Archive for January, 2013

A question of overly tight leadership control?

January 4, 2013

Ok, so I’m the Head of Science where I work. I wish I could say that makes me important in some way, but it doesn’t. I suspect more that it’s more a matter of being a cheerleader for the subject, supporting staff, doing the paperwork, and knowing that the buck’s going to stop somewhere near me if anything “blows up.”

Anyhow, the firm’s training me up to get some further “management responsibilities” (hopefully I’ll be climbing the greasy pole of management sometime soon), and asked me to research something at my school, which I did. It wasn’t anything serious, I wasn’t plotting villainous world domination, just trying to find out how students are assessed before they arrive at the school.

The Chinese response seems to be mistrust and unwillingness to relinquish any data, fearing it’ll result in a loss of control. I asked one person about the data, and was told one thing. When, in about 30 minutes, I disproved what he’s said, he told me something else.

That is something I’ll never understand about this place. I’m not dangerous, I’m no threat. If you speak to anyone, you’ll find out I’ve got the kids best interests at heart. They might find the students more boisterous than is usual in a Chinese classroom, but my results are good, and when I’m observed, I’m described as “highly effective.” So why keep menial pieces of data from me?

I’m told it’s the “Chinese Way,” that that’s what the Chinese do, that they view data as “means of control,” but it’s actions like that that are almost bound to make me come over all “dog with a bone” if the data seems innocuous.

A Chinese student’s ear for English

January 3, 2013

Teaching in China is interesting. The kids, in the main are good, motivated kids, who want to do well and succeed in the future, and that makes our job easier when it comes to presenting content.

One of the things I’ve noticed, however, is the kids ear for what I call idiomatic English. To my mind, it separates the good linguists from those that try. With the new kids at school, you learn quickly that you have to speak in short simple sentences when you speak. The Chinese have really good English, but it’s obtained by drill and rote learning. As a result, they know the words, but don’t have what I call that “fingertip feel for the language” (which isn’t all that surprising when you think about it).

By the time they’re about to graduate (or come back to visit the school), you hope you can build more complex sentence structures with them, along with a love of language. They’re going to spend the next 4 years abroad, so you hope they’re getting a love for the language.

My favourite example of what I’m talking about is the question “How’s it going?” To me, that separates the really good linguists from the rest. Ask a lot of people that here, and I promise you’ll get “To the…..” as an answer. I know they heard what I said, but they seem to translate the question as “Where are you going?” I ask that question a lot as one of my indicators of how strong their English is. That allows me to adjust my English accordingly.

I’ve had a really good accurate answer to that question 4 times now, and I ask it a lot. That probably tells me that our English department probably need to work on that sort of thing.