Archive for Language teaching and learning

Annual wave of Anti-English sentiment in the PRC

Article in official CCP media source:

"Chinese lawmaker proposes removing English as core subject"

Liu Caiyu, Global Times (3/5/21)

Coming from GT, the hyper-nationalistic tabloid, this attack on English is not unexpected, and similar anti-English proposals come up every year around the time of the national meetings of the Liǎnghuì 兩會 (Two Sessions), annual plenary meetings of the national People's Congress and the national committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference that have just concluded in Beijing (March 4-11).

Here we go again:

Is English really that important? A Chinese lawmaker at the two sessions has proposed removing English as a core subject for Chinese students receiving compulsory education, triggering heated discussion on Chinese social media.

The proposal was made by Xu Jin, a member of the Central Committee of the Jiusan Society and also a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). It has also been proposed by other lawmakers in previous years.

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An American with native fluency in Taiwanese Mandarin

Here's a video clip of a young American businessman named Ben Metcalf (Mai Banda 麥班達) in Taiwan making a presentation for his company's first public launch as part of their IPO process.

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Cantonese under threat at Stanford

Opinion article in SCMP (2/26/21), by Brian Chan, Kevin Hsu, and Jamie Tam:

Why Stanford University must strengthen, rather than cut, its Cantonese courses
The plan damages the university’s global reputation and undermines its self-professed commitment to diversity
As the most widely-spoken Sinitic language other than Mandarin, Cantonese offers a more pluralistic understanding of China

The article is accompanied by this intriguing photograph (credited to AFP):

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Toddler writes numerals

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A revolution in Sinitic language conceptualization and learning

[The following is a guest post by Georgi Mladenov]

I am another student who seems to have hit a brick wall in learning Mandarin, and I would like to ask you for advice. I have thoroughly read most of your forum posts and I totally share your opinions on language learning, especially as expressed in this post.

Your post captures my situation in its entirety. "The first year of learning Mandarin was pure torture in the classroom" – it feels as if I had written that! In short, I have been studying Chinese in Taiwan for more than a year. I am fluent in English, German, Russian and Bulgarian, I have a B2 level in Polish, Spanish and Serbian, my French is quite good, my Latin is quite decent, and I also know some Hungarian.

However, my disappointment with Chinese teaching methods has been growing daily. No matter what language I learned, the main focus of any beginner's course has always been on pronunciation and mastering any peculiar "tricky" sounds. Not here, though. I personally know quite a few people who have passed TOCFL Level 3 and 4 (reading and listening) and still have no tones! Or students who still say "zh" instead of "z", or "s" instead of "sh", not to mention that many students do not differentiate between "zh" and "j", "sh" and "x", "ch" and "q". And most teachers still try to persuade us how bad Pinyin is.

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Sanskrit and comprehensible input

[The following is a guest post by Amara Hasa]

We are longtime fans of Language Log and wanted to share a project we've been working on that we believe might be right up your alley. We believe as much because it combines two subjects you've written about in the past: teaching languages through comprehensible input and compelling stories ("How to learn Mandarin"), and spoken and communicative Sanskrit ("Spoken Sanskrit").

Our project is a free online library of Sanskrit stories for learners. What makes these stories special is that they follow the current best practices from second language acquisition research.

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English as a prestige language in Taiwan

The focus of this post is the expression lào yīngwén, where the yīngwén part is written 英文 in characters and means "English".  The lào part is much more complicated, as is typical when it comes to writing Taiwanese morphemes with Chinese characters.  The Taiwanese verb "làu" means to master something.  When used with reference to a language, it signifies speaking fluently.  In current discourse, it often indicates that one speaks English in an ostentatious manner to show off.  For example, if a Mandarin speaker chooses to speak English on an occasion where everyone in the audience also also speaks Mandarin, then this person's behavior may be considered lào yīngwén. It carries a slight negative tone.

There is no standard Sinographic form for this Taiwanese morpheme.  In written Taiwan Mandarin, it may be written with the following characters:  lào 烙, liào 撂, luò 落.  Since these three characters respectively mean "burn; bake; sear", "put down; leave", and "fall; descend", they are obviously being used to approximate the sound of the Taiwanese verb and have nothing to do with its meaning.  The same is true of the traditional Sinographic representation of this Taiwanese morpheme, viz., lǎo 老 ("old").

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Learning Tamil

Recently we have had a string of posts on South Asian linguistic phenomena.  Most of the languages involved have been Indic, and will probably continue to be predominantly so during the coming months and years.  Consequently, I'm delighted today to make a post about Tamil, a Dravidian language with a glorious heritage.

Except where otherwise noted, the indented paragraphs below are by Carrie Wiebe (professor of Chinese language and literature at Middlebury).  They are integral and self-explanatory, so I will make few interpolations.

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The pain of pronouncing Mandarin "guóqí" ("national flag") for a Mongolian child

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Google, the wannabe Egyptologist

Sensational article by Hagar Hosny in Al-Monitor (7/23/20):

"Google presents new tool to decode hieroglyphics:  Google has created a new tool to translate hieroglyphics into English and Arabic at the stroke of a key."

It starts like this:

In a July 15 press release, Google announced the launch of a new tool that uses artificial intelligence to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphs and translate them into Arabic and English.

Google said that the tool, dubbed Fabricius, provides an interactive experience for people from all over the world to learn about hieroglyphics, in addition to supporting and facilitating the efforts of Egyptologists and raising awareness about the history and heritage of ancient Egyptian civilization.

“We are very excited to be launching this new tool that can make it easier to access and learn about the rich culture of ancient Egypt. For over a decade, Google has been capturing imagery of cultural and historical landmarks across the region,” Chance Coughenour, program manager at Google Arts and Culture, said in the statement.

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Mongolian-language education suspended in Tongliao

Tongliao 通辽市; Mongolian: Tongliyao.png Hot.svg Tüŋliyou qota, Mongolian Cyrillic.Түнляо хот) is a prefecture-level city in eastern Inner Mongolia, PRC.  The news is not good. 

It follows a familiar pattern:  there's a similar story about suspending Tibetan-language education in a part of Sichuan following the covid-19 closure of schools.

It sounds plausible since notification was given verbally, typical of the way Chinese government does things it doesn't want to be caught out on.

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Pinyin for ABCs

If you didn't know it already, "ABC" means "American-born Chinese".  There's no reason why ABCs should necessarily speak Chinese, no more than why ABGs (American-born Germans) should speak German or why ABVs (American-born Vietnamese) should speak Vietnamese, etc.  In this video, ABCs explain for themselves why they can't speak Chinese.  This is a long (23:14) podcast.  Feel free to watch all of it if you are so inclined, but for efficiency's sake I will guide you through it in instructions below the page break.

"10 REASONS WHY CHINESE AMERICANS CAN'T SPEAK CHINESE! | Fung Bros"

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Automatic Pinyin annotation — state of the art

[This is a guest post by Gábor Ugray]

Back in 2018 your post Pinyin for phonetic annotation planted an idea in my head that I’ve been gradually expanding ever since. I am now at a stage where I routinely create annotated Chinese text for myself; this (pdf) is what one such document looks like.

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