Archive for the ‘Education China’ Category
They all just keep producing the goods.
With the help of my old pal 李文华/ Lǐ Wén Huá, aka Mr. Huá, I have collected together a handful of Chinese proverbs that can help keep our Chinese studies on the straight and narrow. I will begin with a couple of proverbs, 谚语/yànyǔ, which suggest that we take the long view during this learning process.
The first one is: 冰冻三尺，非一日之寒／bīng dòng sān chǐ fēi yī rì zhī hán. It basically translates, as one metre of ice doesn’t come from one day of cold. Or as us English-speaking folk might more likely interpret it; Rome wasn’t built in a day. It could be used in a situation where someone’s high level of Chinese is just being put down to the fact he or she is intelligent. The saying would stress that: “Yes, she might be clever, but… (cue phrase) it still took hard work to get to this level of Chinese. It didn’t happen overnight.” Indeed!
The second goes along the same sort of lines but emphasizes the need for the student to get the foundations right, and then to build upon them. This one is: 一步一个脚印／yī bù yī gè jiǎo yìn, and means to take things step-by-step, slowly but surely. It can be used when advising someone about how to approach their Chinese studies: 学汉语你应该～／xué hànyǔ nǐ yīnggāi~. With all the pinyin, annoying tones, different forms of de(的／地／得) and uses of le (了) that we face at the beginning (and beyond), this can be a tricky perspective to keep hold of.
The third phrase is the one I like most, due to its structure and emphasis. For me, there is nothing more important in teaching or learning than the aspect of review. But so many teachers ignore it, and many students let it slide, as we get bogged down in a never-ending stream of new vocabulary. This four character idiom, 成语/chéngyǔ, goes like this: 温故(而)知新／wēn gù (ér) zhī xīn. The literal translation is warm the past, know the new. It can be read in the sense of needing to understand history so one is able to understand the present, but for our purposes it just emphasizes the importance of review.
温/wēn is commonly used today as the adjective, warm. In the past it was used as a verb, to warm something up, which also carried the connotation of refresh or review. In formal writing today review can still be written as 温习／wēnxí. To hammer home this point about the importance of focused study, let’s consider the life of the diligent student. Everyday the conscientious student must: 埋头苦学/ mái tóu kǔ xué, which translates as bury head, hard study. This chéngyǔ can carry the negative meaning of being a slave to the teacher and the book. More fundamentally, however, it emphasizes the importance of getting your head down and putting in the hard work of learning – in this instance – Chinese. Something that I am sure we are all fighting with.
Now, one thing is for sure: you will not find me making bold statements about mastering the art of Chinese language learning. This is in part due to the fact I have been such a slow and unfocused student of the art myself, and in part because I realize it is definitely a life long task. I am, though, now beginning to take my Chinese studies seriously again. Consequently, I thought I would note down some of the online resources that are out there to help. But first, my brief take on the three basic phases of Chinese learning.
The initial phase is to get to a point where we have enough words to order food and drinks, get around town, and be able to have some very simple conversations with locals. This is the stage where we find the words tīng bù dǒng rising to our lips with utterly depressing frequency. Sadly, it is a symptom that can still be found in the early stages of phase two.
This second phase is like the first of two very big jumps. This jump takes us to a point where we can do most things in daily life, and chat simply about a variety of topics. We can reach a level here where we can get out and about confidently knowing that tīng bù dǒng are words we rarely have to use. At this level we know enough to get people to explain things using language that we do understand. To arrive at this position takes an awful lot of work.
The third phase is another huge jump. It takes us from this “everyday, no worries” level to fluency, which means using the language in almost the same way that we can use our own. This includes being able to discuss, to a reasonable depth, a wide variety of topics, only really being restricted by personality and specific interests.
This phase is going to require a level of focus, daily commitment and long-view perspective even greater than that which went into getting through the second phase. So far I have lacked the motivation to take this next step. My Chinese has been fossilizing for a couple of years in that get-by-everyday-no-worries sort of state. However, now that I am re-engaging with my studies, I will simply list a few online resources that may be useful for all students of Chinese.
I will begin with a heads up to a Lost Laowai series of interviews, known as Mandarin Mondays. Here Ryan McLaughlin, of the Lost Laowai site, has gathered together a number of China language specialists with an online presence, to offer reflections on, and tips for learning Chinese. These interviews act as good reminders and motivators; to help all of us students take steps in the right direction.
What follows comes, in part, from reading Philip P. Pan’s: Out of Mao’s Shadow, and in part from dwelling a little on a recent Note of mine, that referred to the issue of understanding China. In it I noted two main points, which were built on my reading of Sam Crane’s article Understanding China- Or Not, which was itself built on Wang Qishan’s comment that Americans are “simple people” and that it “is not easy to really know China”. The two points I made were, one, most peoples’ knowledge of other cultures and societies is limited and thus could be perceived as being simple. Two, that while I recognize that understanding China can be seen as being multifaceted, I was seeing it as meaning understanding the mass of Chinese: the group Crane defines as lacking knowledge due to “limitations on knowledge within China itself”.
I will start here however with a brief anecdote that has coincidentally helped tie Pan’s book and those thoughts together. I was sitting quietly in the Village Café, tapping away at my computer, with Pan’s book sitting on the table next to me, when a youngish Chinese woman quietly asked if she could take a look at the book. (It should probably be noted that Pan’s book has the ‘Mao’ of the title written in large capital letters, while a statue of Mao also sits prominently on the front cover)
I looked up and handed it to her. Suddenly, a scenario began to play out in my mind where the book was being passed between silent shifting hands until it ended up in the possession of an undercover policeman, who was standing somewhere not far behind. The security official, after a quick inspection, nodded to a few of his security staff who swiftly lifted me from my seat.
As it turned out the young girl simply returned the book to me a few minutes later, smiling happily. And, I wasn’t to feel a shadowy hand land upon my shoulder. I did ask her what she thought, though. She said that it was the first time she had seen a foreigner reading about Mao. She continued to tell me that she had heard that most Americans thought Mao Zedong was a great leader, especially the generation of 1950’s America. I replied: “mmm”. She also animatedly informed me that her family thought of Mao in almost god-like terms; that he was not only a great leader but, in her own words, also a “genius as a personality”.
This Note continues on, in part and/or in spirit, from the one below: ‘Mr. Lǎo Bǎi Xìng, A Bit Of Income Inequality, An Archbishop And Some Social Solidarity’.
I don’t know if it is this time of year, with its cold weather and deep chill, which can enter peoples’ spirits and make life seem that much more difficult, or whether it is bound up in end of year reflection, but certainly, recently, it has been a time to take note of the difficult lives that do face so many people here.
After a long chat with an English friend of mine about the not so good looking prospects for Britain these days, it seemed possible to place this contemporary Chinese scenario in a wider context and to dwell on it a little.
Concerns about Britain’s present day economic realities were compounded somewhat recently when reading an article discussing the increasing number of people paying their rents or mortgages with credit cards. The story may in fact carry slightly more symbolism than empirical weight, but it doesn’t require a trip down to the Yellow River Soup Kitchen in the city here to put a longer-term face to that particular situation for those involved.
And it doesn’t take an exceptionally deep understanding of modern China to see a not too dissimilar scenario emerging here in the not too distant future. It is interesting to note the lǎobǎixìng (common person) realities of these two quite different societies, China’s and Britain’s, which are at different ends of the so-called development cycle.
I have not experienced it too many times since being in China, but I do find it somewhat disconcerting when I do. And that is when a lǎo bǎi xìng (老百姓), a common person, so classified by themselves and society, shows extreme deference to a point that verges on humiliation.
We had an incident recently where a drunken neighbour made a couple of mistakes. He did though of his own volition rectify the situation by apologizing for his actions. However, he was to end up doing so in a manner that his actions had not deserved or any act for that matter probably does deserve. He was exceptionally deferential, to the point at one stage of wanting to get down on his knees and place his head at my girlfriend’s feet. While also repeatedly showing embarrassment that a person of his low culture, his words not mine, that he just a worker, his words not mine, could have troubled us so much.
What he did however do, once we had gathered him to his feet and made it clear that his simple apology had been enough, was to outline his own circumstance and that of his family and extended family. He seemed to do so for no other reason than through a simple desire to articulate what was inside him, and on the basis that he had some people willing to listen. He had after all been assured his apology was sufficient and that we wouldn’t be taking the money he was trying to give us, on top of the gifts of food he had already given. So he had no need to make us feel sorry for him or earn any more forgiveness, that had been done and we were now just trying to talk with him.
He made a number of points about the life of the lǎo bǎi xìng, who he noted, in this world of plenty for some, are still predominantly living hand to mouth. And that for most it is an exhausted hand to a hungering mouth. He pointed out that the wages were basically just about enough to put food on the table and a roof over ones’ head. We can of course all basically accept that that is indeed enough, but we are also at the same time constantly persuaded that much more is needed. And that what is needed needs to be re-evaluated and repurchased at reasonably frequent intervals.
Before I begin this brief review of November’s news, or a few pieces of it that I have found of interest, I must just note that it took me 50 minutes in a taxi yesterday to do a journey that only takes 20 minutes on my bike. Although, I promise that after this brief aside I will avoid the issue of traffic for a few weeks, as it has become a too oft-repeated theme here and I am actually beginning to depress myself, let alone anyone else. But for now, back to yesterday, there didn’t seem to be any extra special road problem, it was just the sheer weight of traffic that was holding us up so long.
So, it was with a deep sigh that I concluded my re-reading of this extract from Karl Gerth’s book As China Goes So Goes The World, a poignant title if ever there was one, and one that China Beat picked up on this month. I had only just finished chatting with a friend of mine about the exceptional growth in private car ownership here in Xi’an, particularly over the last year, when I began reading it.
The article in no way contradicted our discussion or in any way led me to any brighter conclusions than the ones we had just dwelt upon. One of which was the almost inevitable sealing of Xi’an’s roads at some point in the near future, particularly in areas outside of the newly built zones in the west and far south, which do at least have somewhat wider boulevards and road junctions.
We seemed to both be acknowledging that the subway system, at least in the short term, is just not going to hit the spot in terms of a practicable alternative for the vast majority of car users out there. And with the increase in car ownership not doing anything like stabilizing, let alone decreasing, it really doesn’t bode well.
Gerth’s book managed to put this situation in a much graver light, by giving it some historical context and a consequential sense of the inevitability and run away, now out of control, nature of it all. To think an alternative, a non-private car based society and economy was actually being considered, or even expected, up until relatively recently. China really could have given its growth and increased global power some fluttering flags of moral leadership, if that is what it or we really wanted, but it didn’t.
One thing that has increasingly struck me on visits to my fiancée’s isolated hamlet is how increasingly un-isolated it is becoming. First, the Xi-Han high-speed road dissected a local valley. At the beginning it was just an impressive stretch of glistening black tarmac without a car in sight, last year the odd car or lorry appeared every once in a while as a distraction from hours in the fields, this year it wasn’t possible to have a sequence of time where there wasn’t a vehicle on the road- the almost silence was deafening.
Secondly, on my first visit a few years ago there was only a mud road from the nearby town through neighbouring villages to this small hamlet, now there is a smooth line of concrete not only connecting these small villages to a larger town but the smaller villages to each other. Though, we have in fact just used some of the stone and brick fragments left over from one of the ubiquitous house rebuilds, even here in the hamlet, to help level the still rough track outside the family home. The engagement of a local girl to a laowai (foreigner) doesn’t seem to have meant that the couple are excluded from local chores, in fact over time it might just make me more responsible for them. One of the pressures that does seem to have come with engagement and impending marriage is the responsibility laid upon my shoulders, maybe literally if all else fails, to help rebuild the family home. (more…)
[updated Sep.2012: although I am no longer teaching the information below should still be pretty accurate] It is about time I outlined what can be expected from a teacher’s life in Xi’an. The first point to note and to emphasize is that it offers the chance of a very good life. It is easy for a native English speaker to not only find work here but to be paid exceptionally well for doing something, in many cases, that they are not particularly well qualified to do.
There is a full spectrum of opportunities for teaching English in Xi’an. It is possible to teach in state or private schools, Kindergartens, Primary and Middle Schools, English Training Schools, Universities and Businesses; you can teach 1-1 classes, small group classes and huge classes up to 100. The choice, after some initial work undertaken from an Internet advert, will be up to you. So, what about workloads, money and all that stuff?
My only advice is that whatever job you initially take, take it on a short-term contract, generally recognised as being for 6 months [these s/t contracts are harder to find]. The obvious reason being that if you don’t like what you are doing you are not stuck within a contract, which may cause you some unnecessary visa problems if you want to get out of it. The age or level you may wish to teach is obviously your decision to make and will depend on what jobs you first come across.
A University appointment or a post at an English Training School offers the most straightforward introduction to teaching life in Xi’an. I will begin by discussing the later. A Training School basically means a foreign company with Chinese associates who operate classes of about 16 kids, for between 1- 2 hours, all day on Saturdays and Sundays and some evenings during the week. [There are now more and more of these training schools also geared towards teaching adults, these schools often have full working week schedules for their teachers]
Training schools exist not simply because of the increased demand for learning English in China but because Chinese children are put through the ringer when it comes to extra curricula study in all areas of their curriculum, something – but not all – to do with ordinarily having 50-90 classmates and not learning that much.
Now, this option is usually quite good because as long as you choose a reputable company you will get a visa, a guaranteed minimum wage per month, a flat to live in, return flights and a bonus at the end of the contract [offers do differ eg. a higher wage may mean no flight]. The company will also probably have some experience of helping people integrate into life here. Moreover, this kind of teaching requires very little planning and marking and, most significantly, primarily takes place at the weekends. In fact, if you do take this option I would recommend that you only take the minimum contract at first, which is usually just at the weekend, because you will very quickly find other work opportunities which will pay more per hour (100+Yuan), than the roughly 65 Yuan your average contract based wage equates to. [These rates will of course fluctuate over time and between institutions]
So, to recap, one very common, though not always that professionally rewarding first step into teaching in Xi’an, is to take a basic 15-hour contract at an English training School (Aston English and English First are good places to start in Xi’an). These schools will give you about 4-6000 Yuan a month (15-25 hours a week), a visa and a flat, and a small bonus at the end of the contract. Plus these hours will almost solely be at the weekend, giving you time to start learning Chinese, check out the city, pick up extra work for a higher hourly rate, or just hang-out doing whatever it is you like to do or have always wanted to do. [Just check what the expected workloads are in terms of teaching time, planning and office time. The amount of contact time required definitely differs between schools]
The other main option is working for a University, which you will find advertised in abundance around the web. Xi’an offers a multitude of opportunities here as it has so many Universities. The Universities will need anything from a bit of speaking practice within a class of 100, to small group tuition, to specialized linguistic and literature teaching, or even the teaching of more specialized subject content. Strangely, the Universities don’t tend to pay as well as the private schools and training schools, and often require a lot more contact time, preparation and marking. You just have to decide what you are in it for.
Of course, teaching university students in many cases will be more stimulating than teaching young ones. However, the level of English, the motivation, the size of the classes, the standard of the University will all be factors that can make teaching Chinese University students a little frustrating, plus, unlike elsewhere, Universities [sometimes] want their pound of flesh when it comes to your commitment of time. Plus, young Chinese kids are a joy to be around.
There will be though people with stories from across the spectrum, so read around, get a sense of what you are likely to be in for and sign a short term contract, you can always make a change later or stay on if you like it. [And don't forget whoever you come here with, once that contract and visa expires it will be very easy to find alternative teaching positions ]
The average hourly rate for freelance work is still about 100-150 Yuan, but can go up in some rather ridiculous circumstances to around 2-300 Yuan (some people really want a teacher). If you’re looking around at Beijing and Shanghai for example do not be put off by these rates, at 100+ Yuan an hour here in Xi’an you will still be living a ridiculously easy life compared to the majority. You will, after initial acclimatization and depending on how many hours you choose to teach, be able to save a good chunk of what you earn. Many of the teachers I come across here – who have been here a while – are able to save more than they would back at home, whether they come from Europe, Africa, the Americas or Australasia.
Also, unless you specifically find a rural school with a serious lack of funds or a legitimate voluntary work experience, do not be thinking: “Oh! The money’s not important, it’s just poor old developing China.” In the majority of situations, if you are not pocketing the money, the school’s manager or board of managers will be. If you are looking to just do a 3-6-12 month stint volunteering before heading back home then have a good look around, you don’t want to end up teaching some middle – class kids in Xi’an’s High Tech Zone. The links on my homepage to the ‘Yellow River Soup Kitchen’ and ‘The Library Project’ would offer you a first port-of-call for discovering legitimate voluntary opportunities around Xi’an, may be try and liaise with them first. I will also attempt to find out more about the organisations I have seen on the Internet advertising volunteer placements in Xi’an and will update this note accordingly. [the link is the update]
Teaching in Xi’an, whether for six months or for a few years, offers you the chance of a great life. Enjoy it. As a fellow teacher once noted: ‘Imagine receiving so many job offers you have to turn most of them down. Imagine a salary almost ten times higher than a native worker’s. Imagine a job that includes a free apartment, at least three weeks vacation and a plane ticket to return home. Imagine that this job requires no previous experience. Does this appear too good to be true? Not at all.’
You have the chance to choose your life a little here. As a friend and I used to comment, it is like being retired with age on your side. Whether it’s just for a few months or for a few years it is a nice position to be in.
*[ I just came across this blog by Lawrence Smyth who discusses in an engaging way his early experiences of being in Xi'an as a teacher. For anybody thinking of coming here to teach it is worth checking out: www.teachingxian.blogspot.com (vpn/proxy needed) ]
**Here are just a few contacts, I will attempt to keep them up-to-date and add to them. I am not recommending them, just offering easy contacts. They are all private schools as there are just too many Universities in Xi’an to list here:
- Aston English School - A Popular English Training School
- English First- EF – Well Respected English Training School
- New Oriental English School - Kids to University students to Adults- (029) 87916969
- Royal International English School - Mostly Adults – 029-88315151 [link not working when last checked]
- Shane English School - Teachers Placed in Xi’an State Primary Schools – local mobile No. – 18602989696
- ToBest English - Teach English- email@example.com- (029) 62620000
A couple of experiences last week from the wider Chinese educational sphere. The first has been observed numerous times before but never fails to act as a shining, though diminishing light on the mentality being bred inside Chinese educational institutions. I happily got my kids this week, 60 odd in a class, throwing up hands to answer questions, the answers simply being dragged off the page and into their mouths, as not simply a sentence in a book but an answer to a question, no problem, these kids are pretty good. Then, for the third activity I introduced a question that had two perfectly acceptable and simple sentence answers, these answers I wrote on the board leaving space for the appropriate activity to be added by the students.
However, instead of this time being greeted by a lightening show of hands I was faced with confusion and dis-interest. Maybe they were tired but on checking they actually didn’t understand how to answer. Now this is the concern, the level was most certainly within their range and answers could be found within their known vocabulary. The sentence questions and answers were again carefully explained to them, a few more hands but not many. Chinese children when faced with having to actually think of an answer for themselves have no answer.
There is an amusing, though often frustrating, anecdotal manifestation of this in the wider society, and that represents the non-necessity of an answer because there is actually a denial even of a question. It is when you are instructed to do something by a security guard, an official of some kind or some other worker, or just hear someone’s opinion on something and you ask “why? The answer in Chinese is 没有为什么 which directly means not have why or no why.
This leads me onto my second little anecdote of the week and that involves my very articulate 17-18 year old 1-1 student. She asked at one point during our class whether I knew what 资本主义 means, I did, it means capitalism. She then laid out the words for communism, socialism and capitalism on the table, talked a little of the Communist Party and then continued to tell me that China is a socialist society.
At this point, I was considering whether to move onto another topic or to dig a little further on this topic, you can’t break habits of a lifetime (or you can but it takes the desire to want to) so I continued. I gave her a few examples of small and large organizations in China that we both knew, including the Jiaozi restaurant across the street and the Chinese health service, and asked who paid for the services or products. That was us, and who produced, distributed and profited, it was the private individuals or companies involved. I admittedly did point out that a number of the major utilities and banks were still state or part state owned.
I then asked her which system was it that China was. She somewhat hesitantly pointed to socialism. I asked her why that was her answer, she was silent for a moment before stating “that is what they told us at school”. After a couple of awkward moments where she was clearly playing over the scenario in her head we moved on.
China is obviously a mix of capitalism and socialism and although my most certainly non-expert opinion does not allow me a position to define it as one or the other it certainly seems a capitalist society to me. The fact is the type of economic system that you and I experience here on a daily basis, is most certainly one of a free market persuasion, even if the devil-is-in-the-detail- as an aside- the inequality here between the majority and the wealthiest is almost fantastical in its extreme.
However, what was most interesting was the ease with which an obviously intelligent and actually quite challenging person could quite easily turn to a previously heard answer rather than give her own opinions. I might also point out that she is much more inquisitive and questioning than a vast majority of the young people one comes across here. These anecdotes are not meant as slights, they are merely observations.