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.