teaching English abroad

Answers from the English abyss

I’ll be putting up one final post about China and my thoughts on my experience there, once I get said thoughts gathered. Unfortunately the internet in Nanjing was simply atrocious the past few months and it’s been impossible for me to update.

In the mean time, enjoy the following: I asked my students to write about where they want to go and where they don’t want to go, and why. Some selections for you, the ones with stars being ones I picked as ‘the best’ for a prize:

I want to go to Greenland. Because I can ski and go ice-skating. I don’t want to go to Libya. Because they are fighting.

I want to go to Turkey. Because the money is cheap. I don’t want to go to Korea. Because the sushi is too hot. I don’t like hot food.

I want to go to England. Because there is a beautiful castle and horse guard. I don’t want to go to Ireland. Because it is very green. (I don’t like green.)

*I want to go to Japan. Because I want to help many earthquake people.

I want to go to Ireland. Because it is very beautiful. Because it is very good. Because it is very small. Because it is very new. I don’t want to go to Russia. Because it is very hot.

*I want to go to the USA because the USA has a big Disney playground. Because Obama is handsome, because I want to see a basketball game.

*I don’t want to go to the girl toilet because I am a boy.

*I want to go to Brazil because the grass is green and I can play soccer. I don’t want to go to the North Pole because it’s cold.

I don’t want to go to Japan because they are our enemy.

*I want to go to Holland because they have many cheeses and I like cheese.

I don’t want to go to America because there are tornadoes.

I want to go to America because that’s where Transformers 3 is.


cheating in China

I’m not sure if it only happens in the foreign teacher classes, but my colleagues and I have been having a hell of a time stopping students from cheating on our finals. Out of the twenty classes I teach, there were only three where I didn’t catch cheating. I had students blatantly turning in their seats to tell friends the test answers, girls switching papers and taking the test for their friends, boys looking at answer sheets in desks, and even one student going through my folders for the answer sheet and writing them down on a note.

(My final test is not hard. It’s vocabulary that we’ve been studying for the past six weeks. Multiple choice. Arranged in three sections. Very, very, laughably easy.)

I’m not an expert on China by any means, just a casual observer casually observing a culture of cheating and wondering where it comes from.

One of my Chinese friends has impeccable English. Her part-time job for a few months was to collect a fake ID card, go to another Chinese city, pretend to be a student and take the SATs or TEFL for her student client. Underground businesses like these — selling test-takers — aren’t rare by any means; she says that every time she’s taken a test like this, she’s known several other professional test-takers in the room with her.

These tests determine if the Chinese students have the English skills to get into a college in the US, UK, Australia, etc. (My friend relishes the fact that once the cheating students get there, they will likely have to drop out because they can’t pay off anyone to speak English for them in daily life…) Coincidentally, her American boyfriend was on the other side of the issue: When he attended college in the States, many Chinese students went over to study abroad with high TEFL scores, yet a number of them couldn’t speak past a middle school level. He worked in the school cafeteria where all study abroad students automatically were offered a job; many of the Chinese students with high TEFL scores were relegated to kitchen duties because they couldn’t communicate with the diners.

There’s also the issue of plagiarism on the college level, and not just students, but professors. A simple Google search brings up plenty of blogs about the issue. It’s kind of a joke between the expats in Nanjing that a Chinese diploma isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on because the standards of education are somewhat low. Most expat students study Chinese — the one subject that is, obviously, worth while — or stay for one semester of easy As and cheap beer.

Though I wonder if these kids cheating in my class are actually pretty clever; with the amount of bribery that goes on in the adult world in China, they may just be getting some practice. The thing that gets me, though, is that a lot of the times the kids I caught cheating were intelligent ones who would have passed easily anyway. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t fly in my classroom and a few unhappy students got their first zero grade ever. Hopefully it’ll be their last…

pictures from the English abyss

One of the interesting things about teaching any language is when you start to notice the little things like letters, punctuation and syntax that can change a sentence drastically. Usually if it’s a pretty hilarious mistake I take the time to correct the sentence, but an additional high-five is given to the student at the very least. 3rd graders are at that perfect age where they don’t have any inhibitions–for the most part–about trying even if it means they might be wrong. That at least should be rewarded.

But now I know why my Japanese professors got such a kick out of correcting our papers and tests…




And sometimes, it’s not really a mistake in any sense of the word. But things that sound great in one language give pause when translated directly;


This last one is grammatically correct; I just like the thought of Tigger giving Eyore a John Wayne-style haymaker.


an outsider’s thoughts on sex-ed and such in China

Thought #1: You know that you’ve lived in China for a few months when you get on a public bus and all of the adverts are for abortions and you don’t even blink.

This one advertises them for about 300 yuan, or, say, $50 US abouts. The commercials on the TV have green hills and girls dancing in white skirts. I thought they were for laundry detergent until I saw the hospital name.


Thought #2: Birth control pills are available in China over the counter for about $3 for a monthly pack, compared to the needed prescription and outrageous prices in most western nations. (I’m looking at you, America.) However, most people here don’t know too much about how the pills work—a friend who’d never seen the pills even suggesting to me that you don’t really need to take a pill every day, just the days that you plan to have intercourse. (And yes, the instructions in the box are written in Chinese.) And those people that do know about the pills believe they mess with your body’s natural chemistry and energy too much to take them. So birth control pills are not a big ticket item; there’s actually only ever about two or three brands to even choose from at the pharmacy. Culturally, the pill just isn’t big in China. It’s easily available and affordable, but the idea of messing with the natural order of a woman’s body is unappealing to many.


Thought #3: Sex-ed in the classroom was explained to me by a friend as a chapter in a biology book Chinese high school students read for class, the teacher asking the next day if there were any questions, no one being brave enough to raise a hand, and on to the next chapter. Parent’s don’t typically broach the subject either. Some simple math for you: Lack of sex ed + wariness of birth control pills + cheap abortions = a high amount of abortions in China.

Thought #4: The one-child rule is pretty heavily enforced. Unless… you live in the countryside where nothing is really enforced, have twins, have an additional child overseas, pay the hefty fine, or get divorced and have another child with your new spouse. Or find some other loophole, of course.

Thought #5: Just a random, interesting note: It’s illegal in China for a doctor to tell the expecting parents the gender of their unborn child. According to my friends, a lot of the younger generation don’t hope for a girl or a boy one way or the other, though. Kids are doted upon by their parents—and grandparents—which sometimes can backfire and turn them into ‘Little Emperors’ or stressed out students burdened with the thought that they’re the only one around to support their parents when they retire.


tales from the English abyss

One of the things I do in my class is pretty standard; hold up a flash card with the Chinese word for something, then ask a student to give me the English word. Fairly simple, right? So I hold up the flash card for 海滩, which is ‘beach’.

Me: What does this say in English?

Student: I know!!

Me: Yes?

Student: ‘Asscrack.’

Me: …

Student: Ass-crack.

Me: What.

Student: Ass. Crack.

Me: What.

Chinese teacher: *explains something to the student in hasty Chinese*

Student: Oh. Beach. 海滩 means ‘beach’.

Me: ….yes, good job.

Desk, meet forehead.

Sports Day

the olympians

Like Track and Field Day, but with a China twist.

Sports are huge in Nanjing’s schools, especially with China still riding on the high of the Beijing olympics and the upcoming Nanjing Youth Olympics in 2014. For Sports Day at the schools, each class puts on a little spectacle and competes in the opening ceremonies. Then the particularly athletic kids get a shot to win medals for the long jump, 200 meter dash, and so on. There are over two thousand kids, so it’s really difficult to get everyone on the field together for one event.