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This is part of an essay written by a student I taught on an online course for a Chinese university.  It is interesting that she says she and her partner dare not speak, which is a major constraint in a speaking course.  This perhaps reinforces my view that it should have focused on writing skills and teachers who could teach face to face should have taught speaking.

It is interesting that she overstated my age by at least ten years.  I suppose 60 year olds look ancient for 18 year olds.

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Online teaching in China - personal experience

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Tuesday, 23 Feb 2021, 23:26

I have been doing some online teaching for a university in China.  There have been some challenges, perhaps largely due to too little notice about preparing and difficulties in communication.

Something that surprised me was that the original intention was that I would teach oral skills to a class sitting in a classroom with one shared microphone.  So, I was sitting in my room in Bristol seeing students and they could see me through a screen.  I would say something and responses involved students passing the microphone around the classroom.  This was clearly a very ineffective way of teaching.

Eventually, I managed to persuade the College to change the model so that students were working outside the classroom on individual computers or using the phone.  However, we were using Dingtalk and I was told that breakout rooms were not possible.  So, although the communication was improved, I was not able to monitor group work or even have any idea if it was actually taking place.

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Corona virus and online teaching

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I am in contact with several ex students who are university teachers of English in China and they are currently replacing classes that would have been face to face with online classes.  Classes at schools also seem to be interrupted and online teaching is being used through an app called DingTalk - students of mine also refer to Tencent as another platform (Wang 2020).

It will be interesting to see what emerges in terms of a new experience of online learning.  Perhaps there will be new innovative practices or possibly students and teachers will feel that online learning is inferior (if it is used badly, this seems possible).  I wonder whether researchers will use this as a test case.

In informal chats through WeChat, my ex students refer to problems related to poor broadband speeds or other technical problems and, of course, this is a problem we face at the Open University.

Wang XY (2020) "The word from Wuhan" London Review of Books Volume 42, Number 5 Available at https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v42/n05/wang-xiuying/the-word-from-wuhan?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=4205&utm_content=ukrw_subs [Accessed March 4th 2020]

P.S. As I was writing, I got a notification that Italy is closing schools and universities https://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2020/mar/04/coronavirus-live-updates-who-global-recession-fears-update-latest-news

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Summer work

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Thursday, 20 Sep 2018, 12:40

As most of my OU courses only run from October to June, I need to do other work to "keep the wolf from the door".  

This year I did two.  One was at Reading and involved working with teachers of EAP from Chinese universities.  I have done this several times before and it is always interesting and enjoyable although the teachers are from such diverse institutions and backgrounds that it is difficult to know how much impact there is.

The second course was a pre-sessional at Warwick.  I have done many pre-sessionals in the past (at Manchester and Bristol) but this was my first one for more than five years.  It was similar to previous ones in that it was largely based around a small scale study project. 

It was, however, quite different to previous pre-sessionals in that it was very specific.  All of the students will be studying for a Masters degree in Supply Chain Management.  We were given relatively light teaching loads so that we could design quite specific materials and I quite enjoyed working with content on the topic and helping to scaffold students to cope with articles using content that was relevant. 

My teaching was "Text based studies" (ie reading and writing).  We worked with three articles and there was variation in the style and formatting.  One made much more use of diagrams than the other two and one of the others described the research methods in more depth.  If I did the course in the future, I would also like to make more use of student writing such as responses to the kinds of assignments students would write.

Working towards a Study Project seemed quite focused and authentic but the final week of the course consisted of tests that seemed less valuable.  Some students on the course (this were mainly from other groups rather than the one I taught) seemed to be very disappointed with their results and I wonder how much of a blow this would have been to their morale as they are about to enter their courses.


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Yet more on English as a medium of instruction course

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The final part of the course involved some micro teaching and a discussion/reflection on the experience.

The students did well and I learned a great deal about their subjects from this, which suggests their communication and teaching skills were effective.  However, one of the students told me how worried she was that some of her students would judge her English skills unfavourably compared to the English teachers in her university.  It seems that perhaps she is too perfectionist and her teaching of the content in an effective way should be the priority (but perhaps it is easier for me to say this than it is for her to feel this).

Thinking about these teachers, they are under a great deal of pressure.  Like most other lecturers, they are expected to be research active and publish, teach their content effectively and do this in a second language.  They will need great qualities and strengths but I think and hope they have those qualities.

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More on English as a medium of instruction

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Monday, 29 Aug 2016, 12:43

In the previous posting, I referred to teaching a group of teachers who are preparing to teach through English.  In today's class, there was an interesting incident that made me think about prioritisiation in terms of pronunciation and lexis.  One student used the word still but it sounded to me very similar to steel.  After some clarification, we established the meaning intended but we discussed whether it might often be best for him to avoid the word still and use synonyms like static or stationary.

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Summer work

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Monday, 29 Aug 2016, 12:43

For the past couple of summers, I have been working at the University of Reading on courses for English for Academic Purposes lecturers from universities in China and I have taught one group of these teachers this year. 

However, there is a new course that is about to start its second week.  This is for teachers of other subjects at Chinese universities who are interested in teaching through English (English as a Medium of Instruction).  This is an interesting new angle on my work as the focus is on the methodology of teaching through language, which resonates with the ideas of writers like Halliday (2004[1980]).  So, there is a need to focus on meaning and intelligibility to an even greater extent than usual and there is perhaps less of a focus on accuracy,


Halliday, M.A.K. (2004 [1980]) ‘Three aspects of children’s language development: learning language, learning through language, learning about language’, in Halliday, M.A.K. (ed.) The Language of Early Childhood: Vol. 4 The Collected Works of M.A.K. Halliday, London, Continuum.

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An interesting brief talk on translating brand names into Chinese

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Wednesday, 25 May 2016, 15:15

I found this talk on translating brand names into Chinese interesting:

http://www.open.edu/openlearn/languages/chinese/chinese-the-tip-your-tongue-how-do-you-translate-brand-names?in_menu=349360

It shows how creative translators need to be if the translation is to be effective.  In some cases, as in the example of "mini", there is a "lucky" coincidence of sounds that matchg the original and a positive meaning (although, this new meaning rather changes the connotation of the original).  In some cases, there has been more of a focus on the meaning and the original sound is lost and someone not speaking Chinese will not know what car is being referred to - as in the translation for Land Rover.

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Minority languages and dialects

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Tuesday, 24 May 2016, 12:00

I recently revisted two places and I had contrasting impressions of the ways that minority languages were/were not being maintained.

The first place was Guangzhou, which I had first visited in 1987.  At that time, it seemed very much dominated by Guangzhou dialect rather than Putonghua.  Now, it seems that the Guangzhou dialect is heard less although it is common in some contexts like restaurants.

The second place was Toulouse where I was struck by the use of dual dialect road signs and underground announcements althhough I did not hear much dialect use in the streets.  Perhaps my experience was too limited as I doubt there would be such a promotion if there was not much use of or interest in the language.

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