Project 400 – Backstage Fashions

A large percentage of our students get jobs at foreign trade companies. Backstage Fashions is a woman’s fashion exporter doing business in several countries in Europe and in the USA. One of my former students works there.

As part of the 400 Project, I visited my former student and her boss. In the photo, I am talking to the manager of Back Stage. I am learning (1) what kind of English do companies need (2) what kind of English we taught our students that they use at their jobs (3)  what kind of English we taught our students that they do not use at their jobs (4) what kind of English our students need but were not taught.

From this research, I am learning how to prepare our students to find jobs easier and to do great at their jobs.

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Project 400 – Chuck and Ace, Business Management Majors

As part of the 400 Project, I am visiting students to see how they study and spend their time.

I joined Chuck and Ace for lunch and then they invited me to their dorm room so I could see more about student life. They talked to me about student life, their studies and how they spend their free time. What they told me was very interesting and helped me to understand my students better.

Action research: Mom and Dad and grammar

Spot quiz. Ready? What percentage of students, after nine years of English training, can use the correct pronouns in a few sentences about their mother and father?

Write down your answer.

Pencils down. Thank you!

If grammar teaching works, why does it take years for students to follow the simplest rule with accuracy?

Don’t try this at home! Try it in your classroom!

Without any reminder of the rules, ask your students to talk to you about their mother and their father and see how they do. The grammar rule on pronouns of gender cannot be simpler. Mom = she. Dad = he. We’re not talking about complex grammar rules. This rule takes less than a minute to teach and if you teach it and then test it, all of your students will pass the test.

They “learned” it. Why do they get it so wrong?

In December 2010 and January 2011, I gave an oral speaking test to 120 Chinese college students. As part of the test, I often ask the students to speak of a family relative. As part of the test this time I asked two questions about parents:

1. Tell me about your mother.

2. Tell me about your father.

Each student answered the request with about 3-4 sentences for each parent.

In the first sentence they always used “my mother” or “my father” but in the following sentences they used the pronoun of gender.

The students also filled out a form so I could learn how much English training they have had. They have almost all had the same amount of training, about nine years. Let me remind you, Chinese teachers are not shy about teaching grammar. Grammar is hammered into the students. Often the English instruction is given in Chinese. Extensive reading or other forms of extensive input is not promoted making this a more ideal situation to test the effectiveness of grammar teaching.

Considering nine years of training plus the simplicity of the grammar rule of gender, our students should be 100% accurate in usage. So how did they do?

Out of 112 students tested so far, 80 have called Mom a “he” and/or Dad a “she” one or more times during this test.

The question was: What percentage of students, after nine years of English training, can use the correct pronouns in a few sentences about their mother and father?

Answer: After nine years of English training, only 28%.

Some languages like French or Spanish have pronouns of gender. It is possible that it is easier for French and Spanish students of English to use “he” and “she” correctly but this could be more a matter of language transference than language acquisition.

If after 9 years of English training only 28% of the students can use “he” and “she” correctly, we must doubt the ability of learning grammar rules to lead to grammar acquisition and accurate grammar use.

Project 400 – What is it?

What do students need to learn? What are they learning in school? What are we teaching? What is the best way to teach them? What is working and not working? Answering those questions is the objective of Project 400.

Project 400 is a research project to study:

100 English language classrooms in China to see how English is taught and how students learn.

100 of my former English students who now have jobs. What kind of jobs do they usually get.  How do they use their English in their jobs? What English did they learn in school that they use in their jobs? What English did they not learn in school that they need for their jobs? What English did they not learn in school that they need in their jobs?

100 bosses of my students who are now working as well as other managers, HR managers and business leaders. What kind of English do new employees need in their jobs? How important is English?

100 students in their dorms. How do they study? How much homework do they do? How do they feel about their studies.

At the conclusion of this research project, I will have a better understanding of students, teachers and English study.

>Does China have the worst English teachers in the world according to international test results?

>Some teachers tried to tell me that China has the worst teachers and students based on the international test results of the Cambridge BEC tests. Is that true? Can we use those tests results and other tests like IELTS and TEOFL to see where the best and worst English teaching is being done?

Here are the statistics for 2004 sorted from lowest pass rate to best pass rate, or you could say from worse to best.

As you can see, China did indeed score the worst of all the other countries. Does this mean China’s teachers are the worst? There is an easy test we can apply to find out the answer.

If these statistics show us that China’s teachers are the worst in the world then they should also help us to see which teachers are the best in the world.

China, People’s Republic of 40%
Indonesia 41%
Vietnam 45%
Brazil 58%
Hong Kong 59%
Italy 67%
France 68%
Spain 70%
India 71%
United Kingdom 74%
Argentina 78%
Bangladesh 79%
Czech Republic 79%
Switzerland 80%
Croatia 81%
Poland 81%
Russian Federation 81%
Germany 84%
Austria 86%
Portugal 89%
Canada 93%
Slovenia 95%

Is it true that Slovenia has the best teachers in the world? They scored a 95% pass rate! Incredible! Even better than Canadian teachers. How did they do that?

And what about British teachers? Is it true that Argentinean teachers are better than British teachers?

I’m afraid we can only use the pass/failure rates of the BEC (and also the IELTS) to show us the rates of those who took the test and passed or failed. It does not reflect the language ability of students in general and the teaching ability of teachers in general.

People take this test for different reasons, different goals at different ages. Only if the BEC was given to ALL High School graduates or at least a true random sampling of students who were ALL at the same level could we use them to try to interpret teaching quality. These statistics from the BEC do not answer the question on the English teaching ability of teachers in China.

But this does not mean Chinese English teachers are good. It only means these particular statistics are not going to be useful in the question.

As I said, it doesn’t really matter if China came in last in the BEC tests as this sort of test is not going to tell us anything about the teaching or learning skills.

>What’s YOUR problem?

>I had an interesting discussion with some teachers in Japan about why Japanese students are so quiet in class.

But it seems odd to discuss the quietness of Japanese students with you, the reader of this blog, yes, YOU.

Why are Japanese so shy? Why do they respond so little? What is it in their culture that causes this situation? What can teachers do to make Asian students more responsive? After all, as teachers we think our students should be responsive. They should be interactive. Right? What teacher in his right mind would actually want students who are not interactive? Who would want quiet non-responsive students?

Although you and I are not students it does seem really odd that we even try to discuss this question on this blog. Why does it seem odd?…because you are probably not going to comment on this blog. You will not mention your thoughts or opinion, agreement or disagreement. YOU are going to be quiet. YOU are not going to interact. I am not upset with YOU. It’s just that I don’t understand how we can ask our students to be something that we are not going to make the effort to be ourselves, interactive.

Is it because the YOU are too timid to venture an opinion? Some people reading this page are experienced teachers, MA’s or even PhD’s. It is likely we may draw some managers of various schools as well as IELTS, UCLES, TOEFL, ETS, Oxford and Cambridge University Press. We may have university professors who visit. We may have the very gurus and rock stars of our profession on this list. But still this blog is impoverished by the lack of sharing of the riches of their experience and training.

Seriously, how can we as professionals in this field ever blame the poor students in Japan for not being interactive when we are doing the very same thing everyday?

This seems odd to me. We all understand the Japanese problem. What I want to know is:

What is your problem?

Please tell us in the “Comments” section.

>Do we need to teach the culture to teach the language?

>Someone asked if culture, as related to the language, should be taught with the language. I think we can all agree the answer is “yes” and “no”. This is another example where the question should be carefully framed in our discussions so that we can all be at the same starting point when we answer it.

Mert Bland, a teacher with considerable experience all over the world, answers the question if culture should be taught with the obvious first question, “which culture?”, taking a perspective of EFL.

Maggie Sokolik, based in a university in California, takes a different viewpoint, but her outlook is ESL.

So let us agree on the same starting point. If we are teaching abroad we seldom know with which culture our students are going to interacting. I teach in China (another place Mert has been). The closest English speaking countries are Hong Kong, Singapore, Philippines and Australia, India but my students are also very interested in America. Do I need to teach those six cultures to them? And what about a needs analysis? It is quite likely they will be visiting, calling and doing business in Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Thailand. And when they speak to Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese and Thai businessmen they will be speaking to them in English. So Mert’s question is very valid, “which culture?” and the answer is correct for EFL, in the limited time frame that teachers have to teach their students it is best to stick to a basic English that would be useful for our students in all of those situations.

If we are talking about foreign students visiting, studying or living in California, should they learn about the culture of the United States as related to their English studies, I think every teacher would answer “of course”.

>Chinese students and spelling

>A teacher said: “I teach a number of mainland Chinese and they seem to have the same problem. Could it be that they too are taught and learn pin-yin as if it were Chinese characters? I do not know. I just have a strong feeling that the massive memorization needed for literacy in Chinese affects the approach to learning.”

I have noticed that my students really seem to excel in spelling. They seldom misspell words. Perhaps this is because they are not taking the hazardous route of trying to spell by the way the word sounds but have learned the picture of the word.

This is similar to the issues with teaching children their native English. Some educators like to start children with phonics whereas others advocate sight reading. Perhaps, because of mastering the Chinese system of picture reading they are actually picturing English words.

If so, this would reflect a difference with the Chinese learner and could suggest that Chinese might be more capable of rote learning than other students. However, it cannot mean that the Chinese English language learning system of grammar translation and rote learning is more effective. If it was more effective then Chinese would be learning English faster than comparable students who are learning under a communicative approach methodology.