Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Grad School Applications continued

All materials have been sent to UW, Purdue, and Penn State. (And UBC, as mentioned before.)
Arizona State AppLx is done but for one transcript.
Arizona State Rhetoric/Lx has not been submitted yet, but all that remains is writing a statement of teaching philosophy for the TAship application.


Someone asked me what would be my top choice, all things being equal. It's hard to say. Any one of these schools would be great. The best programs for the most part are in places where I don't necessarily want to live...

International Dialects of English Archive

Designed for actors who need to train themselves on how to do different accents, this site is useful to researchers interested
in international varities of English. Unfortunately the authentic data comes after the paragraph which is read by each
interviewee. If you skip ahead in the recordings, though, you can hear interviews with English speakers from nearly every corner of the planet.
A pretty cool thing.

International Dialects of English Archive

Friday, November 28, 2008

Grad School Applications

UBC is done. (And so close to the deadline I wouldn't be totally shocked if the application was rejected due to some supporting documents arriving late -- which I hope they don't, of course.)

Next up -- UW, Purdue, Penn State, and Arizona State.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Ling Shi on NNS/NES English Teaching in China

"NES teachers need to understand the background training of their
EFL Chinese students just as NNS teachers need to incorporate the
standards of their NES counterparts into their teaching and testing
evaluation so as to socialize their students into English academic discourse.
On the one hand, NESs should be aware of the different variety
of English writing being cultivated by NNS teachers. They should
adjust their teaching accordingly in a setting where most students are
studying to pass exams rated by local NNS teachers. Based on similar
findings, Kobayashi and Rinnert (1996) suggested that NES teachers
in an EFL context should be aware of the needs of local students to
meet the standards of NNS teachers. On the other hand, NNS teachers
should be aware of the diverse instructional emphases of their NES
colleagues. Both NES and NNS teachers should also help their
students to understand how readers’ expectations can vary based on
their cultural backgrounds, and how this would affect the way they
should write. Seminars for teachers and training workshops for raters
should be organized to help the communication between NES and
NNS teachers so that each group gains access to the shared background
and beliefs of the other. Such cooperation and share of expertise
could lead to more effective writing instruction for EFL students
in China."

- Native- and nonnative-speaking EFL teachers’ evaluation of Chinese students’ English writing

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Note to Self: Writing Really Is Thinking

Therefore, self, you need to leave yourself a lot more time to do the writing, because if you think you've done all the thinking (brainwise) already, you'll totally be proven wrong once you start writing. Like, I dunno, once you're 5,000 words into an article about American music critics writing about Chinese indie rock which you're going to present at a conference in three days and suddenly it seems that everything you've written is nonsense.

I wish that were hypothetical. On the plus side, I scaled my ambitions down quite a bit on this piece and I'm going to parlay it into a more in-depth study of features about Chindie rock, which might someday be publishable.


Friday, October 17, 2008

Lack of Communication

Here's an exchange that took place in my Intercultural Communication Class this week.

Student: Will our final exam be the same as the other ICC class?
Me: What other ICC class? I didn't know there was one.
Student: Yeah, they meet next door at this time.
Me: Nobody told me about it. So no, the exam won't be the same. In fact, I doubt the teacher in that class is even using the same textbook.
Student: Actually, he wrote this textbook (holds up the textbook I chose for the class after looking through every ICC textbook I could find).
Me: 不会吧! I can't believe nobody told me about this!

Discussion Questions
What can we learn from this incident?

Monday, October 06, 2008

Different Kinds of Analysis

Linguistic Analysis: "...tends to focus on formal features of a language at phonolgical, lexical, syntatcis, and pragmatic levels." (Xiaoye You, 2008)

Rehetorical Analysis: "An efort to understand how people whinin specific social situations atemtp to influence others through language." (Selzer 2004 quoted in You 2008)

Discourse Analysis: "the analysis of spoken and written language as it is used to enact social and cultural perspectives and identities." (James Paul Gee, An Introduction to Discourse Analysis)

It seems like you could and maybe should do them all at the same time.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Discourse Analyzin'

It's a start...

created at

Monday, September 22, 2008

Monday, September 08, 2008

Interview with Suresh Canagarajah at The Other Journal

It was an honor to do this short e-mail interview with somebody whose work I really admire. You can read it here: Working for Transformation: An Interview with Suresh Canagarajah.

Monday, September 01, 2008

First Day of School

My term at ZJU starts today. Light schedule, and very different from what I taught last year. 2 content classes: Intercultural Communication (twice a week, one class) and American Culture (once a week, three classes). Finally all that reading about culture that I did for my MA project will pay off...

I'm teaching two groups of students: one is from the ZhuKeZhen Honors College, the alleged "cream of the crop" of ZJU students -- a good 2/3 of them are science or engineering majors -- and the other are what we call the "Hong Kong Students," who have been accepted to universities in HK but who do a year here at ZJU before going. (I'm not sure why, because they're not really "exchange students" in Hong Kong. I guess ZJU is a halfway house, a way to help them move from Chinese high school to a "western"-style English-medium university.) Hardly any of my students are English majors, as far as I know, but a few are designated as social sciences or humanities majors.

Anyway -- I'm really looking forward to the semester, and I should have a lot of time for reading and writing, which is great.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Short List

Arizona State
Penn State
University of British Columbia
University of Washington

This should probably be longer, but currently, these are the 5 schools, in order of preference, I plan to apply to. Purdue is number one with a bullet - it really fits what I want to do the best.

More posts coming in mid-August.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

"Chinglish" vs. "China English"

Finally found a sensible distinction between the two. I am still not sure what, if any, is supposed to be the difference between "Chinese English" and "China English." I don't have access to English Today, which has at least one article on the subject. But anyway, here's what Mingjun Lu says on the subject (she sees "Chinglish" and "Chinese English" as synonymous). I got this from a website at the University of Toronto, but I'm unaware of Lu's current affiliation.

Chinglish is also called “Chinese English,” and it is a nativised English noted for its incomprehensibility. Hu Xiaoqiong defines it a kind of pidgin “whose words are ungrammatically strung together, with often inappropriate lexis and probably only a partially comprehensible pronunciation.”
on the other hand,
To establish a unique variety of English in China, critics coin the word “China English” to signify this new identity, which finds an eloquent articulation Li Wenzhong’s definition (1993:19-20), “China English has normative English as its core but with Chinese characteristics in lexicon, syntax and discourse, and it is employed to express China- specific things through means of transliteration, borrowing and semantic regeneration but without interference from the Chinese language.

Finally, Lu points out probably the most crucial issue vis-a-vis the use of English in China today:

CE remains in an unstandardised state, nor is it known and accepted by the ordinary people, the students, and even a majority of the teachers...But on the other hand, CE is widely used in an unofficial manner, as is shown in those unauthorized grammar manuals and class facilitating materials. This paradoxical position makes it both necessary and urgent to identify CE’s position at the administrative and pedagogical levels, for the gap between its uncodified status and its wide use not only impedes the learners’ language competence at home but also hinders the acceptance of CE as a distinctive variety of English internationally. A systematic promotion of CE through a pedagogical syllabus at the college level is intended to advance both the learners’ language proficiency and CE’s independent status.

This is a really smart article. Read the rest of "ELT in China and a 'China English' Model" here.

In related news, my editing of the "Chinglish" entry on Wikipedia continues. There is still a long way to go, but I have learned a lot in researching this, and it's nice to have a semi-practical reason to do all the reading.

Bonus: how much of this is really "Chinglish" that obscures meaning and intelligibility, and how much is just our pet peeves as "native" speakers of standard English(es)? I ask myself this often, and my answer is changing, which will surely affect the way I grade writing in the future.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Baurain - The Impacts of Christian ESL Teachers' Religious Beliefs.

Brad Baurain, author of the excellent article "Christian Witness and Respect for Persons" in the JLIE last year, is working on a study about Christian ESL teacher's beliefs. If you want to contribute, have a look here:

The estimated time for filling out the survey is 30 minutes.

BONUS: Check out this essay by James Waller of Whitworth University on Christian scholarship in the "secular" academy. I had some problems with the link but eventually got it to work. Hopefully*, you can figure it out.

(*in the "correct" and colloquial sense)

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Chinese EFL Journal

Apparently I am now on the editorial board of the newly launched Chinese EFL Journal. And, apparently, I'm a "professor." Really? OK by me...

Friday, June 13, 2008

English Songs in China

From a Chinese college student's blog:

“I find that I begin to love English songs very much.And when I listen to the English song that can make me dance,I always feel very happy. Now,I think I fall in love with English songs,and I start to love this subjuct-English....So,from now on,I will try my best to study English grammar and listen English songs in my spare time in order to improve my English speaking and writing skill."

The notion of "English songs" has been fascinating to me ever since I came to China, for two reasons. First, I have for the most part never heard any of the songs that students listen to, know, and love, as "English songs," which makes me wonder where these songs come from, how they got to China, and why they are popular here. Second, a lot of students seem to have the belief that listening to these songs is a good way to improve their English. (The same is said of watching movies in English.) Whether this is actually true remains to be seen.

I have a suspicion that the construction of "English songs" as a genre has something to do with "English culture," itself a construction that has a lot more to do with prestige, economics, ice cream, romance, and brand-name clothes than it does with the English language. (This is just a thought-doodle, not a genuine scholarly observation, mind you.)

Some questions that interest me:

- Why are the most popular "English songs" in China songs that most people in "English-speaking" countries are unfamiliar with. For example, some of the most popular "English songs" among my students are: "She" by a German group called Groove Coverage; "Pretty Boy" by a Norwegian group called M2M; "Take Me to Your Heart" by the Danish band Michael Learns to Rock.

- Somewhat more unscientifically, why are the most popular "English songs" songs that I totally hate? Chinese pop music is mostly what we would call "adult contemporary" and/or "teenybopper," and the English-language music that is popular here tends to fall along those same genre lines. Westlife, Backstreet Boys, Celine Dion, et al are hugely popular.

- What exactly do students believe is the benefit of listening to these songs vis-a-vis their general English abilities, their performance in English classes, their scores on exams, etc?

- What are some non-academic reasons that students like to listen to "English songs" ?

More thinking about this subject to come, which, unfortunately, means I probably should start listening to more of it.

Monday, June 09, 2008

When Students Get Mad and/or Even

Since I started teaching, I've really only had one or two run-ins with disgruntled students. (Lucky, I guess!) Today, one guy (who frequently misses my writing class) wasn't doing the assigned activity, so I went to take a look at his essay. Turns out he had basically written me a note accusing me of failing him out of spite last semester; ergo, he explains, he chooses, frequently, not to come to my class. And he doesn't come because he isn't interested in it, he writes.

This really took me by surprise, and after thinking about it for a while, I realized that what bothers me is not that he doesn't like my class, or that he doesn't come to it (I mean, that bothers me a little, but it's his choice), or even that he thinks I failed him "on purpose" (which is impossible, since I don't know whose exam I'm grading when I grade the finals). It's that he waited five months to tell me that he was unhappy with his grade and the class. I told him that if he had a problem with his grade, I would have been happy to talk about it -- a few months ago, which might have prevented all kinds of problems.

I have to ask myself, could I have done something to prevent this? I try to make myself accessible to the students, but from the beginning of the year, I've been of the mind that one-on-one time is impossible, since I have a total of about 400 students in the 9 classes that I teach (only 4 classes are writing, though). I encourage questions, I give students my email address and QQ number, and I give specific, targeted feedback on essays -- but I can't make students come to me if they have "issues," and I sometimes just can't know there's a problem.

At the end of last term, I made a tentative plan to have one-on-one meetings with the writing students whose scores were consistently low or who didn't turn in assignments. I scrapped it (wrongly, I think) due this misguided "oh, there are too many students" belief. Now I'm wishing I hadn't.

Incidentally, the other run-ins I've had were:

1) A student refused to get up to do a group dialogue when I told his group to go sooner than he had expected. Eventually he calmed down and did his thing a few minutes later.

2) A student was talking continuously and loudly over another student's speech -- which was the final exam. I ended up yelling at the kid (who really should not be an English major, but that's another story) and completely spooking the one who was giving the speech.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Long List

Let the whittling down commence. Here is a list of potential places to apply for PhD programs:

Penn State
University of British Columbia
Arizona State*
Northern Arizona University*
University of Washington**
UC Berkeley
Indiana University
University of Wisconsin
New York University
Indiana State

I chose these 12 because they are either strictly Applied Linguistics programs, TESOl-focused programs, or English programs with strong applied linguistics and interdisciplinary components. You may note that these are all in North America. Ideally, I'll do more research about each of these over the next few months and start asking questions, narrowing it down to about 5-7 to apply to in the fall, for admission in 2009. My priorities in no particular order are easy-to-work-with/accessible/friendly faculty, a program that's do-able in under 5 years, lots of TA opportunities, full funding, a place where I can get a strong foundation in qualitative research methods, and a proven record of decent job placement. Which I realize means I probably want to go to an imaginary unversity.

* Not because of any masochistic desire to live in Arizona.
** Almost solely because of a desire to live in Seattle. If Portland State had a PhD program, that would be way up on the list too. Sadly they don't, although there's a rumor that they may start one in the next few years or so.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Undergraduate Thesis Defense

Today I took part in the oral thesis defense for graduating English majors at our college. I was given very little preparation about what to expect (for example, I was given some of the papers a few minutes before the presentations, and I wasn't told that I'd have to conference with some of the students until it was time to do so), but overall I was really impressed. These guys had to write papers that would be difficult for native English speaking students to write, and some of them did it with great aplomb. One student even carried out his own empirical quantitative study, which I can't imagine doing as an undergraduate English major. (Maybe that's just me, though. After all, my undergraduate thesis was a sprawling, formless 50 pages about religious themes in J.D. Salinger's Glass family stories.)

Many of the students wrote about cross-cultural communication, and they referred to "English culture," "English people," and "English countries." I tried to challenge one student to explain what she meant by those terms, and she gave me the run-around. A popular theme in this kind of paper is the difference between "western countries" or "English culture" and China. The same kind of oversimplification that we "English people" make when we do cross-cultural comparisons?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Current Happenings

Oral English: mini-debates for the next 4 weeks.

Writing: planning the final exam this week.

Grading: way behind as always. (Why am I writing this, then?)

The Wikipedia page for "Chinglish" is awful. It needs to be changed and I'm going to change it.

Summer job: probably teaching kids' EFL (gulp) for a month in Shaoxing. Further updates soon.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008


The first chapter of James Gee's An Introduction to Discourse is so riddled with scare quotes that I find myself reluctant to continue despite its otherwise readable style. Why do I dislike seeing words like "truth" and "discourse" in quotation marks? Maybe it's because of the highly political nature of quotation marks that I see in the media here in China, but it's more than that, too. If we have to put everything in quotes -- well, what's the point?

Also, I have to cut right to the chase when I get involved with stuff like this: if a theory is based on the social construction of knowledge/reality/language/whatever -- that stuff is the way it is because we make it the way it is -- what are the implications for somebody who believes there's a God somewhere above/behind/inside this mess?

I'm not sure I have a satisfactory answer. A scholar I admire said "I am critical because I am Christian." This gives me hope, but I don't know quite if it would play out the same way in my own work, if I chose that path.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Zhejiang University

This week, I accepted a job teaching English at in the School of International Studies at Zhejiang University. ZJU is widely acknowledged as one of the best universities in China (most surveys, however subjective they may be, put it at #3, after Beijing and Qinghua Universities -- which, incidentally, are also known as Peking and Tsinghua U, using the old Wade-Giles romanization system).

Next fall, I'll be starting a new job there. The SIS includes 12 different research institutes, including literature, translation studies, German, Russian, Japanese, foreign language teaching, and discourse studies. I've been following the development of the Institute of Discourse and Cultural Studies for the last year or so, and it looks like they're doing some really cool stuff there. In fact, they are introducing a new international PhD program called "Communication and Contemporary China" next semester, and I am flirting with the idea of applying in the future. (There are a lot of variables, not the least of which is the fact that full-time teaching and full-time student-ing aren't exactly compatible.)

There are several attractive things about this program: first, it's a 3 years and research-based. In terms of time (to say nothing of money), that's appealing. Second, it would, I hope, give me a chance to work on my Chinese language more than I do now. The working language of the program is English, but there are language courses involved. Third, it might just be the perfect place for me to do the kind of research I've been mulling over, which is something about Chinese indie rock (for example: the use of English in Chinese indie rock, the construction of Chinese indie rock in "Western" media, "indie" discourse, etc.).

It's really too early to tell if this PhD program is right for me, but being at ZJU will, I hope, be a stimulating environment and give me a chance to explore whether this kind of thing is what I want to do in the future.

PS: On our recent trip to Hangzhou (where ZJU is), we went to the newly remodeled Foriegn Language Bookstore, where I found the mother lode of cheap applied linguistics books. Seriously. The entire TeacherSource series for about $4 apiece; the entire Cambridge Applied Linguistics series for about $3 apiece; the entire Oxford Introductions to Language Study series for about $1 apiece. In the US, the former two series are around $25-$35, the latter $15, but here they are reprinted by the Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press and given China-friendly prices. I bought about 8 books, and I'll be back.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Pronoun Battle for China's Soul

Every day, I preside over a bitter linguistic struggle for the hearts and minds of China's youth. My students are torn, absolutely torn, about whether to use "we" or "I" when they write from a first-person perspective, and their pronoun usage twists and turns all over the place as this struggle plays itself out.

A classic example was from a response to one of my questions about Fan Shen's article "The Classroom and the Wider Culture," in which the author mentions that, at least when he was a college student in China (late 1980s), the use of the word "I" was considered bad, or at least unnecessarily self-centered.

I got several responses like this (I'm paraphrasing):

Of course "I" is not a bad word in China. Our country is developing, and we should show our unique ideas and our individuality.

You see what I'm getting at. A number of these linguistically conflicted constructions show up in my students' writing, like As an English major, we need to study hard. Or we should relax ourself.

I tell them I don't care if they want to write with a we-voice or an I-voice, as long as they're consistent and grammatically correct. But consistency is hard to come by in life, these days.

Sunday, April 06, 2008


I've really been neglecting not only this blog, but the things that are supposed to be feeding it: reading academically, reflecting on my own teaching, and figuring out the PhD-or-Not question. As such, I have very little to say, except to lay out some tentative plans, like:

a. Tentative plan to interview Suresh Canagarajah for the Other Journal's education issue.

b. Yesterday, I read "Mixers lyricing in Hinglish " by Y. Kachru, which was an inspiration in terms of studying pop music from a World Englishes perspective. (Also heard a Chinese pop song, which after a quick Googling seems to be "你的甜蜜," on the radio, which included a repetition of the English phrase "Sorry doesn't mean anything.")

c. Today I bought volume three in the Collected Works of MAK Halliday, (Language and Linguistics) which I was surprised to find at my local Xinhua Bookstore! They actually have a pretty good selection of scholarly stuff in English.

d. I want to put together a proposal for this conference, something on American rock critics' perceptions of Lonely China Day (and/or other bands as relevant). I'd also really love to get a job at the university hosting the conference.

More soon, with any luck...

Saturday, January 05, 2008

ESL Writing for Indie Rockers/Confidence

Here's an illuminating post from Miho Hatori's blog. Hatori was the musician who first made me interested in exploring the use of English as an L2 in pop music, with her great band Cibo Matto. She wrote:

I had a dinner with my old friend Ami and talked about blog.
I am shy about writing in English in public ( I love talking in English ).
I often got nervous that people judge me about my bad grammar.
But you know what ?
The year of 2008, my slogan is....
"Who cares ? I don't care. A horses ass is better than yours."
Cibo Matto song, Beef jerky.
Going back to my principle of Art.
I just need to write here for my own sake.

Ami said "Miho, Don't worrrrrrry !!!"
So I believe my old friend.

So, I will have wrong grammar on this blog.
You can correct my English if you want.
That's the reason of comment section for.

I do think it's interesting that somebody whose English lyrics are often brashly weird -- really this is one of her great strengths as a vocalist/lyricist -- would still express reticence about writing in English. Still, this post displays the kind of creativity and confidence that I've come to appreciate about Hatori's music over the years. And it's the kind of creativity and confidence I hope my students can learn to have regarding their own use of English.


Another great post from David Crystal, "On Learning English," offers some encouragement to learners as well. It reads, in part:
...if you have adopted English as one of your languages, then you are able to adapt it - to take personal ownership of it. One of the great joys of making headway in a new language is that you can use it to talk about what you want to talk about - and if that means inventing new words, to express your local experience, then do not hesitate to invent them. Just translating the culture of your school and town into English - such as the names of localities and personalities - will immediately add dozens of new expressions. Don't restrict yourself to the words that are already in the dictionaries. English is yours now...