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Why do we need to put on our thinking caps as ESL learners?

(Stanley Yeung, February 22th, 2019)


Why do we need to put on our thinking caps when we are learning English as ESL learners? For many of us ESL learners, it seems as though all kinds of English grammar rules and vocabulary need to be explained to us before our brains can retain a decent memory of them. To understand an English word, especially a long one, it can be very difficult for us, as English is unlike Chinese, which is a pictorial language. For example, how can we know what the word "prosperous" means by just looking at it? Even worse, when we read an English book, it can take us a considerable amount of time to understand what is happening, as we have little or no English language environment to refer to. So the question is, are all of us ESL learners really stuck at relying on our English teacher to explain things to us?

If we look at famous figures like Bruce Lee in the past, we can probably pick up a quote such as "Don't think, feel." Even though Bruce Lee was not a linguist, there is certainly some correlation between martial arts and language, as language is also an art. So if we were to apply his learning philosophy to English learning, what would be the result? On one hand, it can still be very difficult to feel what a word means by just looking at it, as English letters are nothing but a bunch of '雞腸' (meaning chicken intestines in Cantonese, like a bunch of meaningless curly lines) to us. But on the other hand, the method of 'feeling' to understand a language makes a lot of sense because language is form of human expression. However, without a native English speaking environment, how are we able to feel what a word means, especially when the word is not commonly used, or may only have a slight difference with another word that is much simpler and easier to utter?

Perhaps one way of looking at this is to ask ourselves to 'put on our eating cap' when we eat a meal. Even though there may not be such a phrase in English, I would define it as being able to have an appreciation for different kinds of food. For example, when we're so used to eating a certain type of dish, we would probably want to change to eating another type of dish to develop our taste for food. So if we were to look at English words as different types of dishes, we can probably better satisfy the appetite of our brain if we know how to use different vocabulary for expressing the same meaning in our conversation. Eg. Kind, nice, benevolent, and generous, for describing people of good character. However, we can also lose our appreciation for simpler words if we try to use too much advanced vocabulary all the time, and we can end up sounding pretentious and snobby. Likewise with food, in order to maintain the appreciation for expensive foods, one must also try the cheaper foods.

When it comes to learning a second language, there is certainly a level of difficulty involved. But have we ever thought that the process of learning can be enjoyable as well? We may not be taught such a method of learning while studying under our education systems, as most systems focus on the end goal of doing well in the exams. Even if we attain a decent grade in an exam, our teacher might still say to us that there is still room for improvement. So with other people's expectations set so high on us all the time, how can we ever truly grasp the joy of learning? Therefore, whenever we face enormous pressure in our studies, we would probably want to put on our eating cap, playing cap, doodling cap, or whatever cap one can think of, in order to escape reality for a while. But let's not forget that we should put away any irrelevant caps when we are back in study mode…


Why is English pronunciation important for ESL learners?

(Stanley Yeung, February 14th, 2019)


Why is English pronunciation important for ESL (English as a Second Language) learners? For ESL learners, there seems to be many words that are very difficult to pronounce, and even when we pronounce them correctly, we may not get the word stress on the right syllable in an English word. Eg. Hamburger is a word that Hong Kong children like to pronounce with a stress on the second syllable, instead of the first syllable. However, when I was studying for a bachelor's degree in Language and Translation in Hong Kong, a linguistics professor once said that certain Chinese style of English are beginning to be accepted due to popular use, such as omitting the 's' in verbs that follow a third person pronoun, and that eventually, 'Chinese English' (note: don't confuse this with Chinglish) will become nativized and have its own set of grammar rules and vocabulary, just like Singaporean English. So the question is, what is the correct model for learning English pronunciation?

To answer this question, I would like to share an experience from my childhood with everyone because surprisingly, I can still recall vividly an English conversation that I had with a Canadian flight attendant on the airplane when I first flew to Canada from Hong Kong at the age of 7. As a child, I was often quite lazy to get things for myself, but I remember there was one time my mom said to me on the airplane that I should order the apple juice by myself. So after she taught me how to order it in English, I said to the flight attendant, "Apple juice with no eyes", which I mispronounced 'ice' as 'eyes'. Then the flight attendant giggled and said 'No eyes?' I didn't know how to respond to her question and looked absolutely innocent, but then she smiled in a friendly way and passed me the cup of apple juice.

So as you can see, before I even attended school in Canada, I already had the privilege of being corrected in English. Even though the flight attendant corrected my English in a friendly manner, I am pretty sure that pronunciation in this case seemed very important because it could affect the meaning of a word entirely. But what about cases where mispronunciation does not really affect the meaning of a word, such as omitting an 's' at the end of a verb that follows a third person pronoun? This seems to be a mistake that only an English teacher would tell you, but not from someone who you talk to casually in daily life. After all, it's not such a cute mistake like 'no eyes', is it? :)

So to what extent should we care about pronunciation in English? If it does not affect the meaning of what I am saying or as long as another person understands what I am saying, should I even care about proper pronunciation? But perhaps, we should think about how we look at foreigners when they speak our native language improperly, especially when they are also Asians, looking just like us, but from a nearby country. The reality is that we are also often quite harsh towards outsiders who speak our native language, as it is the other way around. Therefore, if our native language contains a sound that is also available in the English language, we should definitely make the effort to utter the sound when we pronounce an English word. Otherwise, we can probably pronounce 'language' as 'langage', which was actually consistently being heard throughout the lectures given by the linguistics professor I met at university…


Why do we easily get affected by our mother-tongue language as ESL learners?

(Stanley Yeung, January 31th, 2019)


Why do we easily get affected by our mother-tongue language as ESL (English as a Second Language) learners? The short answer to this question is that if we are learning a language spoken by a different ethnic group, it is almost as if we are trying to speak a language of a different species if we were in the animal kingdom. ie. If I were a cat species, how can I get myself to talk like a pig species? However, whenever we come across people like ABC's (American Born Chinese) who are able to speak English like a native speaker, we can feel like we are not competent enough, as if our own species can even be better than us. So the question is, is it actually a normal phenomenon when our English expressions are being affected by our mother-tongue language?

Throughout history, we have seen how countries have tried to preserve their own local culture by preventing the invasion of foreign values and culture. So if culture and language cannot be separated, what happens when English words try to enter the brain? Well, the brain reacts the same way a country does when it senses a security problem, then drives away all that is associated with foreign culture in it. In other words, if an English word were a foreign person entering the brain to find a place to settle down, the brain would yell out something like "Here comes an intruder!" or "Let's put him in custody for 3 days!" Then maybe the person (English word) will be executed afterwards.

So from the perspective of culture, the brain may already have a defense mechanism that guards against foreign cultures by making sure that its local culture stays well-intact and remains predominant. So how can we speak English like a foreign person if we do not even have the culture and lifestyles of a foreign person? This is why experts say that the best way to learn a language is through immersing yourself in a real life language environment. Yet, most of us still hit a brick wall in our language learning process because we are so used to the lifestyles and culture from our mother tongue language. We may still continue to improve ourselves in vocabulary knowledge of a foreign language, but never be able to reach the fluency of a foreign language's native speaker.

So how should we feel about ourselves whenever we leave a hint of our mother tongue language when we speak English? For one thing, our brain has a natural response to different cultures other than our own, and even if we try hard to memorise words, our utterances are nonetheless indicative of where we come from. Even though we still tend to admire native English speakers very much, we should never forget that we also have our own heritage to be proud of and to be admired by foreigners. We may try to sound like native English speakers through various methods such as learning IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet), but have we completely forgotten what colour we are on the inside? :)


Why is it important to practice spelling English words correctly for ESL learners?

(Stanley Yeung, January 19th, 2019)


Why is it important to practice spelling English words correctly for ESL (English as a Second Language) learners? With so much technology that can do word corrections automatically for us when we type, will we ever need to learn how to spell words with a pen or pencil anymore? Also, as schools nowadays use the Ipad for student's homework and even allow students to use laptops during lessons to do classwork, it seems as though it is rendering the learning of English spelling and handwriting useless. So the question is, is there a need to learn how to spell English words with a pen or pencil anymore?

If I started off by saying that "Studies have shown that people with strong spelling skills have better cognition." or "It has been shown that people with stronger spelling skills are smarter.", you would probably think that I'm explaining nothing of my own and just copied and pasted the information here from somewhere on the internet. So if I use the analogy of spelling words with a keyboard instead of a pen or pencil is like using a fork compared to using chopsticks for a meal, wouldn't you think it is so much more vivid? In other words, a person who only knows how to use a fork could be missing out on many things that the person with the chopsticks has. For example, you can have much more control and be able to grab food gently without pinching through them, you can widen your chopsticks for grabbing or delivering much more food into your mouth, you can use the chopsticks like a pair of scissors to cut food into half or proportions, and so much more!

However, since we have transitioned into the Information era, most people now prefer a keyboard instead of a real pen or pencil because the former is just so much more convenient than the latter. With the back button on our keyboard, we can undo things that we've written and don't need an eraser. Or with just the click of a button, we can erase everything on our screen without throwing away paper and being unenvironmentally friendly. So what is the use of stationery anymore? Should we throw them into trash after we graduate from school? While 'yes' is most likely the answer in everyone's minds, I would actually say 'no'.

So how is the pen or pencil better than a keyboard? The keyboard may be convenient, but it is actually very limited compared to the pen or pencil. With a stroke of the pen or pencil, you can write each and every letter of an English word in any shape and style that you like, but also the way you write each and every word can tell something about your soul, spirit, and character - the living, breathing being inside of you. As you keep on practicing writing with the pen or pencil, you may even find that the spelling of words is more like an art to be appreciated than it is chore, as opposed to using the keyboard that can only jot down words for you in a mechanical way, without transferring a slight imprint of your soul and spirit. Practice writing passages even - you may even begin to realize that there is much more real knowledge to search for in your brain with the pen or pencil than with the keyboard and the computer, or even the internet.


Why is it so difficult to adapt to speaking English as an ESL learner?

(Stanley Yeung, January 11th, 2019)


Why is it so difficult to adapt to speaking English as an ESL (English as a Second Language) learner? From the most basic standpoint, if we are not in an environment where everyone speaks English, it can just be very difficult for us to feel natural about speaking a language that has foreign culture embedded within it. So if the problem is that if we have to be in an English speaking environment in order to learn English well, then what can we do about this? To answer this question, I would like to share an experience of my own of how I have adapted to speaking English in my childhood when I just moved to Canada.

Surprisingly, I still have some vivid memories of myself when I moved to Canada from Hong Kong at the age of 7. I can still remember what it was like when I entered the grade 2 classroom on the first day of school at a public primary school in Toronto. When I walked into the classroom and the teacher asked me something that I could not understand, I simply said 'I don't know' over and over because they were the only words that I knew at that time. All classmates were looking at me and I felt kind of embarrassed. Then through out the course of that year, I remember I did not speak much English and only hung around with Cantonese friends who were just like me and moved to Canada from Hong Kong. When it came to doing a presentation homework, I can even remember the teacher asked us to do it in Chinese instead of English. So as strange as it may seem, we actually wrote out our scripts in Chinese and read it out in front of the class. As I look back now, it just seemed incredibly hilarious.

For most of you who must be wondering whether that experience I just mentioned was real or not, I can tell you that I am wondering about the same thing too. Even though I can now speak English in a Western native accent and have had people asking me whether I was an American/Canadian Born Chinese(ABC / CBC), the truth was that it really took some time for me to adapt to the English culture when I was small. So even though I did well in school and was even the form representative back in the local primary school in Hong Kong, I was transferred to a Catholic primary school afterwards, due to my poor overall academic performance that year. Since then, there was an ESL teacher who nurtured me in English and I started speaking English ever since.

So if most of you are thinking that I was lucky enough to transfer to a better school with better teachers, I'd say you might be right. But as I look back now, the real reason why I did not speak English in the first place in the public primary school was that there was no Chinese person speaking English at all! There were a few smart Chinese kids in the class who spoke English, but the problem was that they did not speak Chinese and were most likely born in Canada. So it wasn't until I met the ESL teacher in the Catholic primary school that I finally started speaking English because not only was she Chinese, but also she actually gave me English tasks that catered to my needs.

So what is my bottom line as to how a person adapts to speaking English? There are certainly different factors that affect a person's willingness to speak it, but as a child, I didn't want to speak a foreign language because it seemed weird for me to do so if other Chinese people don't do the same. Also, if no one made me work hard, I'd probably just continue playing with my Chinese friends. Moreover, common sense told me that I better not listen to someone who doesn't look like me! In other words, which planet do these people with blond hair, blue eyes, and white skin come from? They all seemed friendly, but they had completely different physical features, which made them looked like complete strangers to me. But as I look back now, I'm really glad that I had a teacher of my own descent who nurtured me in English because it is actually a very useful international language, especially now that we are living in a world that is getting a lot more multicultural, where bilingualism seems to be the base requirement for jobs.


Why is English writing so difficult for ESL learners?

(Stanley Yeung, December 26th, 2018)


Why is English writing so difficult for ESL (English as a Second Language) learners? For most of us who come from a local background or studied under the Hong Kong education system, we have probably always wanted to avoid taking subjects where you have to do writing tasks, such as English and humanities subjects. When it came to choosing subjects for our senior years in high school, we would also choose Math and science subjects rather than the language and humanities subjects. So the question is, why is it that we tend to think that we can pride ourselves in Math and science subjects to the extent that we can completely forget about other subjects?

As a person who had switched from a bachelor's degree in Engineering to a bachelor's degree in Translation at university, it seems as though the most attractive reason for choosing Math and science subjects was that they could easily earn you the highest marks to get into a decent university. After I had gotten a decent grade for my GCSE English at year 11, I thought that I could totally abandon English and humanities subjects altogether, in order to focus on the Math and science subjects that I'd chosen for my A Levels. But as I look back now, I kind of regret. Why is that? Since I've started working in the real world, I've learnt even if you have a lot of knowledge, language and presentation skills seem to be the foremost thing that companies look at when deciding whether they would hire you. Even though those years at high school only constituted a small part of my life, the subjects that I chose nonetheless shaped who I have become today, and I wish that I could have chosen another foreign language or humanities subject to broaden my horizons.

But the question is, even if we now know that writing skills are useful, why do we still want to skip it? Whenever we get a writing task, it seems so easy for us to procrastinate and not know how to start. It seems as though it is impossible to score all the marks, unlike for Math and science subjects where you can memorise facts and find past papers for model answers to learn from. But for English writing exams? It is just incredibly difficult to find any past papers with model answers! There are marking schemes and criteria, but it seems as though there are no structures of model answers to follow. Hence, if we don't pay enough attention to the teacher in class, it can just be so difficult to revise when the exam comes, and therefore we would rather not choose such a subject.

However, the crux of the matter is that from the perspective of a person learning English as a second language, it is just so difficult to write in English because to begin with, we do not even have an adequate English-speaking environment at school. The real problem is that our teachers may have only taught us how to write, but not tell us why we should do it! Even when we have been taught the rules and techniques in writing, such as starting each paragraph with a topic sentence, it still seems incredibly difficult because writing seems to be more than just knowledge, as there is also the art of structuring your ideas in order to deliver them well to your target audience. So whatever ideas we put onto a piece of paper, they also have to flow smoothly from one idea to the next in a logical manner.

But have we completely forgotten about what knowledge actually is? It is like trying to convince a friend why you prefer or prefer not to watch a movie, not just because the box office figures can tell you a lot or the movie critics have a certain opinion. Or it can be like trying to predict the result of a science experiment with just book knowledge and not being aware of the environment that could affect the result in the real world. So without the words to communicate what we know, we may never be able to analyze our knowledge to the greatest extent in order to put knowledge into practical use effectively. Otherwise, we would be no different than a computer whose job is just to present information. But in any case, it is now time for us to think about who we are as homosapiens (a.k.a the thinking being, or wise man in Latin), especially now that we are living in a technological world where artificial intelligence is becoming more and more powerful…



Updates


12/2/19

The Hong Kong Noodles Quiz for Foreigners! is now LIVE! Try this quiz to find out how Chinese characters are put together to form phrases!


5/2/19

The Chinese version for The Cantonese Vocabulary Origin Quiz for Foreigners! is now LIVE! The Cantonese Food Quiz for Foreigners! is now also refurbished with new photos and difficulty adjusted!


4/2/19

The Cantonese Vocabulary Origin Quiz for Foreigners! is now LIVE! Enjoy playing and have a great Chinese New Year, everyone!


29/12/18

The Cantonese Street Food Quiz for Foreigners! is now refurbished to fit the mobile platform.


28/12/18

Some language quizzes for foreigners are now translated into Chinese for the Chinese audience! Feel free to go to the Chinese version of this website!


17/12/18

你熟悉多少英文慣用語呢? is now LIVE! Have fun trying out this Chinese version of the English Idioms Quiz for ESL Learners!


17/12/18

The English Idioms Quiz for ESL Learners! is now LIVE! You may now enjoy becoming familiar with common English idioms!


9/12/18

This website has now transitioned into a blog! Stay tuned for English-learning blog entries!


16/6/18

The presentation slides for 'How to be a more appropriate fake ABC' - Part 4 is now LIVE! Check them out at the Utilities section!


9/6/18

All the presentation slides for The Fake ABC Book Club are now moved to the Utilities section!!! Descriptions are also added for those who missed any week's slides!!


8/6/18

The presentation slides for 'How to be a more appropriate fake ABC' - Part 3 is now LIVE! Check them out at the links section!


2/6/18

The presentation slides for 'How to be a more appropriate fake ABC' - Part 2 is now LIVE! Check them out at the links section!


28/5/18

The presentation slides for 'How to be a more appropriate fake ABC' is now LIVE! Check them out at the links section!


18/5/18

How different is Ready Player One in the novel? is now LIVE!!! People who haven't read the book but still want to read the book should do this quiz!


11/5/18

Mega Explorer is back!!! The Games page is now remade in image grid view with captions for people who are new to them! Also, the quiz How Hong Kong are you? is now LIVE!!! Image source links are now included not only due to copyright, but also for people who want to know where the images came from! Enjoy browsing those links where you can read many interesting news articles!


31/1/18

Newly added Videos Section!!! It is still under construction, but there should be many videos for people to watch soon.


16/1/18

How fast is your Cantonese? is now LIVE!!! Cantonese people are also welcome to look at this quiz!


15/1/18

The Face Matcher (beta) (15/1/18) is now LIVE!!! However, accounts and passwords are only given out in private.


9/1/18

你是什麼思想的人? is now LIVE!!! Check out the number of votes for each famous person at the end of the quiz!!!


14/12/17

你到底是個廣東人嗎? II is now LIVE!!! More challenge for native Cantonese speakers!!!


22/11/17

你到底是個廣東人嗎? is now LIVE!!! Native Cantonese speakers can now challenge themselves by playing this game!!!


22/11/17

Added Comments section for Mega Explorer. You may now go there to leave your comments on this website!!!


21/11/17

The Korean Hangman Game for FOB's!!! and The Cantonese Colloquial Quiz for Foreigners II !!! are now LIVE!!!


18/11/17

The Cantonese Numbers Quiz for FOB's!!! is now LIVE!!!


11/11/17

"The Cantonese Colloquial Quiz for Intermediate Foreigners" is now LIVE!!! Click here to check it out!


20/10/17

"The Multifaceted Jukebox (beta)" is now LIVE!!! Click here to check it out or find it in the tutorials section!!!


15/10/17

"The Ultimate Face Manipulator" is now LIVE!!! Click here to check it out!!!


11/10/17

"The Anonymous Freedom Chatroom" is now LIVE!! Click here to check them out!!!


8/10/17

"The Classic API Tester is now LIVE!! Click here to check it out now!


4/10/17

"The Golden Data Retriever is now LIVE!!! Click here to check it out now!


19/9/17

"The Ultimate Dragonball Text Battle: Goku vs Cell" and "The Unreal Monster Killing" are now LIVE! Head to the Games section here to check them out!


17/9/17

"The Ultimate Testing Machine for Javascript Methods" is now LIVE! Click here to check it!


6/9/17

"The Articles section is now updated with my work of art! Click here to play it or find it in the Games section right now!


5/8/17

"The Cantonese Colloquial Quiz for Foreigners!!!" is now LIVE! Click here to play it or find it in the Games section right now!


26/7/17

"How High Class Are You?" is now LIVE! Click here to play it or find it there in the Games section!


19/7/17

"The Asian Food Quiz for Experts!!!" is now LIVE! Click here to play it or head to the Games section to find it now!


10/7/17

My About Me page is now done! Click here or use the navigation above to check it out! It should now give people a better idea of what this website is about. Different levels are also added in the Games Section, but the content is still empty from Level 1 to 4.


26/3/17

"The Cantonese Street Food Quiz for Foreigners!" is now LIVE! Click here or find it in the Games section!


21/2/17

"你是否一位電車男?" is now LIVE! Click here or check it out in the Games section!


2/1/17

"The Cantonese Food Quiz for Foreigners!!!" is now LIVE! Click here or go to the Games section to play it.



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