Innovation on Earth

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Archive for the tag “Language”

Easy as ABC

Have you ever heard the saying “it’s as easy as ABC?”  This is a common expression, but many small children struggle to learn to read at first. It takes a good teacher to support students through all new lessons, whether big or small.  I was shocked to learn that something as simple as the ABC song is actually taught differently here in China.  This blows my mind:

Does good teaching look different in China? I don’t think so.  Since I arrived here, I’ve met three inspirational women who have taught me a lot about what it means to be a great teacher. I will strive to be like them.

#1: Annie: Beginner Mandarin Instructor at the Hutong School

What does she do that’s awesome? Annie makes sure that every student in her Mandarin classes is learning. She gets everyone involved, and if you need extra help, she’ll always go back over something. She is very kind and friendly, but she keeps class serious and focused, so that lots of learning is happening.

Why is she such a great teacher? Whenever I left Annie’s classes, I thought to myself, “Wow! I learned so much more than I thought I could today!” Annie always reviewed what we studied that day so that I could really see my progress.

#2: Terese (otherwise known as Cherry Lady): Organic Farmer Extraordinaire, Beijing God’s Grace Garden Plantation

What does she do that’s awesome? Cherry Lady used to be a successful business woman, but she left everything to dedicate her life to her mission. She works to produce healthy food without the use of any chemicals. For the past 12 years, she’s been living the dream.

Why is she such a great teacher? Cherry Lady couldn’t be more passionate about her work.  When I asked her if her farm makes a profit, she said that she’s working to pay off the debt that human beings owe to nature.  When she talks, you know that something important is coming up, so you better listen. Here’s a taste of her wisdom, but I’m working on a longer video to publish soon:

#3: Helen: Founder, Migrant Children’s Foundation

What does she do that’s awesome? Helen originally came to China for a break from her life in the U.K., but she learned about the poor opportunities for children of migrant workers in China, so she stayed to do something about it. She now lives full time in Beijing and runs a foundation to support 7 schools for migrant children.

Why is she such a great teacher? Helen gets things done. When our group arrived to volunteer at one of her schools, Helen was a task master about getting our project completed (except during popsicle breaks). Today, I watched her organize a collection for a woman who lost her home in the recent storms. It was the single most amazing experience I’ve had donating money. We took the money out of our wallets and put it directly into the hand of a family in need. Helen is all business and all heart. Together, the action taken is powerful.

Volunteers and migrant children celebrate their work repainting the school building
(I made balloon hats, because they make every celebration more festive!)


The word in Mandarin Chinese for teacher is “Lao Shi.” I am a classroom teacher, but all of us have the opportunity to teach others. What are you teaching, and how will you make your lessons extraordinary?

Guest Blog from France: Language = Opportunities!

We are very lucky to have our second guest blog from science teacher extraordinaire, Mary Patterson. If you were in Paris this summer, you might have seen Ms. Patterson having some exciting adventures. And now you can read the story yourself in this silly post:
I spent several weeks in France this summer, and it was amazing to get a taste of a different culture, especially through its language.  I’ve done a bit of traveling, but mostly in countries where English was spoken or in countries where I had not studied the language at all, so that expressive facial gestures and hand motions were the only way to communicate.  Thankfully, due to many, many…many years of French classes, I found myself able to understand a larger portion of conversations that I had imagined.  I even felt comfortable when out and about, conducting all my business transactions in French.  It was quite exciting!
So I had this on my mind as I was wandering around Paris one morning.  I happened to be in front of a major tourist destination, the Cathedral of Notre Dame, which is a very old church with beautiful gargoyles and stone arches, and a long interesting history. While admiring the building, a young boy came up to me and said, “ blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, photo?”  Clearly, my French wasn’t perfect.  He said it again, “blah, blah, blah, blah, photo?”

My thoughts took a few seconds to decide that I wanted to know what he was asking.  The easier route would have been to dismiss him with a shake of the head, or a “no, merci.”  And with good reason.

a)   Tourist areas are notorious for being places where people are scammed (I had already encountered a scam earlier in the week, where a woman said, “Oh, you dropped something!” and when I looked it was a big gold ring.  I had heard that if you take it, you are then asked to pay for it.  Good thing I had been warned about it in advance!)

b)   In the U.S., most families don’t encourage kids to go up to complete strangers by themselves, and typically parents keep a close eye on younger family members in crowded public places…

Despite this, I just really wanted to know what he was asking so that I could properly and honestly answer him. It took a few minutes of me asking, “You want me to take your photo?” “You want to take a photo of me?” “You want me to take a photo of Notre Dame?”  Finally, he gestured to an area where there were some other people.  I walked over, still slightly skeptical, where he pointed to a woman who clarified, in French (so I still think my language skills deserve some credit), that she was leading a group of kids on a scavenger hunt and that they needed to round up 50 people for a group photo!

OH!  Bien sûr!  Oh course I will be in your scavenger hunt photo!

As I looked out, I saw more kids all over the plaza asking people to participate.  Most of the time they would come back with a disappointed face saying, “No one will come, they all speak English!!”  Since the kids spoke French and most of the tourists did not, they were having a hard time rounding up enough volunteers!  I am sure that many of the tourists had skeptical thoughts like my initial ones, that made them give a quick “No” as an answer.

I tried to help by having them learn “Will you be in a photo with me? For a game?” But after some slow repetition, there was a lot of eye rolling, and exclamations of, “C’est dificile!” (That’s hard!)

Eventually they rounded up about fifteen or so people, including several backpackers, a french family, two italian men, and three police on bicycles, and called it a good effort.  After we took the group photo, I turned to the kids and asked, “Do you want to be in a photo with me?”  They laughed and as we all agreed to make “visage grimace”, which I assumed was a crazy face, but just in case asked for them to make “happy” visage grimace.  And this is the result!

They just about made my day, and if I hadn’t had enough patience that day, or if I doubted my language skills, I never would have met this fun group of kids or participated in this little adventure!

~Ms. Patterson

P.S. Thank you to all of my language teachers over the years!


Comments and questions would make Ms. Patterson very happy. Let her know what you think of her story! If you are on the Effective Communication team at IACS, spread the word to friends to check out their teacher’s post.

The Art of Paper and Pen

Over the past month since I arrived in China, I’ve had the opportunity to try out several forms of Chinese art: seal carving, calligraphy, knotting, and paper cutting.  Interestingly, they all have to do with paper and/or pen, and they all date back hundreds of years in China.  I encourage all of you readers to look these up and try them yourselves at home! They are all beautiful forms of art.

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Lost in Translation

Chinese people don’t always get their English translations correct, and sometimes the result is quite funny.  At other times, the language is correct but the meaning seems odd to someone who isn’t from the Chinese culture.  Here are some of my favorite observations about the English language in China (you can click the image to see it larger):

Observation #1: There must be a lot of bad translators at work here.

“Will never change until dsgth” — Maybe they mean “until death?”

“ftaillan for the sweet life” — Italians have a sweet life?

“Give bands out water” — If you put your hands out, the water comes automatically

Observation #2: Some titles that sound beautiful or logical in Mandarin just don’t sound elegant in English.

The name of a foot massage place: “Foot Health Museum Road Naomi”

I think my favorite is “Corn butter beautiful soup” or “Thai Bird’s Nest Full Set of 100 Yuan”

In the USA, we often try to be a little more subtle about where we lock up our valuables. This hotel apparently didn’t worry about that, since this is how they labeled the door.

Observation #3: As an American, I have different expectations for “normal” than the Chinese.  Some things that might seem obvious to me appear to need clarification in China.

“No spitting:” because people spit on the ground everywhere here, even indoors

“Danger: Jumping into the tunnel is forbidden” (and if you jump under a moving train, it’s probably deadly too).

Observation #4: There appear to be people here who make “fakes” of everything.  Need any designer clothing or bags? You could get some here, but who knows if the quality will be good or bad?

KFC and UFF — perhaps not a coincidence that they look so similar?

Even the “Judy Moody” children’s books are faked (there’s no such thing as “July Noodle” but everything else is the same.

Observation #5: Maybe I’ll never know what’s going on sometimes.

I don’t know why I was supposed to wear a “defence mask” while walking down this street, but I walked quickly past this.

I’ve been collecting these over the past few weeks, but if people are interested, I’ll try to capture some more for another post. I find them pretty entertaining myself.

Wo ming tian qu Shang hai

The title above means “I am going to Shanghai tomorrow.”  Today was our last day of Mandarin class for the first group of students. We are leaving Beijing really early in the morning to travel to Shanghai on a fast train. Our last week with this group of students will include a long weekend in the financial capital of China (Shanghai) and then 4 days in a rural area outside of Beijing (Fangshan). Then, I’ll have a short break before the next group of students arrives.

Today, we climbed to the top of the hill at the Summer Palace, and looked out over the city.  As you can see in the photograph, Beijing is full of ancient history, but you can see the modern city skyline in the background.  I’ve really enjoyed my time here and look forward to returning after this brief journey. After just a bit more than 2 weeks in China and 20 hours of Mandarin instruction, I’m impressed with how much I’ve learned. I can actually communicate with basic sentences, and understand some key words.  Since I’ve already stayed up late packing, I’ll end by sharing a short video showing the beginner class at our last session today. Before this month, none of us had ever taken a Mandarin class. And check us out now!



Hou Hai Paddling & Pinyin

Jin Tian shi xing qi er, er ling yi er nian, qi yue, san hao. Ming tian shi qi yue si hao!

That’s right. I’m learning Mandarin.  This says that today is Tuesday, July 3, 2012, and tomorrow is July 4th!  It’s written in pinyin, which is an English way of writing in Mandarin. If you look at the subway sign below, you can see that most text here is written in characters and pinyin, which shows how to pronounce the characters.  And if you’re lucky, signs like this one are also written in English.

In just two lessons, I’ve learned how to say lots of useful phrases, such as “bu la” if I want to tell a waiter not to make my dish spicy, or “Wo shi mei guo ren” if someone is wondering where I am from. I can also ask for dumplings (jiaozi), OJ (cheng zhi), or noodles (miantiao).  It’s very exciting!

Anyway, unfortunately my Mandarin is not strong enough for me to use to write about my day, but here are a few photos of one of the highlights, paddle boating on a lake called Hou Hai, in the Hutong Area.  It was really nice.

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