December 30, 2005

Year-end greetings

So little time and so much to do, sigh...! I checked my to-do list in Yahoo Calendar finding that I had got more than 20 things to do for the days to come. I think I have to make my new year's resolution into a long list.

A good news of mine is returning to Xin Zhu again, while I am not there for any cram school courses this time; I am going to teach somewhere at the science park, which is definitely a new challenge to me. The program will run about three months or so, and one biggest problem is whether I should drive down there by my own car or just take the public transportations.

The science park is actually just a jump from the highway ramp though, I wonder if there will be any highway bus stations over there. I am kind of reluctant to take my own set of wheels paying the toll for four times in all-- two for the south bound and the rest for the north bound. Hey ...listen up, I just wish to save up a little. Would you try and be in my shoes please? No offense guys.

The year of 2005 is going to fade. Aren't you craving to take part in the new year countdown tomorrow night? It's gonna be more exciting than last year if you've ever gone to the previous fireworks display at the Taipei 101. Whatever you will be doing at the year end, I just wish you all a happy new year!!

December 29, 2005

Repost: Love -- by Bruce Lin

When Carl was 2, his mother read him children's stories before tucking him in. Then he was too young to understand anything about the stories, but he liked it. The mother's voice was better than any lullabies.

The mother often had tons of workload in the office and needed to continue to work after office hours. She was always exhausted when it was around 10 o'clock at night, but reading Carl stories was the last job in a day – and also the most important, however silly those children's stories were.

Gradually, those words from the mother lips started to take shape in various forms – castles, forests, monsters, unicorns, princesses, witches… – a wonderland was thus created by the mother and it drifted into Carl's dreams every night.

Carl is 10 now and he loves to read. Reading is such a major part in his life that he can't sleep without doing some reading. He knows that there are more than just castles or monsters hidden in sheets of paper.

Many parents think money can buy their children knowledge. It can't always. Love can.

*Carl is not his real name.

December 27, 2005

Hillary for 2008

People said that Hillary is making a bid for the presidency in 2008. If she is, she will be the "first" first lady becoming the first female president in the United States. Unlike other men who are not big on the idea of her, I am always of the opinion that women will be on top and show the men how things should be run in the world. Hillary has what it takes to become a president. I heard that she comes from a strict family that had instilled determination into her from an early age. Therefore, she had strived to be a different person since her childhood.

She has been pro-choice and support women's right. A recent poll showed that 60% of Americans think it is high time for a female president. If she runs for it, she does it just in the nick of time.

However, it goes without saying that in her future she will definitely be faced with lots of challenges from her Republican challengers. She has many skeletons in her closet such as the scandals during the Clinton Administration. It has been a controversy whether she should be the one to blame for standing by her husband. Everything she did will be under a microscope whatsoever. To win over her rivals will be a tough nut to crack.

December 26, 2005

Repost: Barriers to English (1) – Fear -- by Bruce Lin

I once met a French guy who told me that he did not like to talk to some Taiwanese whose English was not good. Wait a minute, I thought, This guy's English had a strong French accent and was very difficult to understand, and he complained about our people's English! And he taught English!!

Another time, I was talking to a Japanese client over the phone. The connection of the phone line was good but something did not seem right. The client talked on and on and on in his Japanese-accented English – and the way he spoke made me question my English ability. Wait a minute, I'd been studying English hard and now this guy seemed to force me to adjust my English to suit his Japanese – or Japanese English, for that matter. And, why did he sound so confident? Where was that confidence from?

Most students I met, on the other hand, fear English. Likewise, it is a big question as to where the fear is from. The statement “My English is not good” is being heard over and over again, and it has become tiring to hear it. It sounds like asking for people's pity. Normally, you get it when asking for it.

But, just for a minute, and for the so many minutes that will follow, let's pretend our English is good. Think of the two great pretenders I met – the Frenchman and Japanese – who showed no fear when they talked; they didn't give a damn; they simply expressed. So when we speak, try to speak with force; when we write, write with ease, regardless of our English proficiency. You don't need to have good English to do so; no one does. With time, that pretending will become reality.


December 24, 2005

Just wanna say....

Merry Xmas!!

December 22, 2005

A sample letter

Dear grandpa,

How's everyhing going? The season changes so fast, so it is getting colder and colder now. Being the dearest granddaughter of you, I would suggest you dress more lest you should come down with a cold.

I read in the newspaper the other day that the elderlys should be more careful when rising in the early morning. They are more likely to suffer from a stroke if they get out of bed too fast. I am beloved of you, so I really care about you and your health. You should always have a normal nightly schedule. Don't eat too much meat. If you do, go for something healthful as well. Green vegetables, fruit, more water, and just to name a few, will keep you in good shape at times. In any case, we should always do things to keep ourselves fit and healthy.

Christmas is around the corner, so here I wish you a merry Chistmas and happy new year!!

Lovely yours,


lest (conj.) 以免
come down with 生病
rise 起床
be likely to 有可能會
suffer from 受苦於
be beloved of 被愛
nightly routine/ schedule 作息
fit and healthy 健康

December 21, 2005

Repost: Energy Flow -- by Bruce Lin

I have this writing course in which students read for 90 minutes and use 30 minutes to write their reflections on what they read. I don't care what they write, as long as they write.

During the writing session, the students, especially Mark*, would ask me how to spell certain words. One time he didn't ask me any spelling questions; he just buried himself in the desk and I could see his pen running fast on the paper – the pen virtually led him. Suddenly, Mark rose from his seat, charged toward me, and shot out his hand giving me his writing, his face pumping red. “That was fast,” I said to him. It was not just fast; it was a lot. Normally, it takes a student about 30 minutes to come up with a half-page; there Mark gave me two full pages in 20 minutes.

Mark wrote about his recent breakup with his childhood sweetheart – so recent that it happened only a few hours earlier. He went to her school to pick her up but there she suggested splitting up, saying things like “you are too good for me” and “It’s nobody's fault,” the kind of lines we are all too familiar with from third-rate TV soap operas. Helpless and powerless, he didn't know how to react. Mark went home, lay down, and tried to understand the situation. It wasn't easy. He rose and started to dial, but the phone was not answered. He continued to dial and dial and dial…until the girl's phone was out of power from the constant ringing. Mark rushed out of his place heading straight to her campus to look for her, but she was not in the library; she was not in the gym; she was not in the restaurant; she was not in the dorm. Mark kept running, sweat mixing with tears. It was hell.

He concluded his writing with a climax – he finally spotted her riding on another guy's motorbike, holding onto him tightly. “It was a strange feeling,” Mark wrote.

Grammatical mistakes aside, Mark's writing was, mama, at full throttle. Every word was jumping and charged with high voltage. There was so much energy in it that there was no escaping it. Reading it was like reading Apple Daily. Actually, it was better than 10 Apple Daily articles combined. I told Mark that the writing was very good. He looked at me, spacing out, unaware that he had just done a good work.

Mark didn't come to the class in the following week. One month later, he showed up with a smile and said hello to other students. It seemed he was back to his normal self. He told me that he just had a 3-week vacation in Hawaii. I asked him: “Is everything okay now?” “Everything is fine,” said Mark, his face beaming.

*Mark is not his real name.

December 19, 2005

Notice for all

As I noted that less and less of you are willing to pay a visit to my personal Web site:, I decided to go for some changes on it. I deleted some of the contents which can't draw your attention to it, such as "about me", "online resources", etc. What has been left now is the "Daily learning" part which I still think useful for everyone. One the other hand, it will be easier for me to maintain the site that way.

Steve has posted his first article on this BLOG. I can't thank him enough for his help. It may seem too long to finish reading it in a snap, but please be patient. His work is worth a reading.

Last but not the least, does anyone who can advise me of the following question?
What are the things that can represent Taiwan best, but not weighed more than 2 kilograms?
I am currently working on a secret project, so your opinion is highly prized. Thank you very much.

December 18, 2005

Repost: The Beautiful Woman -- by Bruce Lin

When we first met, she spread out a big piece of paper on the desk with the song lyrics of "Smoke Gets in Your Eye" she transcribed earlier and wanted me to read those lines for her. Every word she wrote down was as big as a giant beetle: they were big and clearly written. Then, she took out an antique recorder and awkwardly pressed the "record" button, and I started to read those lyrics for her. In the MP3 era, it's neat to see people using this old gadget.

She became a regular in my class. She raised questions, took notes, and read English out loud in class. Her pronunciation was not correct yet every word was loud. From time to time, she would operate her little machine to record class sessions. Those tick-tick sounds of the machine showed so much of her urge to learn.

Sometimes she complained that the words in the class handouts were too small. That's easy; I just augmented the font size of the words and printed the handouts for her again. With font size 36, every word looked bigger even than her "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" handwriting; they were now big enough to be "exploding in your face." She was happy.

She told me she wanted to talk to her great-grandson when he came back from the US. The boy loved her, but there seemed to be a little communication problem. “This year will be different!” She said.

Somehow people stop learning when they pass certain age, as if learning is responsibility of the young. Many do nothing but watch TV all day long after they retire; they are often labeled as “couch potatoes” – I think “couch zombies” is more like it. She was different; that fire was still burning in her eyes, and would continue to blaze for quite some time. Wasn't she a beautiful woman? She IS THE beautiful woman.


December 16, 2005

Better Late Than Never

Surprise! Surprise! I finally find the time to post to the blog. Unfortunately, I have the time because I am sick with a severe cold and have to quarantine myself from my family. With nothing to do in the locked bedroom (well, actually I am supposed to clean up this messy room, but I am just too lazy to do it. After all, I am weak with a cold!) I thought ranting on how miserable I am would be the best way to spend time. Plus, this posting will double my blog from one article to two. Hey, it’s better late than never!

Come to think of it, I am always miserable in the month of November and December. While others are in happy mood to welcome the holiday season and the New Year, I am dreadful for experiencing yet another "it's the tradition" crap put together by merchants. According to the "tradition," there are turkeys to roast, cards to mail, stocking to stuff and trees to cut, but benefiting who? What would we gain by upholding the "tradition?"

Take, for example, Thanksgiving. It was supposed to be a day celebrating the generosity of indigenous American (or commonly known as Indians) to the pilgrims for helping and teaching pilgrims surviving the harsh winter in North America. However, as history has shown, many years later pilgrims returned the ultimate favor by conducting genocide against Indians and grabbing most of their land.

Fast forward to today. Many countries around the world now celebrate thanksgiving as well. But have you noticed that people from these countries now think that Thanksgiving is a day to "give thanks to ... (you fill in the blank)" and not really knowing the origin of day nor the dire consequence Indians suffered after they landed a helping hand to their new neighbors fresh off the boat from Europe? I thought thanks should be given on a daily basis to everyone around you who help you have a better day or help the world to be a better place to live. People deserve more than one day to be thanked!

What about Thanksgiving dinner? Don't even get me started. Americans have turkey for Thanksgiving because turkey is a native game bird. It was one of the primary poultry available in North America. It is understandable that pilgrim did it then. There were not that many other animals to come around. However, with the availability of a variety selection on food, why should the turkey be singled out to be slaughtered for the day? Who should turkey thank for the atrocity? Furthermore, what in the hack does the rest of the world also eat turkey on this day? I can live with the "tradition" claim that Americans wants to make, but Asians and Europeans? C'mon, are you in Asia and Europe really that gullible and willing to buy in the "tradition" presented to you by the American poultry farms? Eat a cob of corn for the sake of the bird and you will have one more soul to thank you on this holiday.

Of course, December comes with the Christmas. I have no bone to pick with the bona fide Christians to celebrate the birth of Christ. But I do not think Christ would agree with the merchants taking his birthday as a marketing vehicle to sell, sell, sell. If you are like a Franciscan Priest, buying gifts to distribute to the poor (now this is actually what Santa Clause is all about), then you have all my respect and my comment in this entry is not directed to you. However, if you are buying gift for friends and family just to celebrate (and please this time to reflect what exactly are you celebrating about), then I suggest you to do it on a more meaningful day - say on a birthday or an anniversary. On Christmas, instead of wasting money on buying gifts that can be bought after Christmas at half price (yep, I already heard the buzz about the big post Christmas sale at Macy's), spread your love, buy toys and books for the poor and disadvantaged children, or buy clothes for the poor and serve a meal at a homeless shelter. Now, that is a meaning way to celebrate Christ's birthday.

Try not to cut down too many trees by not having a Christmas tree or sending Christmas card for a change. The mother earth will thank you. Instead, call your friends on a regular basis instead of sending them a card once a year. Human relations are built upon trust and closeness, not the once a year card sending protocol.

I just realized that it is too late for me to send out any card to long lost acquaintances and have them receive cards before Christmas. Well, I guess I will search through my piles of old cards to see if I can recycle some of them. It is better late than never.

December 14, 2005

MIT or foreign-made?

The year-end shopping season has been on for weeks. This time I decide to pick up a digital camera for the family. What? Isn't that right? Haven't I got a digital one yet? No, and that is for sure. Now I am about to choose one that is within my budget limit. I maintain the thought that it can't be neither expensive nor inexpensive. The truth is, I don't wish to afford one that will badly hit my pocket, or the one that has insufficient performance in operation due to its low price.

Anyhow, I am trying to be in the market of the one with the max photo quality at about 5 or 6 Megs, whose price ranges from 5000 NT to 8000 NT. There're indeed some models that meet my demand, but here comes the other question -- should I get a MIT, a.k.a. made in Taiwan, or a Japanese fancy stuff? Comparing with the differences of the two products, I found that they can't compare. Most of the Japanese stuff are oriented around the so-called high-end products such as SONY, Panasonic, Nikon, Canon, etc. While the cameras made by the local manufactures are reckoned to be at the low-end level.

Since Taiwan has been doing as a OEM for other name-brand manufacturers in the world for decades, I tend to give them some credits now. One of my students told me that he just got a BanQ camera for 5000 NT from the computer show last week. He said he felt ok while using the camera and surprised by the stability of it. So, it isn't a bad idea to be a patriot now. Here we go! Acer, Premier and BenQ.

December 13, 2005

Repost: Mistakes -- by Bruce Lin

Josh* was in the reading room reading a thick book. There were other kids in the same room playing computer games or chatting, but Josh didn't seem to get bothered. I went over to him and found that he was reading the English version of “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” the fourth installment of the Harry Potter series. It was surprising. However popular Harry Potter was, it was difficult even for an adult to read, and Josh was only 8. Curious, I asked Josh if he could understand the book. He said: “Well…just some…”He blushed. I pointed at some words on the page to know if Josh knew them, and he either shook his head or guessed them wrong. Finally, I pointed at “reckon” and Josh replied: “Maybe…it means ‘think.’”Josh was right this time, though he was not so sure.

It's easy to make out the situation: Josh focused on the words he knew – rather than whining on the words he didn't know – to make sense of the Harry Potter story.As I had just learned, it's unlikely that Josh would know most of the words in the book. However, those few words he knew gave him enough clues to somewhat brighten up the story.

On the other hand, many adults – especially smarter ones – often complain that there are too many words in English; they have this preoccupation that it's important to know many words in order to read.Probably those unknown words in a text make them feel insecure and reading becomes repulsive. In the end, they end up reading very little because of the fear. Uncertainties stop them from moving forward.

I don't know what that is, but there must be something in the society that educates people to limit their perceptions – maybe it is the unacceptability of mistakes. In the competitive business world, a tiny human error can cause an unrecoverable disaster.

But reading is a different matter. Imagine reading as an adventure in which you will never get punished for making mistakes – and those mistakes are important stepping stones for you to climb higher and to explore more. Josh was only 8 and knew little; he could only use his imagination to guess the part he did not understand when reading Harry Potter. I don't think he was some kind of child prodigy; he simply had no fear of the unknown – his na鴳e curiosity was not yet polluted by the adult rationality. To be sure, he might understand only very little from the book, but his attitude in learning was already better than most adults. He did not complain that he did not know this or that word when reading.

Because he did not know how to.

*Josh is not his real name.

December 11, 2005

Sleeping with grandma

Brian and I hold the following conversation one night:


"What's up, Brian?"

"Could you do me a favor?"

"What is that, son?"

"Hmm...I just want to tell you....I am afraid of sleeping alone."

"Son, you have to sleep by yourself. You've grown since you were out of the the kindergarten."

"But...I'm just so frightened when I sleep."

"Why do you think so? What makes you be afraid of?"

"I am just afraid of....the dark."

"I know that, so I always turn the little light on, right?"

"But..I am still scared."

"Actually, you don't sleep alone most of time. Grandma is always here with you."


"Come on. Be a big boy now. I know you can do it."

Minutes later..


"Now what?"

"I just came up with a good idea."

"What is that?"

"You sleep with grandma and I sleep with mom. Let's have an exchange."


December 09, 2005

Long time no see, Sir.

Guess what? I was running into an old acquaintance of mine on the street the evening before while returning to the cram school for the following night class.

We passed by each other in the first place. I caught his eye and felt like I must have seen this guy somewhere before. He might also have got the same feeling by the way he looked at me. We stood there for few seconds, and suddenly I realized that I was kind of knowing who he was-- someone I knew back to my life in the military. He was the Fu-Dao-Zhang, the officer in the army as a right-hand man for the company commander. It had been an entire fourteen years since I last saw him. Though we were not in the same company, sometimes we needed to meet each other for duties distribution for the division.

He told me he was still an officer but no longer served in army camp- he worked as a Jiao Guan in school, which meant he was in charge of students' security and activities on campus. He must regulate their behaviors to prevent them from getting off the track in their school lives. I told him how I had been doing these days and the school I taught was a jump from where we met. In any case, I feel so happy seeing him last night. That was exactly a coincidence.

December 08, 2005

Iron -- by Bruce Lin

When we first met, Paul* told me that he knew nothing about English. I thought he was being modest. Later I found out he was simply being honest.

Paul was chief of a government organization overseeing more than a hundred staff. Busy as he was, he had never learned English and never needed to. But that, of course, was then. He told me that gradually he was being “confined” by his subordinates who more or less knew some English. He felt belittled when English was needed. “It’s like putting myself in a house without windows,” he said.

Paul was in his early 60s, and teaching him English was unlike teaching a young kid. My first challenge came when helping him to pronounce the alphabet, but his iron lips make pronunciation learning difficult: for hours of our first lessons, he couldn’t even pronounce sounds like [v] or [z], no matter how hard I tried. This is not gonna work, I thought.

But Paul also had an iron will. He knew he had to kick those learning barriers; otherwise, they would kick him. Paul listened to the English CDs every day trying to imitate those sounds. The second week I saw Paul, he sounded like a different person. One month and four classes later, he already learned all the phonetic symbols. Those sounds he pronounced were struggling to get out, but they were about right.

I noticed that to Paul studying English was not like studying; it was more like breathing, breathing the air that had long been missing. After the English alphabet, he started to learn simple words like “cat” or “book” – he was slowly opening up the window to breathe.

Now I am teaching Paul simple sentences such as “This is a computer” or “Today is Monday.” He awkwardly recites those sentences over and over again, seven days a week. He reads English before going to bed, and he has English dreams full of those sentences.

Still a long way to go and Paul knows it. But he believes that he is able to communicate in English in 4 months. That does not sound too far-fetched, considering the iron will he has. A man of determination, you know, is capable of anything.

*Paul is not his real name.

December 07, 2005

older or elder?

Yesterday a student of mine had a question for me: when saying "my older brother" or "my elder brother", which is better?

Elder is a comparative form, which means the elder of two people, especially brothers and sisters, is the one who was born first. See the following sentence:

My elder brother always finds faults with what I did.
I am the elder of the two.

However, it is more usual to say older. In such case, elder can be replaced with older.

My older brother always finds faults with what I did.
I am the older of the two.

December 06, 2005

That ain't right.

I found that I have made a big mistake when instructing people to use "as follows". It is used to introduce a list of things that you will mention next. Here are the sentences I made:

SARS used to break out in Taiwan a couple of years ago. It had claimed many people's lives throughout the island during its raging. To prevent us from getting SARS, my suggestions are as follows: wearing a mask all the time, cleaning your hands before eating, taking your temperature on a regular basis, etc.

Please note that you have to use "follows" instead of "follow" to indicate many things in the passage. Let me apologize again for the mistake I made earlier in my classes. Sorry about that.

December 05, 2005

Repost: Violent Joe's 3 Percent -- by Bruce Lin

On the typhoon day, let’s meet a 14-year-old typhoon boy Joe.

Joe looked stupid, but he wasn't. When Joe sat there in the class, it seemed the purpose was simply to sit there: his eyes were wide-open, but his mind was obviously setting somewhere else, wherever that was.

But sometimes, maybe 3% of the time, probably on a whim, Joe was suddenly attentive and asking me questions, and I would grab those precious moments to answer them. He could understand conjunctions or make sense of subordinate clauses in a matter of minutes. When Joe was quick, he could be really quick.

One day, Joe's father came to the cram school and peeped through the classroom window; there he saw Joe was spacing out again. Joe's father was furious. After the class, right in front of everybody, he scolded Joe for not being attentive in the English class and for wasting the tuition fee he paid. Joe didn't take it well; he doubled the volume and yelled back – he was virtually screaming at his father, saying things like his father's inconsideration and all that. The father's face turned blank. He turned around, got out of the school, and got in his car. Joe, still shouting and yelling hysterically, was one step behind. He went over and kicked his father's BMW repeatedly like a piece of junk. Not saying a word, the father just drove away, leaving Joe there crying and screaming, with tears smeared all over his face. We teachers and students were puzzled by the scene.

Other students told me that this happened a lot. It always started with the father's criticism to Joe, and Joe would get offended easily, but the situation had never got so out of hand. Of course, gossips about the father being powerless or Joe reckless followed. I don't know; maybe Joe was tired of never getting credit for any progress he had made.

Shortly afterward, I was at the bus stop. Joe walked toward me. He looked calm now.

"Weijen…I…can you lend me some change to take a bus?"
"So, you didn't get in your father's car." I struggled through my pocket for coins and gave him 15 dollars.
"I need only 10…I have some too. Here." He returned me the 5 dollars.
"Boy, next time…don't shout at your father in public,” I said, “do that at home." Joe gave me a bitter smile.

His bus came, he hopped on the bus and off it went. He did not say "bye bye" to me; he was not in the mood to say "thank you" either.

I don't understand. Did Joe have to make such a scene in front of everybody just because of his father's negative remark? Did it matter that much that Joe had to stay attentive in class all the time? If Joe didn't learn English well, so what? No big deal, really; life goes on. Joe still had that 3 percent of time paying attention. The percentage should increase when he gets older. It will.


*Joe is not his real name.

December 02, 2005

Son in father's eyes

Brian is six and half years old now and I still remember he was two when we moved back here from the States. He can't remember a thing about his life before two. When our friends found out that he was born overseas, they always thought that our son was able to use English well. Yet, he doesn't fit that stereotype of an ABC, America Born Chinese. Frankly, I don't even teach him any English words, not to mention him speaking to me in it.

Why not this way? That's the second question followed. Well, on the one hand, I am not in a hurry to do so at this point, because I have got the merit of being a teacher myself. On the other hand, I don't really want him to be under any pressure in learning, especially kids like his age don't even understand why they are at school now.

He should focus on learning his native language to begin with. That's the first thing first that I hope he can do well. To tell you something, when he handed me the first test result of the Bo-Po-Mo-Fo, the Mandarin Chinese phonetic symbols, I was so dumbstruck to see the score -- 69 only. He doesn't seem to know how much these test scores mean to him as he being in the first grade only. What can I say?

December 01, 2005

Reposted: Yosemite at Tiffany's -- by Bruce Lin

Tiffany told me that she started learning English when she was 13, and that was also the year she first read National Geographic magazine (國家地理雜誌).

Of course she couldn't read the magazine then; she couldn't even understand simple English. But she was so drawn into those beautiful pictures of Yosemite National Park (優勝美地國家公園) in the magazine that it seemed the size of her heart mattered more than did her ability. She looked up all those words one by one in a dictionary. After one month, she finished the article. She only had faint idea of what the article said; a brilliant start nevertheless.

Pretty soon, those school grammar books could not satisfy her curiosity; she had to go to bookstores to find other books. While other students were struggling with English, Tiffany just wanted to know more through the language, however ineffectively. At 16, she entered Taipei First Girl High School without much trouble, as she did Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures of National Taiwan University 3 years later.

Now, Tiffany, an English teacher, is in her early 50s. She has published many books on English learning and owns a small English school. I met Tiffany only once at a friend's company and the conversation last for about 30 minutes.

If there were no Yosemite National Park or National Geographic magazine for Tiffany, there were still English tests, pushy teachers or parents, but, to be sure, they would not be as effective as the attractions of Yosemite.

Would it be nice if everyone could, intentionally or accidentally, find his or her own Yosemite as early as possible?

*Tiffany is not her real name.

November 30, 2005


The countdown is on for the election in Taiwan. Candidates and their followers are struggling to win the election. They know it is not a win-win game; they have to win not only for their own personal triumph but also the part they stand for. The Pan-Blue and Pan-Green, the two biggest political streams in Taiwan, have a totally different standpoint against each other in almost every aspect, which makes the election turn out to be cruel and low.

The eligible voters here must have been fed up with the the so-called negative propaganda campaigns hold either by the green or blue parties. We are unavoidably compelled to see them repeatedly run on the media as long as the TV is turned on. We just can't help it, though.

As the competition is getting fiercer for the last two days, I personally assume that more and more ugly inside information will be revealed from each party. This election is the dirtiest one I have ever seen before.

November 29, 2005

Reposted: The Story of Phantasmagoria -- Why Maya Remembers a Difficult Word -- by Bruce Lin

Maya took an English test in 2004, in which a question in the reading comprehension test asked: “What is the definition of 'phantasmagoria'?” Maya had never seen the word before. She thought the word looked like a combination of phantom (which means “ghost” or “illusion.” She also knew the famous play, the Phantom of the Opera) and morph (which means “change image”). So she guessed the meaning from the context and wrote "It means something keeps changing its shape" on the answer sheet.

Maya's friend Michael showed her a novel, "Midnight's Children." (by Salmon Rushdie) He told her that the story was very imaginative and the writing was beautiful. Maya browsed through the pages and encountered "phantasmagoria" again. She asked him the meaning of it. "Let's we have phantom...I really don't know," said Michael. Though Michael, an American, didn't know the exact meaning, his western background probably guided him through the book without much trouble. As soon as Maya was home, she looked up the word. It means "bizarre image" or "ever-changing scene." Then, she thought that she might have answered correctly to the test question.

Maya was reading a novel, the Taipei Mutt, (by Eric Mader-Lin) and she encountered the word again in the line: “…Block after block it goes on like this: there's the crowded phantasmagoria of shops…” So, in the book, “phantasmagoria” is used to describe the ever-changing forms of Taipei’s shops – right next to 7-11, you might see Hang Ten or Watson's or whatever. By now, Maya's grasp of the difficult word was secured.

What will happen to “phantasmagoria” in Maya's brain? Who know? Nothing is certain. The word might remain there. Or it might be slowly drifting away if Maya stops reading English.


*Maya is not her real name.

November 28, 2005

The Amish

I recently read an article about the Amish people. They live mostly in the state of Pennsylvania of America. They choose to live such a secluded existence for a fear of being corrupted by the outside world. Their lifestyle can't be simple enough because they don't need any cars, jewelry or fancy clothing, let alone be the fashion victims. They don't want to be tempted by them in any case.

Every now and then, I feel like falling off the earth just like an Amish. I wish to hide out myself from the real world. This is only a sort of dream to me, but I know too well that it's impossible for me to be opposed to any technology that brings me convenience to my daily life. Or, you won't be reading this article now. So, I think I could only get around on horse-drawn carriages in my dream.

November 27, 2005

Welcome back Leo.

Leo is just finished with his 30 day's military training in southern Taiwan and is on vacation now. He said he felt like being in a summer camp when getting trained. He will be transferred to another air force base in Taipei after he returns to the training center. I told him that he should count his lucky stars because he will be able to spend much less hours and expenses getting back home from his future military camp. If you know him, please contact him in your free time. He will be glad to tell you how he has been doing over the past 30 days.

November 26, 2005

Reposted: Jim's Better Luck -- by Bruce Lin

The Entrance Examination was just a few weeks away, and Jim, along with the rest of the classmates, was hopeless. The teachers already gave up on the whole class and about two-thirds of the students were absent. Jim didn't want to go to school but had no other places to go either. While students of other classes were busying themselves preparing for the big test, Jim and his classmates were doing all kinds of strange activities in the classroom: gambling, chatting, reading comic books, or listening to music. It was like a vacation.

One day, Jim asked his good friend Frank* to stay after school. Jim planned to steal some English reference books from other classes, because most students didn't bring their books home; they kept them in their desk drawers. Frank thought that was a terrific idea: he too was tired of gambling or doing nothing in school; it would be nice to do something different for a change.

They made sure no one was around and went through a few classrooms. Frank covered Jim while he was “working.” In just 10 minutes, Jim “collected” more than 100 reference books from those desk drawers. They carefully stuffed the books into their backpacks, sneaked out of school alleys, clambered up the wall, and got themselves safe into the street. They divided those books into two piles. Jim took the pile with many English books and Frank took the other. They smiled at each other with a great sense of accomplishment. It was a good day.

Days went by as if nothing had happened. No one reported burglary.

Jim didn't go to the Entrance Examination, and he didn't read those books he stole either – not even open any of them; he would have hard time reading them anyway. It was more than a decade later that he started to browse them because “English suddenly made sense.” He didn't know why; he just began to read a lot, and those stolen English reference books were a great help. And once he got started to read, he never stopped.


Now, Jim teaches English. I need to consult him about English whenever I have questions. I didn't know how he learned so much English; now I do after he told me the story. He didn't know why English suddenly became interesting to him at that moment. Nor did he know why he stole those books. Maybe it was his youthful frustration, or he just liked English, though he understood very little of the language then. This petty crime happened more than 30 years ago, but, make no mistake: Jim talked about it as if it was some kind of heroic deed.

I told Jim that now I knew his secret, I would rat on him. He paused for a second and said: “Oh…in fact…you should….after all, I was guilty of stealing those books, and I owe a lot to those book owners, whoever they were.”

*Jim and Frank are not their real names.

November 25, 2005

For Kay, our friend in America.

Hi, Kay. What's up?

I received your Thanksgiving card the other day. Thank you. Without your reminding, I might have forgotten about this holiday. In fact, we don't celebrate it in Taiwan, but I really want to try again the taste of turkey meat sometime.

I remember going to your place one time during Thanksgiving, and you treated us to a big turkey. We also shared gifts with one another that night, as well as playing the gift-exchanging game. Are you still throwing that kind of party now? I bet you are, because you are always the best friend of us. Rex, Dannis and I had a great get-together days before since one of our friends came visiting us from the States. You are still the person we think of from time to time.

In any case, Happy Thanksgiving bro.

Take care,


November 24, 2005

Teacher Wanted

Can anyone here tell me if you know any teahcers who are interested in teaching TOEFL class for Global Village? He/ She must be a current instructor of Global Village. I am thinking of putting a stop to this class. Therefore, please pass on this information to any teachers of G.V. you know, and I will appreciate it very much. My class is at Wen Shan Branch. The class meets on every Tuesday and Thursday evening from 7 pm to 9 pm. If interested, you can get hold of me via my email at

November 23, 2005

The Pluto Boy -- by Bruce Lin

Katie once taught English to a 7-year-old boy, Andy. She never met his parents; she only talked to his mother over the phone about the hourly pay for tutoring. The family had a big house, but every time Katie visited, she saw only Andy and the Filipino maid, who acted like his substitute mother.

The boy did not perform well in school and the teachers thought he was strange. But Andy was good at astronomy and knew a lot about the solar system. He told Katie that he loved the planet Pluto the most because “It is far, far away from the other planets.” Katie called him the Pluto boy whenever she referred to him. Like the planet, Andy was not close to his peers.

Katie tutored Andy twice a week, but the tutoring sessions did not go smoothly – no matter how hard Katie tried, Andy just looked out the window as if he couldn't wait for the tutoring time to end. Often times, Katie had to chase Andy around the house. Or he would sing songs, eat crackers, drink soda, pick his nose…anything but paying attention to Katie.

Two months passed, and Katie had taught Andy almost nothing. Her patience was wearing thin. One day, Katie said to him: “If you don't want to learn, why don't we go out?” To Andy, that was a brilliant idea.

They hopped in a taxi, and were at a bookstore minutes later. “Go get any books you want,” she said. Andy picked up two comic books on Detective Conan and a book on volcanoes. “I want to show my mom that I bought these books myself.” After the bookstore, they went to a supermarket. “Andy, you can also tell your mommy that you do grocery shopping yourself.” He pushed the shopping cart, strolled along the supermarket aisles, and picked up bananas, ham, orange juice, chocolate bars… – he was fully in control. Andy looked over his shoulder and said to her: “Katie, today is the happiest day of my life!”

Then, Katie realized that Andy was not a strange boy. He was just lonely. Perhaps he had been far away from people for too long.

*Katie and Andy are not their real names.

November 21, 2005

Reposted:Two of My Good friends: Edison and Hilda -- by Bruce Lin

Edison is very knowledgeable in English. He can easily spell out difficult words and their phonetics. He has a clear understanding of grammar -- he is quick to point out others' grammatical mistakes. Edison has hundreds of English dictionaries and reference books and he uses them thoroughly. The problem is, he does not APPLY those rules to real situations; he does not use the language in life; he does not even read.

When Hilda speaks English, you would wonder whether she has ever studied English. She mispronounces almost every word and there are tons of mistakes in her expressions. Yet she uses the language to the fullest to get her messages across. Believe it or not, Hilda is a tour guide. Armed with her broken English, she brings people to different countries around the world. When she talks to foreigners, she is confident and earnest, and her hand gestures are always there to help communication. Once I heard an American commenting on Hilda's English: "No one's English is better than Hilda's." The irony is, Hilda is unlikely to pass any English test.

Edison is strong in his linguistic ability, but not his communicative ability. Hilda is just the opposite. Then, one question arises: What is the purpose to learn a language? "Well, to communicate," you would say.

It does not make sense if so many people cannot even express simple ideas after learning the language for a long time. We assume that we have to learn grammar well in order to speak. So, the logic goes, we can't communicate if we are not good at grammar. True, tight control of grammar can facilitate communication, but, to me, it is not that essential. Edison and Hilda are real people and here we have a comparison. You would complain that you cannot remember all those grammatical rules in English, but I think we need to demystify our fear of the English grammar. If you use the language often, eventually, the English grammar will follow you around.


*Edison and Hilda are not their real names.

November 20, 2005

Website Update

I have posted new words and phrases for you on my personal Webstite. Check it out sometime. The picture on the right was taken during the weekend. We rent the bike as shown in the photo and went through several parks on the riverbank of Keelung river. The weather was pretty nice mild so we had a wonderful trip there the whole afternoon. We are gonna go for a bike ride again next week.

Catch you later! Posted by Picasa

November 19, 2005

Learning with Podcast

Here I want to tell everyone a new way to improve your listening skills: Podcast. For those of you who are not yet in the know of Podcast or iPod, I can simply give you a rough idea about them.

Podcast originates from Apple, the company who makes iPod which is one of the popular electric gadgets in the market for playing mp3 tunes. People having an iPod upload their favorite CD music to it. Basically, iPod plays no difference than any other mp3 players except for the price.

Before uploading your CD music to iPod, you will have to install iTune to your computer and this program transforms any CD music into some digital format (mp3) and keeps them saved in iTune. When an iPod links to your computer, iTune will transfer these digital music files to your iPod. That is how you can listen to the mp3 music in an iPod. In sum, iTune helps you organize music for you and collaborate with iPod.

As for Podcast which is short for Pod Broadcasting, hundreds of thousands of people who are interested in producing their own broadcasting programs, have published them on any Podcast Websites including the iTune Music Store. Podcast plays a similar way to iPod music because both are all mp3 files. To get music into iPod, you can either convert your CD music by iTune or make a purchase of music at Music Store integrated within iTune. It is almost free of charge, however, for people who would like to get Podcast files on Internet because no one dares charge their listeners since it is still at the early stage.

So, folks. Go Podcasting now and search for the Podcast content providers which are associated with any English learning programs. So far I have found several useful ones on iTune Music Store. Remember it! They are all free to use. If don't have an iPod, you can still use iTune and listen to the programs via your desktop or laptop. Or you may download the files and save them to your mp3 player. I deem this to be an economical way for English learning.

Podcast Websites:

Yahoo Podcast:
Podcast Alley:

Recommended Podcast Content Providers:

ESL Pod:
Learning English with the linguist:
My Taiwanese Podcast:
Very Vocabulary:

November 18, 2005

Somewhere out there

If you do believe that people having their past lives is true, then you are not alone. Since the beginning of my teaching career, I have seen people come and go all the time. Some of them have made an impression on me. However, it is hard to explain the feeling but I just feel like I must have seen them somewhere in the past, or even earlier than that.

One hypothesis is, that we might have been acquainted with one another in our "last" life. I might have been a teacher already then, and these people used to be the students of mine. We just gather around again for some reason in this life. Though reincarnation can't prove itself to be true to science, I will say I still persist my intuition that life is eternal.

November 17, 2005


She is a teacher. She has been in this line of work for years. Her teaching style has overwhelmed other teachers wherever she is at -- cram schools, language centers, and even after-schools. Students all like her because she has a thoughtful mind when solving their problems and never refuses their requests. Over time, she is getting popular so that more institutes would like to offer her a job. Even so, she still sticks to her philosophy which is not to monopolize her life by teaching day and night. She wishes to spare enough time with her family. She isn't the one of ambition, not a go-getter either.

One night, she met a man on internet and this guy is one of her students. He confessed to his teacher, the woman, that he had a crush on her and wished to keep a good relation with her. This guy has a handsome face and charm that no women can resist. She is in dilemma now whether she has to be in touch with him while she felt like having betrayed her family already. She still doesn't know what to do....

November 16, 2005

Reposted: Sandra's Writing --by Bruce Lin

It's very difficult to teach Sandra. She did not think like normal people. When she told me things, it was hard to understand her. Worse, when she expressed herself in class, she babbled on and on and on, and no way to stop her. Another teacher told me that Sandra's husband left her and this might explain her restlessness.

Afterwards, Sandra stopped talking; she didn't even listen. She just came to the class and started to write hoping that her writing could improve. Again, it's difficult to make out her writing. When I asked her what she was trying to say, her explanation would confuse me further, and I could only pretend I understood. When I explain English grammar to her, she did not grasp it. So I just edited her writing and tried not to edit too much. She was very happy because she thought she had improved.

In fact, she had not.

Her writing did improve after 6 months. Gradually, I understood her writing – her words started to make sense and the organization of her writing was also improved. This was amazing, considering that she just sat there and wrote. One day, Sandra wrote: “My husben to china, he not back, I vary mess he.” (My husband went to China and he has not come back. I miss him very much.)

Maybe it took her very long to learn to express herself in English. It was good that she finally did.

2005 June 9

*Sandra is not her real name.

November 14, 2005

Website update notification

It has been half a month since I last updated my personal Website, nor have I posted my writing here. Sorry for the delay since I am quite busy recently. Bruce asked me to subsitute for him for the class tonight. I feel like being a bit nervous, and I always feel the same way when he asks me to do it from time to time. He is such a learned teacher that I am worried if his students would compare my style in class to his. I know, I know. I think I am just too humble the way. Hey! Sometimes it is better to play it down for that matter.

Didn't I tell you that I went to an interview at another school the other day? I can tell you now it was a real nightmare to me. The interviewer, a lady in her late 20's I guess, really was hard on me. During the interview, she tried to find fault with everything I did. I think something she did to me was rediculous, but I still can't speak ill of her becasue after all it is not a virtue to do so. The question is, why would she have called me for the interview if she hadn't liked me to teach there? Too weird to figure it out, I think.

November 10, 2005

Reposted: Media, Distraction, and English -- by Bruce Lin

“And now here is my little secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

- the Fox in The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

The Representation and the Represented

Two things to consider when an idea is being presented: WHAT is being represented -- the real meaning? And HOW is it being represented -- the representation? It seems the current trend is moving toward playing with the representations – TV shows with talking heads talking a lots when actually little message is being carried; movies saturated with special effects and breathtaking actions that the storylines hardly matter. We've watched so much on the assassination of President Chen and so much of our time has been spent on it and in the end so little was revealed. We naively think we are free to choose what to see. Sadly, not so. Our choices and senses are railroaded by the media industry, whose major purpose is to make a quick buck, and we are spending our precious time helping them.

The other day, a student told me a good movie she'd just seen. When asked what the movie was about, she had hard time expressing herself: “I don't know how to put it…you have to see it yourself.” I wonder whether her senses have been bombarded by too much media stimulation that they no longer function well. It'd be great if we focus on seeing things as they are, rather than on the representations.

What Does It Mean to You?

When the representation dominates, our senses would have hard time to reach out – you watch news for 24 hours and gain very little; you have all kinds of books to read but you read very few; you read thousands of product catalogs and still don't know what to buy…. We are constantly distracted by the complicated sign system technology brings. The purpose of this short essay is to let you be aware of this phenomenon and hopefully you can be in control of what and when to learn.


November 08, 2005

Chinese Taipei, Taipie China, Taiwan China...

I read that a Taiwanese girl won a beauty pageant hold in China. However, I also noticed that during the contest, the lady was forced to change the country name printed on the ribbon worn by her from "Chinese Taipei" to "Taiwan China". She told the press that if she had chosen to reject the contest, she wouldn't have won the game.

I really admire this smart and pretty girl because she sure made a right decision. Actually no one would care much about where you come from or what the official name of your country is. The point is that you let everyone know you have done a great job so you deserve the honor and appreciation from others. Chinese Taipei, Taipei China, Taiwan China....what the heck! Only the politicians and political enthusiasts care all about these, because it will be an worthwhile issue to arouse for their election campaigns. Just wait and see for December, I am telling you.

November 06, 2005

Reposted: Is Learning English Hard Work? -- by Bruce Lin

Learning English is not necessarily hard work, as long as you enjoy it. If you, at a certain point in your life, enjoy learning the language, you will be very powerful.

We use listening to English songs as a means to learn English. However, it is not a give-and-take process. Things would mean less if there are no interactions. For the songs, I hope you to enjoy them; I want you to immerse yourself in them; and, most of all, I want you to have response to them – I want you to have conversations with them. English songs, like so many other media in the world, are just texts. Those texts cannot come to life if you don’t use them or comment on them.

Listening to English songs is just a way to learn. As you know, you can also learn by watching a sit-com (such as Six Friends) or going to an art exhibition in English. In other words, you are really learning when you USE the language outside of classroom, not just wasting your time trying to memorizing words or grammar rules. If you enjoy those things, you will be very powerful. When you encounter problems you will find solutions on your own; your curiosity will be in control and nothing can stop your from moving forward.

In this course, I will give you the seeds. You can be gardeners, growing the plants to the infinity.


November 04, 2005

Reposted: Extension and English -- by Bruce Lin

The Paradox of Technology
We are living in the global village and technology is supposed to bring us closer to each other. Is that so? Do you use technology to the fullest? Do you use English? For many students, the coming of the Internet means countless hours of online gaming, chatting, and dating; besides, students have cram schools to attend and endless tests to take. I wonder how much time has left for them to reach out to the world through the Internet.
The Extension Concept
English dominates the world. If you know things only through Chinese, your perception of the world will be forever limited. English leads as the primary medium for twentieth-century science and technology and it is authoritative in reportage. Do you know this world is also full of matters that are fun and constructive? Economically, politically, and culturally, do you know that we can no longer afford not to pay attention to global affairs? I am concerned that the younger generation is being pulled away from the real things because of our educational and cultural contexts. Businessmen invented so many ways to learn English. Do they ever know that people don’t need fancy techniques to learn English? Remember that there is only one purpose to learn English – to communicate. You might think that you have to learn English well before you communicate. Actually, you should use English often regardless of your English proficiency. The purpose of this club is to make you be in love with reading English because nothing is more powerful than loving something. You can’t always learn grammar and memorize words; you need to absorb knowledge through English. Whatever you English proficiency is, use the language to extend your senses to feel the world. In other words, don’t learn English, use English.
There Is No Way to English; English is the Way
Human beings are the only animal that knows how to use languages. Using a language means making infinite use of these finite resources. There are only 26 letters in the English alphabet and it is amazing that these letters can bring us to infinity. Why choose a boring life? Please put aside your fear and forget about your grammar deficiency; use English to lead you as far as you can. There is no short-cut in learning a language as it is like personal experiences that take time to cultivate. Learning a language is like walking on a road that has no end. You can think of it as an endless torture. I would suggest you consider it as a process that will give you endless surprises.

November 03, 2005

GEPT High-Intermediate level

Over the past two years, I haven't had a chance to obtain a certificate to prove my eligibilty of teaching English because of my tight class schedule. Considering the importance of having a certificate for better finding a job, I decided to take part in the test last Saturday.

When I was half way to the NTU campus where the test would be hold, I assumed that there might not have been so many people going for the test. Actually, I was wrong when I arrived there; people all flooded into the buildings for the same reason as mine. The mansions, high or low, were mostly occupied by the test participants. Dear! I didn't expect to see such a big crowd craving for the GEPT certificate. I looked around, finding out that the majority on site were college students. I immediately came into a conclusion that they must be taking this test to fulfill their school's course requirement. No wonder I was told the corporate in charge of the test had made a lot of money out of it.

As for how I did with the test. Hmm...well....the test wasn't difficult to me, but I still made some mistakes, as a matter of fact.

November 02, 2005

Reposted: Curiosity and English -- by Bruce Lin

“Because it is there.”
-- George Mallory, 1924

This was George Mallory's reply when asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest. Mallory was never to return from the expedition. However, the few words are so famous that they say so much about human nature. We humans are active cognitive organisms; we are supposed to feel, respond, know, search, and express – we are supposed to be curious about the world. You are like a living dead if you don't feel that way.

To me, education is to satisfy our curiosity. But it seems education now is more like counter-education – students seldom know what they like in school; (I often ask students what they like.) they only know to prepare for the endless tests that will judge their worth. They spend most of their waking time cramming their brains; do they find time to digest what they learn? Do they have the chance to know what they like to do? When I was in the US, those high school students are free in the afternoon. Does that mean they will be less successful compared with their Taiwan counterparts? Luckily, I have many students so curious to gain knowledge through English. There I see hope.

Mount Everest is there, so is planet Mars that takes unmanned spacecraft 6 months to reach, and so is Saturn's mysterious satellite Titan that takes 7 years to get to. There are so many “Because it is there” things that await you to explore. It is strange if you don't feel the urge to.

We live because we learn; because our senses are constantly stimulated by new knowledge; and because our brains can be in an active state.
English can make our living potential to the fullest.


October 31, 2005

All about respecting

I have updated my personal Website so please check it out from here.

Having seen so many things going around in our society recently, I just think that peole living on this island should pay more respect to others, or we won't be able to live in peace. The political chaos conducted by the politicians has set the worst example for us. That's how I have felt since I moved back here few years ago. Whenever we turn on TV, we at all times see nagative news such as the sexual scandals and politician's corruptions out of the celebrities, which have been revealed and reported over and over on the screen. It is conceivably due to the the reason that a lack of concern for conventional morality which becomes the key to the problem. I think we all have been fed up with it; therefore, it is about time people like you and me should do something about it.

Why not try to say hello to those who have different political standpoints from you? When someone you don't like gets in trouble, you should try your best to help, thinking of no reward from them. Don't just turn your deaf ear to others when they need help. Although it is easier said than done, we still have to give it shot from now on.

October 30, 2005

Reposted:Grammar and English -- by Bruce Lin

The more I study grammar, the more I encourage students not to care much about it. The English grammar, more often than not, is impedance to self confidence. Too bad that we weren't born with the language, and, trust me, you will never get it right. What does it tell you if we still can’t sort out the use of “he” and “she” through years of practice? How about millions of other grammar issues that await us? The good news is, bad grammar seldom stops communications. When you said the word “hungry,” people should instantly know that you are hungry; never mind the tense, agreement, wording you use in the context. When communicating, you just don't get too seriously on grammar at the expense of your content, which might be more important.
That said, we should not pretend the English grammar does not exist. After all, grammar is not to hinder our communication. It is to guide. I read some articles or listen to speeches with good grammar command; their messages are often like fists punching in your face – those messages just don't go unnoticed. After all, grammar is all to do with making sense – to communicate intelligibly. But if we are to do this, we need to share a single system of communication. If there is no grammar, there can be no effective communication. It is as simple as that. However, you DON'T study grammar to have good English; rather, you USE English to let those grammar rules seep into every fiber of your soul. (So, maybe you can finally sort out “he” and “she”) When you write or speak, be CURIOUS about your usage – go check it in a grammar book. At the very moment, you associate the grammar rule with your English, your life experience, or anything; then, the rule makes sense to you and you will not forget it. No one ever conquer the English grammar, but maybe that’s the fun part of it – you hardly get bored and the study of it is filled with surprises.
Basically, the English grammar is about morphology and syntax. The former is on the structure of words, dealing with inflections; the latter focuses on the structure of sentences. Most of the time, you can still make yourself understood if you make mistakes. You can see English this way: English is combination of art (content) and science (grammar). Art without science is chaotic; science without art is boring. If there is no grammar, the way you communicate will be soon out of date. Let's take a look at the following excerpt from the article, Film’s Fairest Lady. The article is a tribute to Audrey Hepburn, who died in 1993:
Of all the wonderful closings in movies, one in particular comes to mind now. A journalist has just given up, for love, the biggest story of his life. He has also surrendered the love of his life, all for the sake of a young woman. A most unlikely situation, a dramatic confectioner's creation. Reality has no place in this fantasy. Until the ending. And until now.
Now let's see a different version:
Among so many movies' endings, I especially think of one ending. In the movie, a journalist has just given up the biggest story of his life because he loves a girl. However, he has to give up his love for this girl because he wants to protect her. It is very romantic; it is like a romance created by a confectioner. It does not seem real until the ending of the movie and until now.
Can you feel the power of writing now?

October 27, 2005

Repost: Words and English

Words are bricks and mortar of a language and we need to know words, get familiar with them, and master them – you need to use them.
When we read, our attention is used for two purposes: decoding (understanding the meanings of words) and comprehending (understanding texts). Most students spend most of their time decoding when reading. When do they get to comprehend? Let's see how to tackle words:
Pronunciation / syllable / stress
Prefix / root / suffix
Generally speaking, a prefix indicates meaning of a word; a suffix indicates the type or a word. They are not some kind of trick to memorize words; they are basics in English knowledge.
Events / reading
You memorize a word because it is meaningful to you, and a word can be meaningful only in using, not in a dictionary. A good vocabulary and good reading go hand in hand.
Words in different syntactic and semantic contexts become different entities for readers.
If possible, guess the meanings of words.
If you need to look every word up, it's unlikely you will like English.
The tip of an iceberg
Humans are the only animal endowed with the ability to use languages, and life is boring without it. Psycholinguist Jean Aitchison describes how a male grasshopper has a choice of only six messages: “I'm happy, life is good”, “I would like to make love”, “You are trespassing”, “She's mine”, “Let's make love” and “Oh how nice to have made love.” Obviously, you language capability and need are more than a male grasshopper.


October 26, 2005

For Sue

Hey Sue,

Actually I made this name up for you since you've never used an English name. I see eye to eye with you on the issue whether we should get ourselves an Englsih name or not. Back in my education in the States, I had always asked people to call me L.C. instead of Albert. I can more-or-lass relate to your mindset.

Today in our class, you told us about your line of work, which really surprised us a bit as we found out you were a vet, a medical doctor for animals.You are nontheless not alone: prior to your attendance to my class, I had met another student of mine who was a pediatrician. I still got her business card and can take my kid to her clinic for a check up anytime. As for you, I don't have any pets actually. But if I did, I would definitely make it be your next patron in line. How does that sound?

Being a teacher or a doctor is respected more often than not by the average people. I have been used to it, so I hope you wouldn't mind us asking you something about your specialty, wouldn't you? It is very nice to see you and David in my class on a regulat basis. Looking forward to talking to you next time.


October 25, 2005

Repost: Tests and English --by Bruce Lin

TOEIC, TOEFL, IELTS, GRE, GEPT…so many tests there to puzzle you. Which one is better in proving your English worth? Actually, it would be plainly silly to compare them, as English is so vast and complicated that one test alone can't judge your ability; no test will ever be perfect enough to improve your English. Yet, one approach remains simple and true – if you USE English every day, your English will be better with each passing day. So many English textbooks serve more like detours than short-cuts – they show you English rules that you will forever have hard time memorizing. To use English, you don't need those rules. However, when you use English, you have to constantly refer to those rules in order to refine your English.

In society, unfortunately, people never have the interest to know you; their mentality is only high enough to understand a certificate. Memorizing those rules becomes important. The thing is, tests can't really determine abilities, but people need those stinky certificates to help them move forward. My concern is, tests kill your interests in learning English. Preparing for a test is seldom inspiring, and it is a real torture to go through it. When you pass a test, you probably wish not to go through it again. Worse, if you fail, you would believe that the low testing score represents you – a stigma that is hard to shed. You either do not want to take the test again or unwillingly give it a second try. With an attitude like that, your English will never go anywhere. If you lose interest in learning, even God cannot save you. It takes daily habit to learn English; it is absurd to pressure yourself to learn every day.

A test can not tell you interesting stories, it does not help you interpret texts, it does not guide you to appreciate the author's writing style, and it does not lead you to the universe. Probably the worse thing a test can do is that it does not allow mistakes. It's okay to make mistakes – you should, actually. Mistakes are step stones by which we get to climb higher. You don't need an English master to tell you this; it's common sense. Please see the following quote from an essay, To Err is human:

Everything people do, they do imperfectly. This is not a flaw but an asset. If we always performed perfectly, we could not maintain the tentativeness and flexibility that characterize human learning and the ways we interact with our environment and with on another…Unlike the computer, people do not exhibit specifically programmed, totally dependable responses time after time. We are tentative, we act impulsively, we make mistakes, and we tolerate our own deviations and the mistakes of others. (Yetta M. Goodman and Kenneth S. Goodman, 1994)

Don't let those tests stop you. Don't let your mistakes stops you. If you don't give yourself a chance, who will?


October 24, 2005

Sayonara, my friends.

I eventually finished off the last class of mine at Xinzhu G.V.; that is, all my English classes have come to an end since last Saturday.

In the last class, I was so glad to see frineds of mine mostly sacrifice their weekend to join in the last chance and came to my class. Album came to see me though he was so tied up in his work. And, Roger, thanks for your attendance. It has only been few times since I saw you take my class. But, you seem never to skip any ones till the last hour. Stanley, you are always the first one to show up in the class and I appreciate that so much for your presence. I hope to see you take more responsibility in your career. Jessie, you are such a great mom. Surly all the effort you have made to your daughter will be worthwhile someday.

Despite the fact that some friends did not come the the class, I will still miss you all forever. Annie, Miss Chang, Alice, Jone, Tina, Julia, Mark, and others who I can't know well your name by heart, please drop me a line sometimes when you think of me.

Sayonara, G.V. and Xinzhu.

October 21, 2005

Repost: Why Learn English the Hard Way? -- by Bruce Lin

Why Learn English the Hard Way?
TOEIC, TOEFL, IELTS, GRE, GEPT…so many tests there puzzle you. Which one is better in proving your English worth? Actually, it would be plainly silly to compare them, as English is so vast and complicated that one test alone can’t judge your ability; no test will ever be suitable enough to improve your English. Yet, one approach remains simple and true – if you USE English every day, your English will be better with each passing day. So many English textbooks serve more like detours than short-cuts – they show you English rules that you will forever have hard time memorizing. To use English, you don’t need those rules. However, when you use English, you have to constantly refer to those rules in order to refine your English.
In society, unfortunately, people never have the interest to know you; their mentality is only high enough to understand a certificate. Memorizing those rules becomes important. The thing is, tests can’t really determine abilities, but people need those stinky certificates to help them move forward. Now, I would like to tell you my experience in taking a test, which involves listening, reading, writing, and speaking English. Hope they are useful to you:
I listen to and read a lot of English in my life. I think it is not so much my personal interest as a common human nature of wanting to know more. That said, I did not answer any of the test questions of listening and reading confidently; those readings were meant to confuse, but I persisted on to the last second.
As for the second stage, the writing and speaking tests, I am 100% certain that if I did not USE English every day, I would not have made it in the first place. In the speaking test, the questions were, “What do you like to do in your free time and what’s the purpose?” and “Do you think personality determines a person’s fate.” They are simple questions, yet if you don’t practice English speaking daily, you can’t tackle with even the simplest questions. In the writing test, testers were required to write two 250-word essays in 105 minutes based on the articles provided. I write every week and I try to get each of my writing done in 20 minutes. When in the real writing test, my ideas just came down like water onto the paper without too much thinking – writing is already a pleasant habit, not some trick I work hard on for a test. When I finished the two essays, there was still 15 minutes left – that’s more than enough for me to check grammar and wording.
Many people spend lots of money learning English. When will they ever learn? It does not take money or intelligence to learn something; it is passion, the very essence of human existence, that does it. Is that too complicated to understand? Why learn English the hard way? Sadly that many people’s passion has turned capitalistic, doggedly believing that money can solve everything. It can’t.


October 19, 2005

Weekly Update Notice

This is a reminder of the recent update of my personal Website at

Due to my busy schedule-- actually I have been given a new class to teach on every Monday and Friday from 4 to 6 at ELTS, I may have less time to chat with you through MSN or Yahoo Messenger. If you want to reach me, please leave your message at my personal message board or send me an email. Thanks a lot.

To give Leo a farewell party, I am now recruiting people who want to join it. He will be leaving this 25th.

Reposted article: Mother-- by Bruce Lin

One day, I got on a bus. No sooner had I sat down in the rear of the bus than I noticed a woman talking loudly in the front. I assumed she was arguing with somebody. However, she was talking to no one. Without any obvious audience, she was just standing there babbling on and on. Undoubtfully, she had mental problems. Right beside her sat a little boy that might be her son. The weird woman kept stroking her son's head while still talking loudly and aimlessly. The scene was touching, and it became unforgettable to me because it seemed to tell me that no matter how mixed up the woman was in her brain, the motherhood in her hands remained secure.

October 18, 2005

The best Web dictionary

Among the various dictionaries I have ever used to this day, I strongly recommend the one called "Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English." with its online edition.

The first reason for using it: free of charge. You spend no money but get the most of it. All you have to do is click and link to its Web page -- and there you go. You are then free to use it anytime and anywhere.

The second reason for that -- its plain and precise explanation on words and phrases. Some problem occured to English users when it comes to looking up the English-to-English dictionary for the word they don't understand is they often have hard time catching the meaning of the explanation of the word. This has caused frustratoin and disinterest in learning English. But for the user of LDCE, you can easily understand the meaning depicted in the explanation on each word. Take "AIDS" for example, the dictionary gives you a very easy and understandable way to learn the word like "a very serious disease that stops your body from defending itself against infections, and usually causes death." See how simple it is. You only have to have 2000 words in English in your mind to understand the most of the words and their meanings included in this big dictionary. No sweat to learn it.

One day I hope there will be a PDA version of this dictionary, so I can use it wherever I go instead of sitting at my computer for it.

October 15, 2005

Poem Reading # 6 --by Bruce Lin

Dear all,

We have read 6 poems, and I think students' poem reading has advanced to a certain stage that I don't need to comment on each student's performance on “When I am One-and-Twenty.” However, poem reading is a chance to understand the importance of the voice, which carries much more information than printed matters do.

Two reminders:

I want you to read slowly because the priority in reading is to read each word right. Reading slowly is very important to correct word pronunciation. You will have less chance to understand your flaws and correct yourself if you read too fast.

After you are comfortable with your word pronunciation, read a poem like you are telling a story to your audience. Your audience will not find your story interesting unless you show passion first. The content of a text does matter, but the way the content is delivered matters even more.


October 14, 2005

Case Study #13 Time -- by Bruce Lin

Reading is a way to gain useful information and it can also be an entertaining activity. But for many who have been learning English for years, reading English is just pulling teeth. How could we access information or be entertained through a foreign language that contains so many words and cultural allusions we don't understand?

Like how we develop Chinese reading skills, English reading takes time. Not just weeks or months; it takes much longer than that. You are slowly developing your reading ability but maybe you don't feel it. Don't stop if there are certain things you don't understand when reading. Be curious and treat problems like long lost treasures. Just keep going and in the end you will breathe the fresh air.

My friend Kimberly* has a small library that contains so many English books. The books are not just for decking out the room or to impress her guests; Kim really uses them. I wondered how she could consume so much information in English. She told me that she started to read routinely in English in college. It wasn't fun, but she was so curious about certain information she found in those English materials such as arts or short stories. When she was in the US starting her Master's program in Education, reading wasn't about curiosity; it was about not being kicked out of the school. Every day, she encountered so many new words and all she could do was try to know them. She continued to do the same thing and it was a long time before she felt she could read English without struggle. But once she got to the tipping point, there was no turning back. She started to read, comprehend, and have fun with different subject matters. Now, she doesn't read for any English tests or school assignments; she does it for herself. “English is an important channel for me to obtain bountiful information and enjoyment,” she said.

Kimberly told me that to her, reading English is like walking in a long dark tunnel in the beginning, and it sure didn’t feel good to walk in the dark. “But,” she said, “just keep walking and keep groping forward…at the end of the tunnel, you will see light. You will be free then.” Surveying the books in her library, I knew what she meant. Now she has the English abilities that are difficult for others to measure up to, and no one can take those abilities away from her.

*Kimberly is not her real name

October 13, 2005

Repost: Curiosity in the English Language--by Bruce Lin


When I pursued my master degree in the US, I was required to read and write a lot. It was very difficult for me because I knew very little about English or western culture. At the same time, I was also very curious about what I was learning. I think my curiosity helped me go through those difficult times-- I didn't know anything so I wanted to know everything.

Today, I will start with the book Gweilo to make a point on how curiosity can help us learn English.

The book, Gweilo

When I read the review of the book, I wanted to own the book. I asked my sister to buy it but she said the book was not available in the US. Because my urge to read the book was so strong, I asked another friend of mine to buy it for me in HK. I thought this book is about HK so it should be available in HK.

The book is the author’s childhood memories in HK. He wrote the book knowing that he is dying, so I was very curious to know how the content would be; I would assume it is all about sweet childhood memories. It is.

There is so much in the book:

- It is beautifully written
* phrasing
* unique sentence structure

- It is a chance for us to travel in a time capsule to the past
*HK in 1952
* customs, ways of life that no longer exist

- Human relationship
* With some Chinese workers or even gangsters
* with his parents

- Education
* He was so interested in anything Chinese.
* He came to appreciate his mother’s common sense and despise his father’s British pride.
* He learned Cantonese.

- Most of all, it is a moving story
* How the mother and son had connected with everything Chinese but in the end had to be back to Britain

When I finished the book, I thought, If one book can be so interesting, how about many books? The thought encourages me to read more books and thus I can enjoy myself and enrich my knowledge at the same time.

Barriers in the English langauge

As we try to be close to English, we encountered barriers:

- Words
* When you want to enrich your word repertoire, you don’t just look those words up in dictionaries.
* Words are not just signs representing meanings
* Words are living organisms with life

- The English structure
* phrase
* noun/adjective/adverb phrases
* Complex sentences
* Main clause / subordinate clause
* If we can master sentence structures, then a long sentence would suddenly appear shorter, and thus we can read faster.

- Cultural Allusions
* Cultural knowledge is probably more intimidating than the English language itself. Sometimes you know every word in a sentence but you don’t know what the author is trying to say.
* Since we are in the era of globalization, there is a need to bridge cultural gaps. The task is difficult but it has to be done.
* Internet / encyclopedia
* Curiosity

Why English?

English leads as the primary medium for twentieth-century science, technology, and intellectuals reports. A good idea has hard time becoming a good and popular idea before it is in English.

- You don’t use Chinese to do computer programming. You can’t find authoritative scientific journals in Chinese.
- The essences of literature, philosophy, essays, novels, technical manuals…evaporate during translation. Why should you wait for half a year for third-rate texts? (more often than not, translators are less than third-rate due to the pressure of deadlines)
- It is impossible to appreciate beautiful English writing through Chinese.
- A theory is called structuralism. The theory suggests that meanings or notions have to be understood within the structure, i.e. the language. This explains why many can never learn English well – their perception of English is forever bounded by Chinese.
* Examples: Jacko, white trash, nigger, Chink, cult


To everybody, learning English means putting yourself through so many obstacles. But the thing is, with each obstacle comes endless surprises. Then you will realize the time you invested in English starts to make sense. In the end, I want to say that the value in learning English does not lie in the end result alone; the process of learning it is just as sweet. Spend some time on English every day. Be patient, and the whole universe will be within the control of your fingertip.


October 10, 2005

For Leo

I just got off the Messenger with Leo, one student of mine who has been taking my class for a long while. The first time I met with him was in my Starter class in Xindain G.V. where he just got his English lessons started. He looked very confused when I asked him the first question in English. Since then, I happened to realized why he wished to brush up on his rusted English.

Getting aquainted with me, he once told me that at times he dreamed about being a tour guide after graduating from the junior college. He would have to fulfill that dream by improving his language proficiency. Just couple months ago, he failed the entrance exam of technological unversity although the score he got could guarantee him to be accepted into some colleges in a different major. That's not what he wanted, he said. He insisted on majoring only in the field that he liked. Therefore, he would rather give up on going to the university than waste his time there. I really admire him for the nerve he has. If I were him, I would probably do it differently. I might choose to enter a school first and then look for the chance to transfer to other majors a year after. Anyway, he told me that he was concerned about joining the army before planning things to do for the future. That is also right, however. In Taiwan it is a matter of time for a young man to be drafted into the army. So, I am behind him for that matter.

You will be leaving us for the army this 25th. Good luck bro.

October 08, 2005

Weekly Update

Please go to my personal Web site for new sentences and phrases I have made for you.

There is something else to keep you posted of me. First I would have to say sorry to all my students at XinZhu Y.M. school. You should have been surprised by my absence from the class last week. My contract with the school was due so that it is why you have not seen me in front the class since then. My original idea was to stay a bit longer until they found a new teacher for me. Since they are so efficient to find a new one that I didn't even have a chance to say good bye to you all. What a regret and mixed feeling I got. But it's ok, I am still here. If you have any thing to let me know, please tell without any hesitation. I will miss you guys all.

My message board can be fully utilized by you.

October 04, 2005

Case Study #12 The Thin Line -- by Bruce Lin

Mat* was sitting in the corner of the conference room – as far away from me as possible. The company hired me to teach them English tests. Some students had great desire to learn; others, like Mat, were attending the class because their bosses told them to.

I walked over to Mat and asked him to read a paragraph for me. He looked at me with those eyes, begging me to give him a break. “Well…,” I said, “…maybe we can do it…some other time.”

During class recess, I saw Mat outside the conference room. He looked away avoiding eye contact. I did not even have the chance to bid him hello. Then, I realized that I was not an English teacher; I was, at least to Mat, an English monster.

After the class, I went right to the company's restaurant and ordered something to eat. An NBA game was on TV; it was the final playoff game between San Antonio and Detroit. Mat was a few tables away – he was also watching the game. He headed toward me and started to talk about NBA games: his favorite players, teams and all that. I listened attentively, not wanting to miss a word.

I thought, This is another Mat. Just a few minutes ago, this guy seemed to have hard time speaking English, now he was pronouncing basketball stars' names such as Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Richard Hamilton in fluent English. He should have good basics to practice English if he wanted to.

What stopped him then? I don't know. It seemed there was this thin line between his love and hate for English – see how beautifully he pronounced those NBA stars' names. Was it possible for him to cross the line to the love side? Can he apply his NBA passion to English learning? Very likely, I think. If regular textbooks are difficult to digest, he can try to learn the language from NBA games. Why not?

*Mat is not his real name

October 03, 2005

Internet and our life

Using on line resources has been part of our life, people are able to do many different things through Internet. Working on a school term paper used to be a tough job. With the abundant information which can be browsed and obtained via Internet, students can just type in keywords on Yahoo, and then get to any Web page found on the search result. Eventually a term paper can be easily done in a snap.

People in the past would never imagine that they could make friends on Internet. But now it has become true. A female friend of mine married one guy she met on Internet, which surprised me a lot. But I think such case will become on the increase and more normal. I learned that usually when two people meet on a chat room, anonymity give each one a chance to express their emotions more readily in the real life. That is to say, you would tell him/ her something you will never let on about in your real life. It's easier for some people to confess to another person since they don't see each other.

But still, there are lot of liars and perverts out there on the Web. Don't let those suckers charm the pant off of you, because they just want to swindle you out of your money or something.

October 01, 2005

[extensionreading] Poem Reading #5

Dear all,

The purpose of this pronunciation course is not just about pronunciation. I hoped to use pronunciation as a start, and then you can explore whatever there is before you in the future.

I've always believed that people basically like to learn, and I am proven right again. Our senses are supposed to be stimulated, and learning is very stimulating as you should know it by now. Six weeks into the pronunciation course, I've seen you grow and grow and grow…then, how big will you grow? There should be no limit; there should be no end.

In the first few weeks of our poem readings, students tended to focus on pronouncing words correctly. Now, you are loading your voices with meanings, sentiment, mood, life…as if telling stories with the natural flow of your voices. There are too many good things in this world, including listening to people reading poems.

- Yi Ping (AKA Libby)

Yi Ping is smart enough to be slow enough as she knows it is a session for an interpretation rather than a race. Her voice comes out effortless with loads of emotion.

- Ru Yao

Ru Yao knows “A Dream within a Dream” is not a happy poem – and she was virtually sighing the poem. She is comfortable and her voice is sweet. She also knows how to express the despair Alan Poe sought to express two hundred years ago.

- Hsian Chi

Hsian chi's voice is clear enough; it would be better if louder. Her pace is somewhat fast. Good intonation.

- Alicia

She looks confident. She is whispering her way through the poem but her voice travels far. Her reading speed is slow enough to lead us into Alan Poe's underworld.


September 30, 2005

Stuck between a rock and a hard place

My contract with some cram school is going to be due at the turn of next month. Considering that I have been teaching at the the same place for 2 years already, I decide not to renew it. Hence, starting next month, I will have all the time in the world and more like a houseman with my family except for the Tuesday and Thursday classes at Global Village. Meanwhile I must start to think of the next move I am going about. Should I stick to the teaching field or switch to a different one? Recently I have got lots of advices from my friends who gave me different suggestions.

One of my students said I should run a English cram school to teach kids English because it is kind of like an easy money to make. Another friend of mine wants me to stay put until he is ready to run his business and he will ask me to cooperate with him. I even heard from one student that I should think of myself the luckiest guy in the world for the reason that I spend more time with my kid from now on, which is most parents' desire in Taipei. Well, what else should I ask for? I also met Amber yesterday who suggested me get more classes at Global Village because doing business in Taiwan is rather risky. I don't seem to be a good businessman-to-be.

I am thankful to all their comments and at this point I just want to take a short rest and start to prepare myself for the upcoming English test which I will partake next month. I will see what I can do then.

September 28, 2005

Poem Reading #4

Dear all,

I found that you can gradually read those poems smoothly. Remember, knowing how to pronounce those sounds is not enough; you must do. Please see the following:

- Hui Ping

With good basics, sweet and clear voice, Hui Ping sounds like a pleasing teacher. Good interpretation.

- Yao Hwan

A bit nervous; voice quality good. A few mispronounced words that can be easily improved.

- Michelle

Knows how to take her time to get into the reading. Assertive. There are highs and lows, and there is life.

- Nancy

Voice shaking. Admirable courage nevertheless. Emotional poem reading.

Many people are nervous when standing on stage reading poems. It’s plain to me that they will do a much better job if given a second chance. The first time is often the most difficult. It will be easier to do the same thing in the future.