Teaching English In Taiwan, Getting A Health Check

I recently got a new job offer, and that means I have to get a new health check for my work permit. Unfortunately, I forgot that I was supposed to bring other stuff to get the health check, which meant I had to leave, go home, and then go back. Hey, it was a year ago that I last did the check, cut me some slack. I figured it’d be good to inform anyone who’s going to need a work permit soon. So here we go.

 

Let’s assume that you decided to move to Taiwan to find a job. You search around for a while and then eventually you find a job that you like. Among several documents, you need to get a work permit which requires you to get a health check. Well, what is it and where do you get one?

 

If you are an American, you are probably used to going to your family doctor to get check-ups and forms filled out. Nice and convenient right? Well, in Taiwan, you can’t just go to a family doc here (most people don’t even go to family docs when they are sick. They just go straight to a specialist.) There are certain hospitals you have to go to to get the health check. Not just any hospital does them. So check online to find which ones can do it for you. I’ve found this website to be helpful. http://www.tealit.com/article_categories.php?section=health&article=taiwan-health-check

 

Now the plus to all this though is that you don’t need to go to a separate radiologist to get the chest x-ray (like I’d have to in America). In Taiwan, everything at least is right in the hospital.

 

What do you bring to the health check?

Other than yourself, you need:

-your passport (ARC if you do already have work in Taiwan but are switching jobs)

-money (amount depends on the hospital)

-documentation from your doc that you have received the necessary vaccinations for Measles and Rubella, (usually shows up as MMR on forms unless each vaccination was done separately, but don’t quote me on this).

-Pictures (about 2 passport pics, but always bring extras just in case)

 

If you don’t know where to get pictures, some MRTs have photo booths, some hospitals have them in addition to some shopping areas.

 

So what happens next?

  1. Go to the hospital
  2. Find the heath check section. If you can’t find it, go to the information counter that is usually right near the front of the hospital, ask them about 工作證健康檢查. You can show that on your phone if needed. They usually get the idea and will show you where to go (some hospitals are really big).
  3. Grab your ticket and wait for your number to be called. When you get called, they’ll want all the stuff you were supposed to bring. One place made me sit down at a table and cut out the pictures myself and glue it to them to the form I was given. The place I went to recently had me stay by the counter and do that.

 

The rest of it resembles a bit of a relay race. The different portions of the health check are done in different stations. One hospital had a map of all these stations, all conveniently ordered not in numerical order; nor is it like a nice line or circle you walk in. Please first go to station 9, then go to 8 over there, then come back here to 14, and then 11 is somewhere in the other direction. Yeah. If it were anywhere else in the country, all the walking back and forth would cause a Taiwanese to ask you if you were lost. But I digress.

 

  1. Weight and Height check
  2. Check pulse
  3. Draw blood for HIV test and some other test I didn’t understand (I didn’t study medical Chinese, give me a break)
  4. Chest x-ray (note, one hospital had this station with everything else, another hospital made me go to the x-ray department on a different floor to get this).
  5. Eye test
  6. Physical (which for me was just the doc looking at the x-ray saying it’s good)
  7. All done!

 

As you see, it’s not that complicated. Depending on the hospital, you can pick up the results in a week or so. One step closer to legal employment! Yeah!

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Teaching English In Taiwan, Inside The Classroom

Alright so I’ll be honest, I’ve lost track of how many of these Teaching English in Taiwan posts I’ve done, but I realized I didn’t write one about being in the classroom, which is arguably the most important part. Specifically, this time we will talk about what to expect being inside the classroom, be it for adults, kids, group lessons or private tutoring.

 

So the first thing I have to mention is that I’ve seen a variety of ways cram schools are run. You can have one experience at one cram school but have a completely different experience at another, both in terms of the students, expectations, and teaching materials. Working at several different locations will help you to at least become accustomed to teaching in a variety of situations which helps you grow as a teacher.

 

Kids

Teaching kids is an experience in and of itself. There’s a variety of types of kid classes I was expected to teach. Some classes were meant just to have some learning material while the rest of class was meant for games. Some classes I had were for me to show up and help with pronunciation and nothing more. Classes I have now are more complete in terms of teaching writing, speaking, listening, and reading.

 

Another thing that is sometimes seen in cram schools are teacher assistants. My current cram school has a couple of Taiwanese teacher assistants but they don’t really do much assisting besides typing grades in for the teacher. Other schools I’ve been to will have a Taiwanese teaching assistant inside the classroom with you to help you if anything needs to be explained in Chinese, if students misbehave, etc. I will point out though that I don’t see this as a common occurrence.

 

Some cram schools will provide material for you to go over with the students. The amount of material can vary widely. Some classes I had two hours to teach one to three pages while some other classes I had to teach eight to ten pages. Of course, this means with some classes you will have a lot of time left over. With others, you may be lucky if you get through everything (especially if on days where you have a lot to do the kids have a composition to write).

 

What you do with left over time depends on you and your cram school. I’ve seen teachers play games to review the material they’ve gone over that day/week. I’ve seen other teachers play a game that has very little to do with anything they’ve learned but just want to kill time, or handing out puzzles or word searches. I personally try to keep games related to what we learned, as playing Simon Says with kids in an advanced class doesn’t really help anyone unless you give some outrageous directions.

 

In terms of getting kids to speak, it’s just like anyone would expect: some kids talk, some kids don’t. This can either be because the kids are shy, or as at my current cram school, the kids are allowed to progress to a higher level that they shouldn’t be in just to make parents happy. In this case I usually try to give those kids the easier questions to at least get them to say something, or as some of my students read better than they can speak, I have them read out loud more to give them practice speaking actual sentences.

 

Teaching writing in Taiwan can be very frustrating. The education system hammers rote memorization into the kids’ heads. Unfortunately, this mean that it’s very hard for kids to come up with their own ideas and figure out what to write. For example, when helping my advanced students write a paragraph about their day, we had the paragraphs breakdown into morning, afternoon, and evening. I called on some students to give examples of what they do during those times and wrote the examples on the board. Now this is where it got interesting.

 

The students all blindly copied what was on the board. Almost none of them wrote anything relating to them. For example, one boy said he watches WWE wrestling every night, so I wrote that example on the board. When it came time to check everyone’s books, I found several girls wrote that they watched WWE as well, even though I knew they hated it. When I asked them if they really watched WWE, they told me they didn’t and that it was dumb. What was almost as funny to me was the fact that they had no response when I asked them why then did they write that they watch WWE. They admitted they just copied what was on the board because they didn’t know what to write.

 

This is a common problem. I have very few students that will think of their own answers for creative writing assignments. It’s difficult getting them to come up with their own answers, and I’m still learning how to better teach this.

 

Adult Classes

Most adult classes I taught tended to be conversational courses. There’s very little emphasis on grammar mistakes. Actually, the first time I taught an adult class, I was called over to talk to the manager and told to just eliminate any grammar discussions in class. “Adults just want to have fun in class” I was told. This was despite several adults being in my class because their job required good English skills.

 

Basically, I was given a textbook and told that I didn’t really even need to use the text. I just needed to talk to and entertain the students. Needless to say, their English didn’t improve much. I tried to keep it educational, but there’s only so much you can do when each time you correct someone’s grammar the manager tells you to stop. Either way, those classes were a lot of fun and we joked around a lot.

 

 

Tutoring

Now compare this to tutoring. I tutor at two different locations, and even the tutoring is different across places. One tutoring place gives me material to work on with the students. If there is something I feel we need to cover then they will listen to my input and usually they will provide something for me. I’ve covered a variety of topics teaching there, from presentation skills to college interview preparation.

 

The other place I teach at gives me full reign over what I teach. They have a bunch of books and materials there to teach, although I’m free to go online and pick stuff, and I simply choose what I want to teach based on the wants and needs of the student. While that can be a little intimidating because it’s my responsibility to find good material, it does help me grow as a teacher.

 

Now I will say miscommunication is a common thing that occurs here. I’ve had management tell me a student wants one thing, only for the student to tell me that’s not the case and that they want something else. When I make the switch to what the student wants, management gets confused as to why I’m teaching something else. Luckily, it doesn’t happen too often but it is something to keep in mind when tutoring through a company.

 

I have also done tutoring by myself without going through a company, although it was just one time helping students prepare to get into a business institute. That was relatively straight forward. I know some other people have had jobs where they just go hangout with someone’s kid to give them experience talking to a native speaker in a variety of situations. I haven’t done this type myself but from the sound of it, it’s a very nice gig to get.

 

So there you have it. There’s a variety of things to expect. Overall, it’s very nice knowing that I am making a difference in people lives as learning English for Taiwanese people can be the difference between a good job and a bad job, going abroad and not going abroad, or people able to talk to people of different cultures. I recommend that you find a place that is a good fit for your teaching style, but also to venture out to some other types of schools just to have more experience.

 

What do you like teaching more, adults or kids? Do you prefer having a set curriculum or making your own?

 

 

The World’s Hardest Language

Which language is the hardest?
I think this is just a required question when talking to a polyglot. Everyone is interested in it. It’s just a fun question to ask. Of course, for people trying to learn another language, this is not an effective question to ask. The question we should be asking is “What would be the best language for me to learn? ” as 1. I think basing a choice off of difficulty alone is counter productive and 2. what makes a language hard for one person won’t make it hard for someone else. Now I won’t be talking about which language you should learn, but I will talk about what makes some languages harder than others.
So then what does make a language hard? Usually it is related to comparisons between your native tongue/other languages you speak and the target language.
Vocab
Some languages share a lot of cognates with other languages. Meaning there are words that sound almost the same in two languages, the difference seeming to be which accent you use to speak that word. This means there are a bunch of words that you can rapidly learn. This gives you a huge advantage.
Some languages also have words that look similar but may not be pronounced the same. Even though I have very little Spanish under my belt, I find that I can read an article in Spanish and understand a decent amount of it, only needing to look up words for specific details.
This next point is a little difficult to explain, so bear with me. Some languages have sound systems that sound similar to our own. For example, someone who speaks English will be able to learn French more easily because the words in French somewhat resemble how words in English look and sound. For example if I showed an English speaker the French word “saisir,” they might not know how to pronounce it, but it doesn’t really look intimidating to them.
Now compare that to Chinese where the words are essentially one syllable chunks. We put multiple syllables in English words, but lots of words are just one syllable in Chinese,  or even two syllable which are comprised of two one syllable words that have a meaning similar to the word. If I showed an English speaker the Chinese word 感謝, they wouldn’t even begin to know how to say it. It already looks scary. Now if I show them them the romanization gănxiè, it’s not as scary as the characters, but still looks very strange. It has accent marks that most wouldn’t understand and ‘xie’ isn’t a letter combination we are used to. Combine this with the fact that then you have to factor in tones to say the word correctly, it gets becomes a lot to remember for one word. Now do this for every vocab word you need to know for a conversation.
Word Nuances
Now I know I’m relating a lot of my experience to learning Chinese and teaching English to Chinese speakers, but this I thought was really interesting. In English, we have instances where one word carries a variety of meaning over different contexts. I can say that my coffee is warm, the temperature outside is warm, that a person is very warm towards strangers, and even that the words someone is speaking are very warm. I can use all these words to convey a nice feeling or a comfortable temperature.
In Chinese this is not the case. For each of these instances, Chinese uses a different word. They might be similar but if you don’t use the right word, you either get weird looks from people or misunderstanding. So for me I have to learn several words, which feels inconvenient for me. For Chinese speakers, they have to get used to using one word for a variety of contexts as they would worry that by saying that person “spoke with warm words” that the words have a higher temperature than normal.
I can also say to this is one reason why humor can be hard to translate or not work at all.
Grammar
Not all languages are created equal when it comes to grammar and sentence structure. If you speak a language like English or Spanish where the word order is pretty fixed, then you may have trouble learning a language like Russian where the order can switch a bit, but endings are added to the words to show what part of speech they are.
The word order in those languages is also usually Subject Verb Object (SVO), so learning a language like Japanese where the order is Subject Object Verb (SOV) might take some getting used to. Just one of the many things to think about. Now of course, some grammar will be easier for you to learn than others, which means some languages will be easier than others because of that.
So What’s the hardest?
I say the hardest language is usually the one that is the least resemblance of your own. I hear most people say the hardest is the first one. I have to disagree. Learning French was much easier for me than Japanese, Chinese,  and Russian. Learning Japanese was also easier for me than Chinese despite learning Japanese before Chinese.
Maybe you will have a different experience, but just out of the few languages I learned,  I have to admit that Chinese was the hardest and that is the language I’ve been learning the most recently, and I’ve been immersed in the language 24/7 for over a year. There’s just so many nuances to the language.
So there you have it. The answer to the hardest language is “it depends.” And now you know why. Hopefully that answers the question. I found most things in life don’t necessarily have a set definitive answer. Usually it all depends on the person and circumstances.
What was the hardest language for you to learn?

Top 10 Things I Love About Taiwan

I have been in Taiwan for over a year now and I figured now would be a good time to write about some of my favorite aspects of Taiwan, especially considering that I used to live in America. Some of these things might not seem like a big deal, but sometimes it’s the little things we appreciate the most. So anyone considering moving or visiting Taiwan, here are some reasons to do so.

 

The convenience stores

I absolutely love how convenient things are in Taiwan. And convenience stores here really know how to make things convenient. Need food? Pick a direction and walk five minutes and you’ll find a 7-11 or some other convenient store. Bam, food problem solved.

Need to pay a bill? Again, go to 7-11 and you can pay it there. No mailing a check necessary.

Need a taxi? Guess what? 7-11 will help you call one.

Need to print or copy something?  Alright you should know what I’m going to say next.

 

Mom and Pop shops

A lot of stores in Taiwan are essentially just people selling stuff out of the first floor of their homes (but yes, they still make it look like a store or restaurant). This means that walking down the street you will find a variety of different stores that you can go to for whatever you may need. Now if I need to buy a gift for someone, I just need to walk 5 minutes down the street and I found a place.

Hungry for a home cooked meal? Just head on down and see who’s cooking. One of my favorite 牛肉麵 (beef noodles, a popular dish in Taiwan) is a mom and Pop place down the street from my apartment. I love it!

Hot and need something to refresh yourself? How about some nice shaved ice?

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Tax Included in the price

One of the things I always hated about pricing in America is that the complete amount of money you pay for something is not known until you either calculate the amount yourself, or you go to pay for it. In Taiwan, the tax is included, which is so much nicer because I know exactly what I’m paying when I see the price. It’s just so much easier too when you are planning on making a big purchase. Yes, it’s a little thing, but it’s a little thing that I love.

 

The People Are Really Friendly

The first time I came to Taiwan, my Chinese was horrible. I had major problems understanding people and reading signs. But what I didn’t have a problem with was finding someone to help me. I could be at a train station staring at a ticket machine and suddenly a Taiwanese person looks at me and goes “do you need help?” He not only helped me get the ticket, he walked me to the platform and made sure I got on the right train. It was incredibly nice. If you get lost, just ask someone. The Taiwanese are very open to helping you out.

 

The Ease of Paying Taxes

Everyone hates taxes, yet here I am mentioning two things I love about Taiwan related to taxes. When tax paying season comes around, everyone gets annoyed with the long arduous process. However, I was surprised to find that when I needed to pay taxes in Taiwan it took me twenty minutes total, including the time spent waiting at the tax office. That fast. When I tell Taiwanese people how long it takes us to file taxes in America, they think it’s insane. I’m glad it’s easy here. Of course, this one only really applies to you if you plan on working and living in Taiwan, but it’s nice making my American friends jealous.

 

Free tea and soup

Going to most restaurants in Taiwan means one thing: free tea and soup. Now I’m not much of a soup person, but I absolutely love the free tea. For starters, it’s free (who doesn’t like free stuff?) and it’s good tea. Usually they give sweet tea, but I have seen different types of tea given out. Some places I’ve been to also give complimentary juice. Each restaurant picks what beverages it gives out. Of course, when it comes to the soup, it’s a free appetizer while you wait for your food!

 

Night Life

The area that I come from in America, most bars close at 2am. Most stores and restaurants around 9-10pm. What do you do then if you get off work late and are hanging out with friends? Even the liquor stores aren’t open late. Well, never fear. Late night Taiwanese hours are here. A lot of bars and clubs are open till 4am, some even 5am. While a lot of department stores close at 10, there’s still night markets you can go to that stay open much later. There’s also plenty of 24 hour stores that sell all sorts of things, which brings me to my next point.

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Xiaobei

Xiaobei 小北 is a 24 store that sells pretty much whatever you can think of. Need shampoo? Xiaobei, need a late night snack?  Xiaobei. Cooking equipment? Xiaobei. They even sell hard liquor. So for any night owls that get off work late, there’s always a place to if you need something late at night. There’s one of these near my apartment and I can say that I have gone more times than I can count for myriad things.

 

Night markets

Night markets are pretty self explanatory. It’s a market that occurs at night. What’s nice is all the different foods, beverages, and things you can buy at the night markets. There’s so many all over Taiwan. Some night markets are smaller and are pretty much a nice place to get dinner while others are huge and have all sorts of activities going on. For people that are big into food, night markets are probably the best places to experience a wide range of Taiwanese foods. My friends usually go there to grab some food and see what people are selling at the different stand. For anyone taking a trip to Taiwan, they have to visit a night market.

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Beautiful Scenery

Taiwan is loaded with tons of beautiful scenery. If you are a person who likes hiking, Taiwan has plenty of places for you to hike. Maybe you want to go check out a temple and see what’s inside. Well, Taiwan has plenty of those as well. What’s nice is everything is so close in Taiwan, giving you the chance to go from the city center to a more rural area in an hour. Most of my coworkers take the opportunity to go exploring every weekend. There’s just so many places to go.

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Are Language Degrees Useful?

Ahh language degrees, the holy grail of fluency. Spend thousands of dollars and four years to study a language and then come out speaking it close to a native right?

 

Wrong.

 

I want to set the record straight for anyone that is considering getting a degree in a language, especially those getting a degree in a so called “hot” or “needed” language such as Chinese. Getting a degree is a huge investment of money and time. We want to make sure the degree we will be able to give us the opportunities we are looking for.  After being told by dozens of people that a Chinese degree would make me highly sought after by companies and government agencies, I was thoroughly disappointed to find out that was not the case at all. So if you are considering a degree in a language, allow me to give you an idea of what to expect.

 

Post-Graduation Fluency Skills 

After studying Chinese in college, it’s safe to say that you will not get the language skills necessary to where you can live your life in another language. This is even after I studied abroad twice. It’s just not enough.

 

With a language like Chinese, there’s a big emphasis on reading classical Chinese, but that is pretty much a whole separate language from modern Chinese. This means that half of your time studied is spent on topics that have very little carry-over to how people today talk. I actually got to a point where my classical Chinese was better than my modern Chinese, which I thought was ridiculous because companies won’t hire me simply for my Confucius reading skills.

 

My own Chinese did not improve until about 4 months of living in Taiwan after graduating. I was able to focus on my own weakness in the language and got a lot more conversation practice.

 

Note: For languages similar to your native tongue, obviously you can learn them much faster and you do have the ability in college to learn them to fluency, but for English speakers, most of the needed languages are the ones that you can become fluent in after a couple years. The cultural differences and strange grammar make it difficult to learn without hearing the language being used in multiple contexts.

 

The Degree Isn’t Enough

Even if you have a degree, for some translation jobs, you will still be required to pass a test that proves you are fluent. So despite all the studying and money you spent, you could’ve saved all the money, gotten a private tutor instead, and then taken the test and still get the job. Most places don’t even care about the degree as long as you have the skills in that language. Why bother with the degree then?

 

Post-Graduation Employ-ability

When people asked me what I was learning in school, I would tell them Chinese. The immediate reaction was that big companies are looking to hire people like me and that I should find a high-paying job easily. I can say that reality has been the exact opposite.

 

After sending out tons of applications upon graduating, I was unable to find any jobs. I was barely getting any replies. Not even interview offers. Those that were interested upon talking to me lost interest very quickly. The closest I got was through a relative of mine who worked at a big name company. I could’ve gone to China and worked there, but ultimately it fell through. Why?

 

Companies Want Other Skills

The few companies that did reply to me were interested in my Chinese skills, but then upon realizing I had no other skills, except for management related skills, they didn’t want me anymore. I even had a business minor to help round out my major, make me more employable, but companies didn’t care.

 

Everyone I knew except for two people told me companies would want me. I can actually say too, the company my relative helped me talk to only wanted me to have Chinese skills to be able to live in China, not to use them for work. When I talked to the two people that told me not to get a Chinese major, they told me language should only be an extra thing. A bonus. The icing on the cake. Not the main part of my skillset.

 

Think about it, would Jason Bourne or James Bond be wanted by their respective agencies if all they could do was speak other languages? Of course not, yet for some reason this is the advice we pump out to others. Even my teachers told me that my Chinese major would be helpful. Then I realize something.

 

People who are not in positions to give you a job or help you are telling you what you should do. People that don’t understand what businesses want are telling you what you should do. Why do we listen to this? I honestly don’t know why, but I can at least offer advice for anyone with linguistic interest trying to figure out a degree.

 

Pick a Useful Major

Get a major in something useful. Like marketing, international relations, economics, etc. You want to get a degree that companies want. I can’t give advice on what to study, because I’m not you. I don’t know what you like or are good at. I can just say pick something that is universally useful.

 

Learn the Language

Now when it comes time to learn the language, you have a couple options. You can always minor in the language, but that still requires lots of time and money on your part. Remember, a lot of college courses on language are a waste. You can find a private tutor that will give material tailored to your needs, not to the needs of other people in a class. Depending on the cost of credits at your university, usually a private tutor will cost less than a college course. So not only will you learn faster, you will also save money. And who doesn’t like that?

 

Now when it comes time to talk to an employer about your language skills, they, like one company I talked to, might only want your language skills so that thy know you won’t have any problems living in another country, so no test is actually required. Some companies have their own tests they want you to take. Government agencies do this as well. So don’t worry about a lack of degree on your resume. If you pass their test, or another type of language test, that is usually all that the company wants.

 

Don’t believe me? Take it from a professor I had. He speaks seven languages, all self-taught. He’s worked in various companies across the world and has used his linguistic abilities along the way. He said focus on your main skills and then let the languages be a bonus.

 

So is a language degree right for you? Maybe, maybe not. If you are going into academia, then yes, it could very be useful. Outside of that, it may not be so helpful. My purpose is just to let you know my experience so that you can better prepare yourself for your own future.

Has anyone else had a similar experience? Please let me know.

 

How to Avoid Burnout

How many times have you decided to tackle something full force only to end up hating it? All the hard work you put in to complete the task, the countless hours. The sheer tenacity that once helped you get the job done turns into equally intense hatred for what it is that you were doing.

 

I’ve experienced this before myself. After skipping 3 levels of French over a summer, taking another French class, going to governor’s school for French the next summer, and then taking an AP course for French, I was hardcore spending a vast majority of my time with French. After I graduated high school, I hated French. I didn’t want anything to do with it. I was originally supposed to be a French major, but before I took any classes, I decided to drop it. Unfortunately, this avoidance of it caused it to regress. Two years later my French wasn’t as good as it was before. I needed to relearn a lot of it, wasting time that would’ve been better spent it I just reviewed it. Unfortunately, even reviewing it was too much for me at the time.

 

Looking back, I realized there were some mistakes I made that I could’ve avoided easily. I’ve used this knowledge to help me avoid burnout in other areas of my life, like Chinese. Yes, sometimes I absolutely hate Chinese and wish I didn’t have to use it everyday.

 

Take a Break

Breaks are incredibly vital to help you relax and get ready to keep going learning or getting a task done. Sometimes just doing something for too long causes us to go through the motions just to get the task over with, resulting in us not really paying attention to what we are doing. We start daydreaming instead of focusing on the task at hand. Sometimes the cause for this is because we really don’t want to have to spend another day learning. Breaks then allow us to look forward to the fact that we only have to study today and then tomorrow we have off. It also allows us to rest for the next round of learning that’s coming. I actually have days where I don’t learn anything new with Chinese.  Sometimes I’ll go out of my way to not speak Chinese, only seeing a friend that has good English so that I can use my mother tongue.

 

Have a Review Day

Sometimes the problem isn’t necessarily that we have to spend time with the material. The problem may be that we have to learn something new. It could be that we have already jammed so much information in our heads that we don’t know what to do with it. Maybe we need a slower pace today. Whatever the reason, sometimes it’s best to just kick back and review what we already learned. It’s easier too. At least by reviewing instead we won’t regress. As a plus, we don’t end up hating every moment of studying.

 

Have a Fun Day

In some cases, we are just tired of looking at the material as something we have to work on. In these cases, we need to remember why we decided to learn in the first place. Enjoy the fruits of your labor. If it’s all work, you won’t want to continue. If you are learning a language, just watch a movie in the L2 or talk to friends.

 

Sometimes I don’t want to have to practice anything on the guitar. I just want to mess around and have fun. This way, I am still playing it to keep up some skills, and I am able to enjoy the benefit I got from all the practicing I did prior to the break. So now maybe that song I couldn’t play a week ago is under my belt (read: fingers) but now I don’t have to play all the problem parts to a metronome; I can play along with the song and have fun.

 

Rotate the Schedule

I found that one of the problems leading to burnout is going too intensely with very hard material. If you get to the point where you can’t remember what you learned yesterday, you need to cut back on learning new stuff. Just focus on solidifying everything you have learned, then it will be easier to learn new material.

 

One thing that helps me with learning Chinese is that I’m not always focused hard core on learning it. I’ll have a couple weeks of intense study where I make a lot of progress. Once I feel like throwing my books out the window, I go into review mode. The next week I will not learn anything new, rather I will just review what I have learned already to make sure everything is solid. Then while I am reviewing Chinese, I’ll have a more intense guitar practice schedule, or whatever else I’m working on at the time. This way I am able to increase my skills in several domains all while enjoying them and not getting frustrated by overdosing on one subject.

 

What usually helps you avoid burnout?

Do Language Tests Indicate Level?

One thing that always irked me about the education industry is the emphasis they place on tests. So many people think a number is the determiner of your fate.  If you score high enough you must have the skills necessary to get the job done. If you fail, clearly you don’t know what you are doing. A lot of the times this simply is not true, especially when we look at foreign language tests.

 

While yes, I understand we need to have a way to “test” the skill level people have, a lot of the time the tests are done in a way that does not translate well to the real world. I personally have taken foreign language tests and have done poorly compared to other students despite the fact that my language skills were superior. Even the teacher thought it was weird. But again, that’s because the test don’t often go along with reality.

 

I see this in Taiwan all the time. Someone scores high on an English test, getting all sorts of praise from peers for being so good at English.  Yet as soon as they try to speak English, the truth of their skill comes out. Usually they can’t get the job done to save their life. I’ve come across people like this and almost always have to rely on my Chinese when talking to them.

 

On the other hand, I’ve seen students with poor test scores yet they are able to have conversations with me compared to kids with better grades. So much for test scores.

 

You see, the problem is, when I am talking to someone, I don’t care if they accidentally say “I go store now.” Even though it’s not proper English, I still understand it just fine. But of course, on the test it’s a wrong answer. We focus too much on a perfect response rather than getting the message across.

 

Think about, how many times have you said something that was grammatically incorrect in your mother tongue? Probably lots of times. Now how many times has this screwed up your conversation preventing you from being understood? Probably a very small percentage of the time.  So while you yourself mess up some grammar, you are still understood no problem.

 

Because the funny thing is, a lot of the kids that do the best on the multiple-choice grammar or fill in the blank questions, always mess up the grammar when writing an essay or talking. Our tests focus on things that don’t matter in terms of usage.

 

Tests aren’t going away anytime soon, but they need to change. So, what do our tests need to focus on?  They need to focus on communication first and foremost. If the grammar is a little weird, that’s okay. As long as we understand what the person is trying to say and can say it’s without taking seven years, that is what matters most. Give extra style points for correct grammar.

 

Even in my own experience with Chinese, I do bad when it comes to tests, yet I don’t have many problems when it comes to the daily things I run into, teaching kids grammar in Chinese, or any other time I need Chinese. Now some classmates of mine had better grades than me, but weren’t used to using any of what they learned. The tests we took didn’t reflect this at all because they didn’t have anything built into them to check this.

 

So if you don’t score well on a language test, don’t sweat it. Often times the tests won’t accurately indicate if you actually have language skills. Gauge it by the content of the conversations you have with people and how easy it is for you to converse with different topics. Some topics you will converse in more easily than others, but as long as it gets easier each time, that’s all that matters.

 

What improvements do you think foreign language tests need?

 

Teaching English In Taiwan, Management

The title I almost used for this post was “The Oxymoron Of Taiwanese Managerial Competence.” Yeah, that should give you an idea of what’s in store. I love foreshadowing.

So for anyone looking for info about working in Taiwan, today will be a bit of a rant about culture as well as give you a behind the scenes look at working in a cram school. As much as I like living in Taiwan, there are some things about working here that make me wonder how some companies are still in business. Of course this includes the cram school that I work at.

Warning: there may be a lot of snarky sarcasm in the post. Read on if you dare.

 

I will start off by saying I know that there’s stupidity everywhere. I say that you have to find the type of stupidity that you tolerate best. I technically don’t have any experience in corporate America, but I have seen some and heard of my fair share of faux pas. Taiwan has its own unique type, so I figured I will let people know about the Taiwanese flavor of management. It does give a fair insight into their culture though.

 

Before we get started, let me give you a step by step guide in how to become a manager in Taiwan. Of course, this only counts if you are Taiwanese. Foreigners have to start their own businesses to become a manager.

 

  1. Work at a company.
  2. Blindly follow orders/ silently take abuse
  3. Continue step two until you are the most senior person in the company and your manager relinquishes their position.
  4. Get promoted.
  5. Blindly follow the next manager’s orders while abusing the people under you, while at the same time doing nothing of importance yourself.

 

Congratulations, you did it! Despite the fact that you did no thinking for yourself, did not go the extra mile, and pretty much did nothing to show you have any leadership capabilities, you now earned the ability to be a jerk to a couple people beneath you in position. Yay!

 

I can say too that I have been lied to on multiple occasions regarding pay and bonuses, my contract has been violated a couple times, and I have had my authority undermined several times in front of my students. I just found out too that my contract has clauses in it that are illegal. Needless to say, I am not too fond of the way managers here treat their employees. I have heard that some people have had similar problems at other cram schools, but not to the extent of my cram school. Also needless to say, I am searching other employment now. Make sure you take pictures of conversations and just about everything the company does if you need to back yourself up one day.

 

It’s actually kind of sad too on the student end because at my cram school we have all sorts of things going on that do not help our students (we teachers have no autonomy over our classes so we have to follow all the procedures that management tells us). We have students in advanced classes (the equivalent of studying 5-6 years at the school) that can’t even give the answer to “what’s your name?”

 

The foreign teachers have mentioned to management that our tests, textbooks, etc have mistakes in them and they need to be fixed. Upon telling the managers we are greeted with sounds of affirmation and nods of agreement. After the meeting, we are thanked for being so diligent to help improve the company. Makes us feel kind of proud. And then months later nothing changes. When we go back to management, they claim they fixed the problem. When shown the mistakes again, they just say “oh, I don’t know” and walk away. The reason behind this, from what I’ve been told, is that in Taiwan, position is valued more than skill level. So even if you have years of experience and you mention something to your manager, you are not seen as an authority that should have your own ideas. Even if your idea is completely solid, you are seen as an annoyance for thinking of something when you weren’t asked to.

 

Management also is great at skipping on responsibilities. We are expected to show up for weekly meetings, yet when a couple of the foreign teachers ask upper management for a meeting, we get no response at all. I was told that when the manager came in that week I could meet with her, only to not see her the entire week. She waited for me to get off my shift before coming to my cram school. When I asked for a specific time to meet, she told me she probably would not be able to meet with me. While I know my meeting with her won’t change much about the school, I still want to walk away saying I tried.

 

So what’s the bright side in all this? We get to mimic their laziness! When management tells us to do something, we just did our heads, say okay, and do the exact opposite of what we were told. Management is too lazy to do anything about it, so that’s a plus. Just don’t get pregnant, as they will fire you to avoid paying maternity leave (It’s okay, the coworker so far appears to be winning the lawsuit).

 

So don’t bother studying for an MBA. Come to Taiwan and get all the management education you need! In all seriousness, there are a few places that have okay management, it’s just they are harder to find.

 

Does anybody have any fun stories about their work experience abroad?

 

How Many People Should We Talk To?

I’ve been learning Chinese for about two years now. It’s been a long two years. While I can understand a good amount of what is being said around me, there is still difficulty. Same goes for my speaking. Usually I can get my idea across to whomever I’m talking to, but there are still a lot of times that I have really weird sentence structure. Now I’ve noticed something about my learning and I’m curious to see if anyone else has noticed this in their own language learning.

 

I think that having the same conversation partners for a long period of time can actually slow down my progress. Of course, this all depends on if my conversation partner will correct most mistakes I make. In my experience, most of my Taiwanese friends don’t correct my Chinese unless I say something that sounds really weird, meaning I get very little feedback on my Chinese. This can create the illusion for me that what I’m saying makes sense, only to be misunderstood when I talk to a stranger.

 

See, when talking to the same person for a long time, they get used to how you speak. Especially with a tonal language such as Chinese, pronunciation is vital in order to be understand. A lot of my friends have gotten used to my weird grammar and pronunciation, so I can say a sentence to them and they will understand. However, when I say the exact same sentence to someone else, they have no idea what I’m saying.

 

I witnessed this several times when I was dating a Taiwanese girl. I’d hang out with her and her friends. We’d talk. Now I’d say something only to be given a weird look by the Taiwanese friend, but my girlfriend understood what I meant. So then my girlfriend would translate my weird Chinese into normal Chinese and then her friend would understand. If I was by myself, I’d have to find other ways of explaining my ideas in order to be understood.

 

This also works in terms of listening. I would be able to understand most things my girlfriend said, but when someone else on the street would talk to me, I would have no idea what they were saying. The way they talked differed from what I was used to. I had to listen to a variety of people talking in order to get used to different accents and pronunciations. If kids talked to me, I had difficulty understanding because of the way they slurred words. Same thing with elderly people, but they slurred their words in a different way. Let’s not even talk about trying to listen to a mainland Chinese accent.

 

Over time working at a cram school, I’ve heard a lot of my coworkers speak Chinese, students speaking Chinese, and parents speaking Chinese. All these things helped contribute to my listening. Where before when students talked in Chinese I would  be completely lost, now I know what students are saying when they decide to make fun of me (much to their chagrin).

 

Maybe I’m the only one with this problem. Either way, it’s good to take note of it because it might pop up in your language learning quest at some point. I can note just even in Taiwan, you’ll find a lot of people requesting for a teacher with a specific accent because they either need to train that accent or they like that accent more. So don’t be afraid to find several conversation partners. It can only help you in the end.

 

Has anyone else had a similar experience to this?

Ego And How To Control It

Last week I talked about our egos and how they can hold us back if we let them get out of hand. Of course, the solution is to control the ego. But how? That is what we will be talking about today.
When trying to control the ego, most of us struggle. After all, our egos are there for self-preservation, to help us maintain that image of ourselves we hope others will have of us. Following the bidding of our ego makes us feel strong. If something bad happens, it’s not our fault, right? And so we blame others for their mistakes. When we admit to our own faults, we feel weak. It shatters that perfect image we have of ourselves. It makes sense for us to follow our ego then if we want to avoid this pain.
However, following our ego in itself is taking the easy way out. It’s avoiding the problems that need to be fixed. Despite the feeling of self-righteousness we feel after waiting for someone else to apologize or admit their faults, we actually make ourselves weaker. Not only does it make us weak in terms of character, it makes us weak because we miss out on opportunities to grow.
I’m reiterating all this because I want to mention the advice I’m giving seems obvious. It also seems easy, yet in practice it’s hard. Emotions flare up, especially when the ego gets bruised. The point I’m making is we first need to recognize our reactions when facing these situations. Then, despite the difficulty, we need to be willing to do what needs to be done.
Learn More
Learning more about a variety of subjects is interesting. When we first start learning, it can be easy to feel cocky. We think are gaining much more knowledge than other people. While comparatively this may be true, we should not let it get to our heads. Remember, there is always someone that knows more about something than you.
After learning for so long though, there comes a point where we realize there is so much more to learn and that we can’t possibly learn all of it. We become masters in one field and then realize just how much there is to learn for that one field. All the time and energy we spent learning that subject, yet there always seems like something new to learn everyday. This in of itself shows us that a lot of the times, we don’t even know what we don’t know.
But it also brings up another realization. If there’s so much to learn in one field,  imagine all the knowledge spread over all the different fields and subjects that exist. We know that despite the fact that we may be very knowledgeable, there will always be something that we don’t know. But that’s okay. Discovering something new is exciting. Eventually learning no longer becomes a matter of pride, but it becomes something we do just for the sake of learning. Which brings us to our next point.
Recognize That We Make Mistakes
Think of a time where you were thought you were right about something. Right to the point where you would argue with anyone that disagreed with you. You were so sure of yourself and in the end, you were wrong. If you can’t think of a time where this happened, you are probably lying to yourself. Even experts make mistakes. I’ve had my professors draw blanks in the middle of class, needing a few moments to remember what they wanted to say. I’ve had other teachers who accidentally taught something wrong and it took a student to point out the teacher’s mistake.
Nobody is perfect. That means you too. Once you start getting the desire to learn more, you start looking at mistakes as learning opportunities. This actually mitigates the pain from your ego. You become so happy that you learned something new that you don’t even care that you were wrong.
[Edit: I just made a mistake with this post, posting it without a title. It happens to everyone]
Listen To Criticism
I have to admit, I have a love-hate relationship with criticism. It all depends on who is giving me the criticism. With some people, I can accept their brutal honesty, but others I just take criticism as them insulting me. Why? I’m not sure. But I at least know it’s a problem for me.
If we want to see that we can’t take criticism, we need to pay attention to how we respond to it. Do we usually listen to each point and think about how we can apply the advice? Do we honestly try to think about applying the criticism or do we just come up with excuses as for why it won’t work? If almost every point of advice we are given is followed by us giving excuses as to why they doesn’t apply to us, or how the other person doesn’t understand our struggle, then it’s time face up to the facts: we don’t take criticism very well.
The next time someone gives you advice, don’t tell them why it won’t work. Just try it. Honestly try it. If you have questions about how to make it work, then ask.  But you need to make an honest attempt to see how the advice could work. Try it and if it doesn’t work, then you can go back and say it doesn’t work. If you try it and it does work, then you know that you were wrong, which isn’t that big of a deal.
Forgive And Forget
If we get into stupid arguments, we can sometimes harbor bitter feelings towards another person, waiting indefinitely for the time where they come up to us and apologize for their wrongdoings.
What we don’t realize though is that this mindset is toxic. Think about it: we are allowing a relationship to be destroyed simply because of pride. Are we really going to let that waste time?  When we feel bitter towards someone, sometimes we go out of our way to cause them trouble. Why waste the one life we have one something as trivial as this?
Even if every fiber in your body screams at you not to be nice to that person, walk up to them and apologize. Just say you went overboard with your reaction and apologize.
Now maybe this person will accept your apology and even apologize too. Maybe that person won’t. They might be thinking “about time he admits his mistakes” and maintains their arrogant attitude. That’s fine too. That’s on them. Don’t waste your own life on poisonous feelings. Treat the person with respect even if they don’t deserve it. That way, they can never say you were bad to them.
I personally just had to do this myself. My manager and I got into a big argument over how some processes at our cram school are run, some of which actually hold the students back. Now I knew for what the company was doing was bad for the students because I had consulted with someone holding a PhD in education and decades of experience teaching foreign languages. When mentioning the advice I was given from this person and what would be best for the students, my manager essentially told me off. We were both mad at each other. I was furious that she refused to even consider anything that I was saying nor did she care about the progress of the students, and she was angry that a subordinate wasn’t just obeying orders. Let’s just say the rest of the day we did not talk much at all the rest of the day, and what we did say was said with complete disrespect to the other person.
So the next day, despite any resentment I had for her, I went up to her and apologized. I explained that I get very protective when it comes to the progress of the students thus causing me to get worked up easily. After saying this and explaining that I knew she was just telling me what her manager told her to say and that she had no authority to make changes, she was very happy and took essentially took the whole interaction as me being a dumb foreigner that doesn’t understand the Taiwanese way. Did it hurt my ego? Yes. But now the relationship is fixed, my manager is more willing to help me out now, and I know now who I should contact regarding policy. Making progress.
Again, all this seems obvious, yet it is never done. By paying attention to how we act in these situations, we can recognize that we are allowing our egos to take over and thus can take the necessary steps to not only control our egos, but become a better person. It is difficult at first, but in time, it gets easier.
What helps you put aside your ego?