English Corners

It is Saturday afternoon on October 8, 2016 and I am at the Guizhou Provincial Library. We have English corner (Yingyujiao) here every Saturday from 2:30 to 4:30. It is located on the 4th floor of the Beijing Lu library, foreign language reading room. It is across the street from the Guizhou Park Hotel.

Other English corners that I visit are Monday Evening at the CShop on Mingsheng Lu (7:30pm)  and at the Rooftop Cafe on Tuesday evening (7:30pm) see http://www.tourguizhou.com/archives/10713 .

Another  English corner are on Tuesday night in Dayingpo at the Zhongda Shopping Mall. It is at Baker’s Pizza or Starbucks Coffee. The formal address is Zhonda Shopping Mall Building A2 on the fifth floor.

I want to add more locations for English Corners, so please write me at johnsporter@gmail.com if you know about others.

Big Data Conference of Guiyang had VR 3D Glasses

My students Wang Min and Bai Zhong Jun attended the conference and helped me talk to the exhibitors. 20160525_155235Wang Min loved to play with the Virtual Reality Three Dimensional Glasses.  When you view the world through these glasses, it takes you to a differenct world and a different reality.  When you turn your body around, you are looking at a different world behind you, but in fact you are standing in the middle of a conference.


Big Data Comes to Guiyang


Photo taken the day prior to opening day.

From May 25 to May 29, a Guiyang hosted the China Big Data Industry Summit and China ECommerce Innovation and Develpment Summit. I attended the confernce with two of my students.  Wang Min is a student studying Hospitality Manageent at Guizhou Normal University and Bai Zhong Jun is a student of Software Engineering at Guizhou University.

Sign advertising the event

Sign advertising the event

These signs are everywhere in Guiyang.

These signs are everywhere in Guiyang.

The Big Data Conference in Guiyang brought companies from all over China and from around the world. Companies that were represented include:

  • Amazon
  • AliBaba
  • Huawei
  • Huipu
  • Dell
  • Microsoft
  • Qualcomm
  • Foxcomm
  • Hewett Packard
  • Baidu
  • Tencent
  • Jingdong
  • Tellhow
  • Teamsun
  • Scistor

The Big Data Conference had good attendence by State Owned Businesses which can provide services and financing to companies with interesting projects, projects that can employ Guiyang’s technical labor force. A small stream can grow to a river and an ocean. Guizhou Province of China aspires to become the “Big Data Valley” of China. The private and public comapnies represented here suggest that this is very feasible.

Living in China – Flag Day Update

I talked to some kids in a countryside school and offered to help them learn English:

In order to give that talk, I had to drive for three hours on an expressway, stay in a hotel, and then have breakfast (in the hotel). The trip down was fine, and the hotel looked normal.  It was a free breakfast, but I came prepared. When I go to a small countryside place I always take my bottle of instant coffee. I was ready for this trip.

The tea pot had a short cord, so I had to plug the pot in beside the bed, on the bed-stand.  Unfortunately, the TV in the hotel didn’t work, but I got up a couple hours before my little talk and played with my cell phone while laying in bed. When I finally got the coffee done I put it on the bed-stand with the tea pot, cell phone, etc. Sharing the electric for charging phone etc was awkward and as I moved on the bed the pillow fell on the coffee and tipped the cup over, almost drenching the cell phone . . . I moved fast. I avoided the worst of it and, in my stocking feet I went to get a towel from the bathroom. I got the towel wet in the sink, but the sink leaked, and I soon found myself standing in water in my stocking feet. I wrung out the socks, cleaned up the coffee and got out of that funky room and down to breakfast . . .

Fortunately I had plenty of coffee that morning, and together with the annoyance of the wet socks I had no problem waking up. The breakfast was typical cheap, elaborate Chinese breakfast. As expected, no coffee. There were noodles and a sauce with precious little meat. There were eight or ten different shaped pastries, all of which seemed to be made of the same sweet bread dough (yuck). Anyway, the smokers at the next table didn’t bother me much and the hard boiled eggs were done just the way I like them. Breakfast was OK, EXCEPT I kept hearing coughing and sneezing. 

It is my experience that I shouldn’t look at the people coughing or sneezing. Gross. It was very close to me and I decided to look up. I was relieved to see the guy holding a big napkin and I figured that maybe I was safe from air-born germs. WRONG. I looked up and noticed that he was sneezing and coughing without covering his mouth, and then he used the napkin to wipe his nose and mouth after sneezing and coughing. I hurried out of breakfast and went to the school assembly.  I had volunteered to talk to a class or two, but this turned out to be the my biggest group since visiting China. I tried to talk in Chinese, but it was suggested that English would have a better chance of being understood . . . 

Flag Day Pep Talk

China Green Card will be Easier ?

See Washington Post China Permanent Residency

A current Associated Press report is copyrighted, but is reporting that the government is interested in having more foreigners move to, reside in, and work in China. It is considered a way of improving the economy.  This is extraordinary news.

My British friend and I have both tried to stay in China, with significant resistance from the authorities.  I am only able to remain in China as a tourist, with a ten year tourist visa. It requires me to leave the country every 60 days to avoid violation.

My British friend is only able to get a 30 day visa to accomplish the same goal. It kind of takes any financial incentive out of trying to stay here. So if the government is planning a change, it will have to happen pretty soon to save two of us.

I’ve been supporting Guizhou Province people in my own way for nearly 25 years. I welcomed the students from Guizhou when they attended Oakland University (Michigan) in the 90s. I trained teachers in Guizhou in 2000 under Oakland U’s Summer Institute, and have taught English to Guizhou People for nine of the last fifteen years. After teaching at Guizhou Normal University for four years, my contract ended without renewal last August. I never received a warning of my demise or coherent explanation.

Now at age 65 I can’t get that “Expert Certificate” that  I had received nine prior years as an English Teacher. I don’t regret my service to the Guizhou People. It’s still the poorest province in China, except for Tibet. I am, however, looking forward to seeing this new enlightened policy in action.

Why is Chinese So Hard?

A friend sent me this link with the above title, and it only seems to cover half the story. It is accurate that the writing is hard, but the spoken Chinese isn’t addressed at all. Here’s the link:


In short, Chinese looks like a chicken walked across a piece of paper. If someone gives you an address in Chinese you could spend days walking through the city trying to match it up with the addresses on the buildings.

The spoken Chinese is even worse. An American comedian said that Chinese name there kids by dropping silverware on the floor and whatever sound it makes is the name of the kid. That’s not far off. The four tones of Chinese are almost impossible to hear as a foreigner. The problem is complicated by a huge variety of dialects that don’t conform to the sounds of “Beijing Chinese” which is what is taught in schools. It all makes for great fun when getting to know Chinese friends. The only comfort is that no matter how bad they murder English, I am doing worse to their language.

Language Learning Humility

Taken From: “The Economist”

I have many friends, mostly Canadians and Americans, who claim expertise about China, but refuse to even try to learn Chinese. I now understand why. Language learning is a very humbling experience, something that many of my North American friends have trouble enduring . . .

Johnson: Polyglots

The humble linguist

May 29th 2015, 6:27 BY R.L.G. | BERLIN

SOME people are keen learners of many foreign languages: they find it enjoyable to rack up one, then another, then another, reading, practising, brushing up, seeking out any opportunity to use them. They are usually proud of this devotion. (Your columnist must admit to being a member of this odd tribe.)

But the longer a language-learner spends on the hobby, and the greater the numbers of languages studied, the harder a simple question becomes. Often asked, it is impossible to give an easy answer: “How many languages do you speak?” The more languages one has studied and the more experience one has, the more the answer feels like “none!” I have learned to give a numerical range and a lot of hemming and hawing.

Ken Hale, a linguist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was renowned among colleagues for picking up languages seemingly instantly. It is said, perhaps apocryphally, that he learned Finnish on a flight to Helsinki. But he insisted that he “spoke” only English, Spanish and Walpiri, an Australian aboriginal language. The rest he merely “talked in”. Tim Doner, an American teenage polyglot (see The Economist’s multilingual video interview with him here) is much the same. A video about Mr Doner has the title “Teen speaks over 20 languages”, but Mr Doner laughingly says only that he is “very comfortable” in four or five.

Anyone who has gone far in even a single foreign language knows that competence is graded: there is no magical day when someone pins a gold star on your lapel and says: “Congratulations.” It is more like driving into town and listening to a radio station that at first comes in weakly, with heavy static, and only gradually becomes clear. At what point did you start getting that station?

Lacking a clear line, language-learners have all manner of ad-hoc ways of describing when they finally got it. Some will say that the day they began dreaming in a language meant that they had it. But this is hazy; dreams, played in one’s own head, say little about real-world competence. Others recall the first conversation in which they did not have to struggle; this, at least, is a better rule of thumb. Others set the bar higher: only when you understand jokes do you really know the language. This sets the bar perhaps even too high. You can communicate all manner of things without having the fingertip-feel needed for wordplay.

Competence also has domains. The simplest are the staples of getting to know someone, taught in every language class. What is your name? Where are you from? Why did you learn Russian? You speak such good Portuguese! People from your country don’t learn Polish very much. Is this your first time in China? And so on. Most polyglots will have repeated these opening conversational turns a hundred times, and so the initial meeting with the delighted foreigner is bound to impress.

But once the conversation goes into unexpected territory, things can go badly quickly. The reason is the huge vocabulary needed to talk about all of life’s many domains. It has been estimated that the average English-speaking adult knows the meaning of about 30,000 words, far more than most people think. A fluent speaker of a foreign language might know just a tenth of that number. This means that, a good accent, rhythm and grammar notwithstanding, the intermediate-to-advanced learner is likely to flail discussing the value-added tax, running style or camera lenses.

Your columnist knows from experience: I have flailed on all of the above in languages I would otherwise say I had spoken well for years. When I heard “90 dólares más IVA” in Spanish for the first time, I thought was “90 dollars masiva”, or massive, wondering what this curious expression meant. But it just meant “plus VAT”. When a French colleague asked about running in a place called “Pienu”, I had no idea where that was, until he switched to English: “barefoot”, or pieds nus. And “focal length” is Brennweite in German, which no one would easily guess, as it looks like it means “burn-width”. (It does make sense, though: focused light rays can burn, which is why “focus” comes from the Latin for “hearth”.)

Repeat these disappointing experiences a couple of hundred times in a life, and one becomes very cautious about casually rattling off a big number of languages spoken. Your next conversation may be a breeze, or a frustration. Perhaps it is best to imitate Mr Hale and talk about “talking in” foreign languages, or to take after Mr Doner, and merely say which ones you are comfortable in. Ziad Fazah, the man whom the “Guinness Book of World Records”said spoke 58 languages, was humiliated in a Chilean television performance. Peppered with random questions from the audience (“What is the only man-made structure visible from the moon?” in Chinese, “What day of the week is it today?” in Russian) he flailed repeatedly, in a YouTube clip that serves as a well-known cautionary tale among polyglots. “The bigger they are, the harder they fall,” applies to more than physical size. Braggarts beware: real-life language learning is a constant exercise in humility.