Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Moving Day
I have a new home! All future personal blogging will now be at:

From My Wandering Mind

All general audience intellectual rambling will continue at:

Geek Buffet

Linguistic Life will remain here, but static.

See you over there!


Monday, March 05, 2007

Geek Buffet Now Serving!
Like many people I know, if given the choice, I prefer to be lazy. But I also like thinking about things and commenting on them, and I don't really have a particularly unifying theme to talk about anymore. So what did I do? I started a group blog, where lots of smart people I know can be lazy and smart at the same time.

Allow me to present... Geek Buffet!

I invite you to please, go forth and comment.

(I'm in the process of making a new home for my own stuff, like my upcoming trip to England, so we will soon say goodbye to Linguistic Life for live posts.)


Thursday, March 01, 2007

New and Interesting Dental Trivia
If I wanted to stretch and say that this post is relevant to the supposed linguistic focus of this blog, I'd point out that it has to do with teeth, which are important to speech as used in articulation, but the truth is, it's just interesting knowledge I picked up at the dentist office today, and I felt I should share, because who doesn't want random bits of trivia taking up brain space?

According to the dentist, your teeth should only touch for a combined total of 3 minutes, on average, in any 24 hour period, and the only times it is appropriate for your teeth to be touching are during talking, eating, and swallowing. All other times are due to tensing jaw muscles unnecessarily, which is causing undue wear on the teeth. So relax!

Also, there really is NO official dental rule about flossing before or after brushing. Just floss once a day. Really.

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Monday, February 26, 2007

New Vocabulary Acquired Over the Weekend
I suppose, technically, I acquired this new vocabulary item on Friday, which is not actually the weekend, but I had the day off work, so it counts. I had taken the day off to chauffeur* Mark to an interview in Charlotte, and thus found myself killing time for about 6 hours. I had intended to go to the Mint Museum of Craft + Design, but instead discovered that all of downtown Charlotte is an overcrowded grid of one-way streets with ocassional parking lots that all require the parker to be in possession of $4.25 exactly, which was not so handy when all I had was a $10 and a $20. So instead I drove around for half an hour searching for a place to park in vain, until I got tired of it, at which point, I found myself in near a very small shopping center with only one parking space free, which happened to be in front of a restaurant, and it was lunch time. So I went in.

It was a small restaurant, advertising "home cooking," and featured a framed article from a local paper hailing them as the best "soul food" in Charlotte. I was the only non-African-American patron when I walked in. After listening to the other diners around me for a while, I concluded that I was probably also one of the few people in the restaurant not related in some way to the owners, but, given the crowd, they clearly have a lot of relatives and friends, so I suspect they do okay without lost souls like me.

Anyway, to get back to the point, this is a place that does Southern food** exclusively. As such, the only two beverages they offer are lemonade and iced tea (though they have made the concession to offer both sweet and unsweet tea, so that heathens and diabetics can have a choice.) But I kept hearing references to something that from context was clearly another drink, unmentioned on the menu, called "Tiger Woods." It appeared lighter in color than the tea, but I couldn't tell what it was.

Finally, someone sitting behind me explained it to his date/colleague/dining companion of some sort, revealing that in other restaurants, the mixture of iced tea and lemonade is called an "Arnold Palmer," (according to Wikipedia, it is purported to be the golfer's favorite drink), but, because it is a "mixed" drink, the owners of this restaurant had decided to call it a "Tiger Woods" instead.

And in case you were wondering, I had the vegetable plate, with broccoli casserole, candied yams, and fried okra. Just because they're vegetables, doesn't mean they have to be healthy. Also, sweet tea, cornbread, and banana pudding. I didn't want any dinner that night.

*I hate this word, and I hate the French for giving it to us. I have been known to get on people's cases about improper spelling, but seriously, even I have to draw the line somewhere as to what's reasonable to expect people to remember.

**I have noted an interesting commonality between Southern and real Chinese cooking, namely, a willingness to use every single solitary part of a butchered animal, with the cheerful expectation that everyone will find it tasty and wonderful.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Foreign English Teachers: Products or People?
Earlier this week, a friend currently on the JET program wrote the following:
I believe that the JET program is on it's way out. It won't happen for a couple years, but the beginnings of this are already evident in my city. JETs are hired by the national government, but then contracted out to local cities. Thus, the Board of Education (BOE) for each city pays our salary, which is determined by the national government. It is roughly 25K, in US dollars, before taxes.

In recent years, however, private companies have popped up which effectively do the same thing as the JET program: they provide native English speakers who can be contracted out to local BOEs. However, unlike the government contracts, the private company salary for these teachers is much lower. It is about 18-20K per year. Furthermore, these poor folk do not get paid time off, health insurance, or subsidized housing. In other words, it is much cheaper for the city government BOEs to hire teachers from the private companies. Like in America, the education budget is tight in Japan too.

This is exactly what my city is doing next year. They are not firing any of the current JETs. However, those JETs who do not renew their contract are not being replaced next year. So, there are 17 JETs in Sakai this year, but next year there will only be 9, because 8 of us are going home. To replace the 8 JETs who are not recontracting, the city will be hiring people from private companies.

There are some private company teachers around already. I have met a few of these folks, and they have it really rough. I am quite comfortable on my JET salary, but would not be without the subsidized housing, the paid vacations or if my salary was much lower. It is difficult to live in Japan on that kind of salary. It would be better to work for NOVA than one of the companies that contracts out to BOEs.
This makes me both frustratedly angry and sad. The JET program has long been the best-run major EFL teaching program out there. They know their stuff; the teachers don't have to worry about getting lost on the way to orientation in a country where they don't speak the language, or that their schools will forget them if there's a typhoon. Certainly, every JET has a different experience, with some better than others in terms of coworkers or housing or whatever, but there is still a mandate from the national governmental level that they will be taken care of. It's interesting that JET actually stands for Japan Exchange and Teaching, founded on the idea that the foreign teachers were there both as teachers and as citizens of other countries that Japan might like to give a favorable impression to.

Perhaps the JET program was able to do this because it was conceived during the boom time of the 80s. In addition, they were ahead of the curve, as far as countries dedicating themselves to nationwide English learning goes. They were, and are, a flagship program. Unfortunately, it now seems that as more and more countries become interested in English education, they have no interest in following the JET model; instead, private teaching recruitment companies have sprung up like mushrooms, eager to fill the gap, while making as much money as possible.

The private contracting companies my friend describes above are just like the one I was supposed to be working for in Taiwan. It was quite clear, from my time there, that the recruitment service only wanted to supply the private schools it contracted to with an expensive product: a foreign, exotic, (preferably white,) native English speaker with some sort of veneer of qualification. (When my Taiwanese-American friend was looking for a job there as well, the recruiter told him it'd be difficult, because he didn't look the part. How about at a preschool? He was a licensed secondary history and economics teacher in the US...) They had absolutely no interest in making sure their teachers were comfortable, taken care of, or looked after. In fact, the impression given off by our so-called boss was that it was entirely to his advantage if we were kept as helpless and ignorant as possible, so as to be made reliant entirely on their company, regardless of how bad things were. ("Is there anywhere I can take Chinese classes?" "Oh, why would you want to do that? I mean, I guess there are places, somewhere...")

There is a lot of danger in these kinds of programs. From all the research I could do from the US, the agency I was supposed to work for in Taiwan looked quite reputable. I had taught abroad before, I screened for ads to teach at good schools, I was put in contact with these people by a different States-side company that claimed to have screened all its potential teacher placements for quality. I recently heard from another of my friends who had been on JET at the same time as me. She had also decided to try to pursue overseas teaching again after JET, and had gone through a similar cheerful job-searching process, eventually getting a job in Russia. After 3 weeks, she returned home to England, having found that the promises made before she got there did not hold true in reality. Because these programs are private, there is no accountability nor quality control. Those of us with the wherewithal and sense to leave are easily replaced by perhaps less prepared, more trusting people, and in the meantime, the company hasn't lost much, because they didn't pay for anything they didn't have to, including decent lodging, food, or plane fare.

Teachers are rarely respected. It is something of a boost to teach abroad, where you gain some measure of automatic respect just due to speaking your native tongue. But if countries around the world are so keen to import genuine, exotic, native English speakers to lend an air of legitimacy and prestige to their efforts at English education, they need to decide if they are looking for actual teachers, or whether they just want pretty parrots who end up living in a cage of semi-legal status, poor pay, and no available support network. If it's the latter, I have to say, I wouldn't suggest foreign teaching as a worthwhile experience for anyone anymore. If it's the former, then the school systems themselves need to get involved in the hiring and hosting of the teachers, and treat them with the respect they deserve as professionals, rather than as commodities to be displayed when convenient.

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Happy Year of the Pig!
Yesterday was Chinese New Year, this year ringing in the Year of the Pig. I have enlisted my father's pig, Piggy Sue*, to help us get in the mood to celebrate.

*Piggy Sue is a working barbecue grill. She was created by Joel Haas. Further information about her construction and features can be found here.

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Friday, February 16, 2007

From Theory to Practice
Since about the beginning of the year, I've been thinking about the future, things I like to do, things I want to do, and so forth. Despite having not taught any classes since moving back to North Carolina, thinking about teaching seems to have become an ingrained habit, and it was because I liked thinking about language acquisition that I ended up in a TESOL program anyway. As much as TESOL may have disappointed me as a discipline of study in that respect, I still have the same interests.

So anyway, I was thinking about what interests I should be pursuing more actively in my free time, and I started thinking about how my own foreign language skills are slipping a bit. One of the things that irritated me most about grad school was being unable to take foreign language classes, which had functioned as my island of academic solace in the midst of taking other, more "useful" classes ever since 6th grade.

Then I started to feel guilty. I got quite passionate during my time in Japan and at MSU about getting students to feel like English was relevant to their lives and that they could use it in their everyday lives even after they went home. I had all sorts of activities aimed at getting them to just produce language: blogging, TV journals, reading journals, watching bits of Fantasia (b/c it has no words) and then writing a description, etc., etc. But do I do any of those things on my own? Nope. What a bad example I am!

So, given that I seem to have lost most of my reading audience anyway, this seems like a fantastic time to start a blog to practice my no doubt now pitiful Spanish. Feel free to visit it, dear imaginary reader: From Theory to Practice.

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