far faster here than they ever did at Modawei. Could it be that substance sometimes wins out over style, even in marketing? Or, could it just be that I’m not competing against all of those taller good-looking co-workers for my students anymore?

Teacher Intro

I lost a bunch of data and had to rebuild my site, again. Everything’s back now, thanks to the goodness of Google’s cache of my site. Please mail me if you see anything broken or missing. Here’s what happened:

  • I asked Hostgator to upgrade my account, so that I could host multiple domains
  • There was still a copy of my blog on another of their servers (gator48) left over from the whole migration debacle a while back. Hostgator upgraded that instead of the my site (which is on gator50).
  • When I alerted them to the fact that I didn’t want to move off of the gator50 server, due to the fact that gator48 is blocked in China. I said that if upgrading would require changing servers, I didn’t want to move
  • Hostgator deleted my account on gator50
  • When I asked why they’d deleted my site and said that I needed my data back, they accept any fault. They said that I’d told them to delete my server, which is completely false.
  • After numerous emails and phone conversations, I was literally one click away from signing up for an account on Dreamhost. Then, Hostgator completely surprised me by saying that they’d give me a full refund for my 1 year plan I signed up for and continue my service for the rest of my contract. They said they wanted to keep my business.
  • Today, AFTER spending 6 hours restoring my site, I received an email saying that they’ll only refund one month and that if I cancel the service, I still have to pay for the rest of the year.

I’m not sure if this is another case of miscommunication, or if they’ve just changed their minds. I guess I’ll have to wait and see.

Update: I was given a full refund, and I can continue to use the service.

Obviously, a refund makes me feel a lot better. Equally obviously, I won’t stay if I continue to have data loss problems every month. The time cost to me to rebuild my site is far more than the hosting fees. However, the fact that they want to keep me as a customer despite my loud complaints during each of the three times my data has been lost or corrupted, tells me that Hostgator is confident their service is improving. If they expected to continue having these difficulties, there’s no way they’d want to keep me as a customer. I’m a frequent blogger, and I get really unhappy about losing a week or two of data as a result of someone else’s actions. It wouldn’t be profitable to have a customer who used tech support so much. They must see improvement coming in one form or another.

BattlePanda just hit me with blogging’s equivalent of a chain-letter. I hate this kind of thing, but it would seem rude not to accept, so I’ll do the sensible thing… go along with it and grumble. I’m not really much of a movie guy, though, and I don’t go on many vacations either. Grumble, grumble, whine, whine, grumble.

Four Jobs I’ve Had
1. Fast Food Slave Team Member
2. Home Painting Franchise Manager
3. Bartender
4. Programmer

Four Movies I can watch over and over
1. Dead Poet’s Society
2. The Matrix
3. The Princess Bride
4. Any Zhou Qinshi Movie

Four Places I’ve lived
1. Boulder, Colorado
2. Austin, Texas
3. Xela, Guatemala
4. Jiayi, Taiwan

Four TV shows I love:
1. DS9
2: Babylon 5
3. Highlander
4. Friends

Four highly regarded and recommended TV shows I haven’t seen (much of):
1. Battlestar Galactica
2. That one with the writer of Seinfeld
3. That other new show everyone’s talking about
4. The other one… you know?

Four places I’ve vacationed:
1. Chicago, Il., sort of
2. Vancouver, BC
3. Hualian, Taiwan
4. Home (to see my family and friends)

Four of my favorite dishes:
1. Combo #5 (at any Mexican restaurant)
2. Pad Thai Phet
3. 宮寶雞丁
4. Pizza (Jalepeno and Black Olive)

Four sites I visit daily:

Four places I’d rather be right now:
1. Beijing, China
2. Harbin, China
3. Chengdu, China
4. My grandma’s house in Colorado

Four new bloggers I’m tagging:
1. Matt’s Wiki (that’ll kill this thing for sure)
2. Frequent Sinosplice commenter, Carl
3. Warren
4. Darin

I’ve decided to re-organize the links on my blog a bit. I’ve moved Michael Turton’s site into a new category for political blogs. He’s an American who has lived in Taiwan for a long time and has very strong opinions about the political scene here. He’s staunchly anti-KMT. He also does great round-ups of all happenings in Taiwan blogs each week. Joining him in the political blog category is his counter-point, Battlepanda. She’s a Taiwanese woman who lived in America for a long time and has strong opinions about the political scene there. She’s staunchly anti-Republican. Rounding out the political blog category is Darin, who blogs mostly about Japanese politics.

I’ve moved Daniel’s Suitcasing to the general links section, and added The Register, which is one of my favourite news sources. Finally, I’ve added video editing whiz and satirist extraordinaire, Tian.

Sometimes, it’s unbelievable what can be hidden in plain view. I tend to be pretty open. My interests, my hobbies, my work, and even my stock purchases are online for all to see. In some ways, it’s a big benefit. I’ve bumped into old friends, and even gotten useful information about studying, working, and investing in emails from my readers. But, there’s another way that’s much cooler than mine is- quietly lurking behind the scenes.

Somewhat inspired by my old roommate Andrew’s success with language teacher exchange site, MYU, I decided to register a domain I thought would be useful for a similar, but non-competing, endeavour. Out of curiosity, I checked up on URLs similar to the one I had registered, but for Japan and China. I was shocked when I saw the name that came up on one them. I recognized it as the name of someone who by all appearances was a quiet academic. Quietly amassing power in a variety of areanas, that is! With further investigation, I found that the same individual ran a software business, a political effort, a dozen separate online ventures and has connections with some truly powerful people in China. I’ve discovered who the digital kingpin of Shanghai is!

How much do you really know about the people you interact with? You might be surprised.