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Looking for blogs of experiences learning English or moving to the US.
April 14, 2014 12:48 PM   Subscribe

I am really interested in the experiences of internationals (preferably East Asians) learning English and/or moving to the United States. I am in college right now with a lot of Chinese international students, and I am trying to understand what they are going through. I'm also learning Japanese, and I'm curious about what it's like for Asian students to learn English. I'm looking for blogs that will tell about the authors' experiences (surprises, difficulties, etc.) learning English and/or coming to the United States to live. Preferably, they would be at least somewhat humorous. Any suggestions?
posted by vash to Human Relations (4 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Just one article rather than a blog, but I liked The Korean's English Acquisition, and the Best Method to Master a Foreign Language, Guaranteed, by Ask A Korean.
I began my American schooling at the beginning of the second semester of the tenth grade. I recall the despair of my first few months at school. I was literally Charlie Brown in a classroom as my teachers spoke “wah-wah-wah.” I had to join the school choir, not because I liked singing but because it was one of the few classes that I could take without knowing much English. One time, after being at a loss facing a pop quiz in my biology class with a picture of a leaf absorbing carbon dioxide and expelling oxygen, I filled out the entire quiz in Korean just to confirm to myself that I did not suddenly become stupid by moving to America, and the knowledge of photosynthesis that I had in Korean did not disappear somehow.
posted by rollick at 4:05 PM on April 14 [1 favorite]

It's frustrating and humiliating, and I went through the English learning process at age 4. The American kids seem really dumb (I was reading my parents' parenting books by then and these kids are scribbling?), and all your teachers think you're good at math because numbers are the same everywhere (see: Mean Girls).

It isn't really like learning an East Asian language together with other American(ized) kids, when your classroom develops a clump of mispronunciation in-jokes and prosody maladies together, and the language is largely a game that you can walk away from 163 hours per week (I've done this too).
posted by batter_my_heart at 4:33 PM on April 14

Well, I don't have any blog suggestions but I did a grad research paper on the topic, focused at the business university I work at. There is a massive trend in China right now to send students abroad for graduate education, in part because the domestic system is very hard to get into at that point, and also because there are more middle class folks demanding it and not enough universities to meet it.

So, some sweeping generalizations about Chinese education, and I will beg Chinese folks to weigh in here please, mainly because I'm fairly certain half of this is 50 years old and the internet probably reduced the other 50%. Basically, the model we use in the west is very different from the model used in China. There, the student is basically being taught by someone with the status of "trusted expert", so if the expert says jump they don't ask how high, they just jump as high as they possibly can. It's never appropriate to interrupt or even converse with the expert (the expert knows best), and it is expected that they fully read any and all material assigned. I've read, and I'm not sure I believe it, that even getting a question wrong is considered a massive dishonor to a person's family because it implies the expert failed to teach the student correctly. The critical twist in that last statement is dishonor and family, because the concept of guanxi pervades every facet of society, getting split between lian (as in saving face) and mian (public image). Getting a question wrong damages both the expert and the student, so its a massive fail for everyone.

Bring those folks to the US and we get a few issues:

* We assign way more reading than in China, expecting folks to just skim for the important bits.
* Classroom participation is also expected, which would be akin to heckling and insulting the professor back in China, which would be so extremely rare its scary. Take that one step further though, because they usually figure this out but then get concerned about wasting classroom time on stupid questions and the like, not knowing that we tolerate and encourage that to a large degree.
* Analogies are also far more common than we realize, which doesn't work very well when being herd by people who have absolutely no concept of what we're talking about. Baseball? Nope. Have their cake and eat it too? What's cake? It just goes on and on.
* When team work is introduced we'll see another problem which is that Chinese students are taught win-loose is the norm in Western societies so they immediately dominate any discussions and then get disillusioned when everyone starts to hate them.
* And that's if they can even form teams with western students, who shy away from including them in teams due to fears they'll bring GPAs down.
* Even something as simple as perspective has an effect. In China most examples apparently focus on group interactions, whereas we focus on how the individual would act in a scenario. It's foreign to them.
* Communication is also different. In some cultures, like China, the type of eye contact can say far more than words would ever make possible. Give the 'evil eye' to anyone who is from a northern european family (like Ireland, England, etc.) and we'll wonder if they sat on something, etc., missing the whole communication basically.

So, the best solutions tend to focus on some training for everyone. The Chinese students need to know we expect them to learn via participation, that there really isn't a bad question so long as they aren't gaming the system, that win-win is generally preferred against anything else, and that they can tell domestic students they are smart but have language issues, so could they please use email more than the phone, etc. Domestic students need to understand the fantastic opportunity they have and how to work with these folks. Some hand holding is going to be required, and it wouldn't hurt if they went to the closest China town with them for a bit of a cultural exchange in the opposite direction. Professors can assign groups so they can manage nationality distribution, eliminate cultural analogies or at least explain them after using one, and try to encourage interaction in the classroom, such as by flipping the classroom, etc.

I surveyed our faculty and found a few surprises. Any technical classes, such as anything that is heavy on mathematics, had the least number of problems because math tended to transcend language barriers. Computer code works the same way. There's also just standard cultural differences (one Chinese student walked into class wearing a t-shirt with a naked woman on it), but the biggest thing I found was that no one had a clue about the psychological side of this. You've got some classes with 95% Chinese students so the US students are going through culture shock while the Chinese students are undergoing the same AND freaking out about what they'll do when they return. It's amazing it works at all.

Academic papers I used (source of any biases above, in addition to me generalizing a lot for the internet audience) that you can probably get from a good library:
- Li, J., Zhang, Y., & Matlay, H. (2003). Entrepreneurship education in China. Education & Training, 45(8/9), 495-505. doi: 10.1108/00400910310508883
- Parks, S., & Raymond, P. M. (2004). Strategy Use by Nonnative English-Speaking Students in an MBA Program: Not Business as Usual! The Modern Language Journal, 88(3), 374-389. doi: 10.1111/j.0026-7902.2004.00235.x
- Shi, X. (2010). Intercultural language socialization of a Chinese MBA student in an American negotiation class. Journal of Pragmatics, 42(9), 2475-2486. doi: 10.1016/j.pragma.2010.02.005
- Thompson, E. R. (2000). Are Teaching Cases Appropriate in a Mainland Chinese Context? Evidence From Beijing MBA Students. Journal of Education for Business, 76(2), 108-112. doi: 10.1080/0883232000959996
posted by jwells at 5:24 PM on April 14 [1 favorite]

Chinese students at UW-Madison have a great blog and web series called Channel C. A variety of students answer questions about language, etiquette, and other cultural issues. The videos are subtitled in multiple languages and a lot of fun to watch.
posted by TrarNoir at 5:43 PM on April 14

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