2 August 2005

Swear words

I normally say that non-natives speakers should stay away from swear words. They just do not realize how bad they can sound.

Nang Pan has asked me if Russian and Arabic have particularly powerful swear words. I think they do but I am not a speaker of either language. Cantonese certainly is full of swear words, much more so than Mandarin, but I do not know how that compares with other languages.In Swedish the most commonly used swear word is “devil” while Cantonese speakers and Spaniards use the “f..k” word very often. The French Canadians like oaths associated with the church, while Frenchmen prefer “s..t” or words associated with sex. The Japanese are not strong swearers. What about elsewhere in the world. Inuits, Turks, Lapplanders, Bushmen, Javanese, Mongolians, people from India, Persians? Anyone know?

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1 August 2005

Ebooks

I hope I have fixed the link to the Gutenberg project and ESL Learner has kindly suggested another useful site for ebooks.

http://www.thefreelibrary.com

Enjoy.

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1 August 2005

A beautiful day

Today was just one of those magic Vancouver days. It was warm and sunny. My younger son’s family came over and with the three grandchildren we swam and paddled in the ocean. My son and I went out in our two kayaks. The bright sun glistened off the water. We looked up at the mountains and the many houses and properties that come down to the ocean. The water was calm. There were a few seals out swimming although we did not go as far as the seal island, because we had not brought our life jackets and had not put on the skirt that keeps water out of the kayak.

We ended the day with a lovely dinner on our deck, watching the sail boats come in as the sun gradually set. A lovely bottle of Burrowing Owl Pinot Gris from the interior of B.C. reinforced in our minds how lucky we are to live here. But not all days are this nice.

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31 July 2005

Cultural friction

Cultural friction

I played golf at my club Saturday morning. I was alone so I joined a threesome of members all of whom were originally from

Hong Kong

. Of the three, one was about fifty and had come to

Canada

when he was 15, the other two were around 60 and had come to

Canada

as adults.

Normally, at the club, if you join members whom you do not know, you talk and get to know each other while you golf. For the first three or four holes, the only member of this group who would carry on a conversation with me was the golfer who had come to

Canada

s a 15 year old. He behaved very much like a Canadian although he had a very slight accent. The other two spoke accented but adequate English but were mostly silent, or spoke to each other in Cantonese when they were further away. One of them would occasionally talk on his cell phone which is against club rules. I felt awkward, as if they really did not appreciate me joining their group.

After a few holes I let them know that I spoke Cantonese. This caused a short conversation. One of the older golfers said that his son was in

Hong Kong

, spoke Cantonese but realized he should learn Mandarin. Growing up, his son had resisted learning to write Chinese because “everyone spoke English” in

Canada

. In the last five years, the golfer said, that has all changed, now everybody “has to learn Chinese”!

I volunteered to him that I learned Chinese characters after the age of 21. Since his son already spoke Cantonese, learning the characters would help him learn Mandarin. This really annoyed the fellow for some reason and the conversation ended.

The other older golfer stated that Cantonese, even though it did not really have a written language, was the best spoken language in the world. I replied that in my view most native speakers feel that way about their own language. He was not impressed and went on to say that Cantonese had the best swear words. I wondered to myself if he knew how to swear in Russian or Arabic!

That little exchange did not break the ice. It was still only the Canadian golfer who communicated with me.

A few holes later the people playing behind us came up to one of our group and told him not to pull his cart so close to the greens, as this was against club rules. He said it in an unfriendly way which made me feel uncomfortable. After this person left, one of our group said that he knew the rule but did not see why this mattered.

A few holes later as we were putting out on a par 3 hole, we heard one of the group behind us impatiently say “come on” from the tee box, implying that we were too slow.

A hole later they came up to us and, again in an unfriendly way, told us to play faster. They did not want to receive another letter for slow play. (At our club we are obliged to punch a clock and make sure we finish our round in 4hours and 15 minutes or risk getting a letter. Two letters and you cannot book tee times). My Chinese golfing threesome apparently had also previously received a letter for slow play.

My Chinese playing buddies offered to let the group behind play through us. I refused. We were keeping up to the group ahead of us and could not go faster. I also told the group behind us that it was rude to shout “come on” from the tee box as they did on the previous hole. From that point on my golf went down hill as I felt really upset at the actions of this group. I later reported them to the club pro. As members of the club this is unacceptable behaviour.

So what is the point here? Were the people behind us racist, just rude or just afraid of getting another slow play letter from the club? I cannot help feel that there was an element of racial or, more accurately, cultural friction. There are perhaps 10-15% people of Asian origin at the club. In the group ahead of us there was a Japanese-Canadian who regularly plays with various different members. My wife and a handful of other members of Asian origin also play regularly with other members, and even play for the club against other clubs in

Vancouver

.

The point is that they mix in and are culturally integrated. At least at the level of their interaction with other members they do not isolate themselves, whatever cultural attributes they may enjoy away from the club. So while I was made uncomfortable by the group behind us, I think the behaviour of my group of Hong Kong Chinese playing partners, who had not made a greater effort to fit in was also part of the problem. I certainly was made to feel that I was not welcome to join their threesome and will not do so in the future.

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30 July 2005

Radio program

On Wednesday I will start a 13 week radio program in Mandarin on Fairchild Radio 96.1 FM in Vancouver. I will try to encourage the many Mandarin speakers in Vancouver who need to improve their English and in most cases do not work on it in a concentrated and efficient way. Many do not make the effort to get to know English speaking people or spend time with them. Some are almost determined to prove that they have little in common with “the Westerners” who live in Vancouver. This tendency to see people, and oneself, as just part of a group rather than as individuals, is a great psychological barrier to language learning

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30 July 2005

Radio program

On Wednesday I will start a 13 week radio program in Mandarin on Fairchild Radio 96.1 FM in Vancouver. I will try to encourage the many Mandarin speakers in Vancouver who need to improve their English and in most cases do not work on it in a concentrated and efficient way. Many do not make the effort to get to know English speaking people or spend time with them. Some are almost determined to prove that they have little in common with “the Westerner” who live in Vancouver. This tendency to see people, and oneself, as just part of a group rather than as individuals, is a great psychological barrier to language learning

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30 July 2005

Ebooks unlimited

There is a world of ebooks available free of charge at the gutenberg website. With etext you can use online dictionaries like Babylon. Better still you can import text into The Linguist to start systematically and efficiently learning key words and phrases.

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29 July 2005

Barriers to learning

It is amazing how we humans manage to create structures and rules that acutally inhibit people from achieving the results intended.

In Canada, you can get free English courses as well as free English testing, payed for by the tax-payer, as long as

1) you are a refugee or landed immigrant or

2) you are unemployed or

3) Your English is so poor that you are unable to even do your shopping in English

If you are well educated, already a citizen (it takes three years to acquire citizenship), employed at a low wage job, speak some English but not enough to work as a professional and would like to improve in order to get a better job, you get no help from the government.

There are companies that offer tuition reimbursement for their employees who want to study, whether job related or for personal improvement. However, the employee must study a recognized course, get a certificate and and pass a test. But what do these tests really mean. There are other ways to measure whether the employee is learning. Tests measure your ability to write tests and possibly what you have learned, not necessarily what you can do!

Many companies rely on tests like TOEIC and TOEFL only to find out that they are not useful guides to how well a person can communicate in English.

They only test of people’s ability to communicate in a second language is to sit them down and talk to them; to give them writing assignments or oral exam questions for them to reply to; and then to analyze the results.

Meanwhile people are not provided with financial assistance in their studies if they do not meet rules and constraints put in place by the bureaucrats of education, whether in companies, educational institutions or government.

I once approached a Canadian government official in charge of providing language courses to bureaucrats to offer a pilot on The Linguist system. The answer was “we have had the same system for 40 years, if you think we are going to change you have another thing coming.”

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24 July 2005

Travel to the interior

A person on the Chinese language Forum Westca www.westca.com asked about what to do around Salmon Arm and I gave the following answer which I though might be of wider interest.

There are lots of places worth visiting. You may drive the Coquihalla highway up and return by the Fraser Canyon just to change the view.

As you cross the Coast Mountain range on the Coquihalla you will see the scenery change, from the big trees of the coastal rain forest you cross into the interior Spruce Pine Fir forests. As you descend from the mountains on to the Interior plateau you will find yourself in semi-desertic cowboy country with Ponderosa Pines and Douglas Fir trees and ranches with tumble weed. The first town you get to in the Interior is Merrit. There are ranches in the area. I would press on, either in the direction of Kelowna or Kamloops. Along the way there are lakes and camp grounds. You should make sure you have a guidebook with you. My suggestion is to go to Kelowna and then work your way North via Vernon, Enderby and then on to Salmon Arm.

There is a lodge near Salmon Arm owned and run by natives, the name escapes me. But if you get the BC Accommodation Guide you will find it. You can rent a small houseboat and just take it easy on Shuswap Lake. You can play golf. Tour around on the smaller roads just to get a feel for the area. It all depends on what you like to do. Then you could continue towards Kamloops and return to Vancouver via the Fraser Canyon.

An alternative would be to return to Vancouver via Cache Creek, Lilloet and Whistler, a spectacular route. All of these routes provide,. to the observant tourist, a panorama of constantly changing topography and vegetation. Plan to stop often by a stream or lake or mountain side just to enjoy the environment.

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23 July 2005

Taoism and business

Cliff asks me about the influence of language learning on my business, as well as the influence of Taoism. I discovered the thought of Zhuangzi somewhat late in life. However, Toaism can help both.

I believe it is important to follow your interests and inclinations. As long as you are not lazy, but pursue those interests with sincerity you will achieve success professionally, personally and in the acquisition of skills and knowledge. Rules imposed by others are not as useful as the roads that you find yourself. I have always been adventurous. At the age of 16 I ran away from home after a dispute with my father and hitchhiked 500 kilometres to the Stratford Ontario Shakespeare Festival. I slept in an overnight cafe so I would have enough money to see a play. I got to see the play and “taught my father a lesson”. (I phoned him the first day).

I “hitchhiked” as a seaman on a ship which took me to Europe when I was 19. I hitchhiked all over Europe. I wanted to discover this world. When I studied I studied hard but I usually chose subjects that interested me. I was unable to study things that did not interest me. AIt never bothered me when my language skills were poor. I knew that with enough practive they would improve. N any case they served their purpose in letting me communicate with people of a different culture.

I took the same approach to developing my business carreer. I liked my customers and suppliers. I liked the wood business and put great effort into understanding it. Along the way I learned languages and was not afraid to use them. Things worked out. Nothing was planned.

Languages are like cars and boats that let you hitchhike on the journey of life. You can lock into more relationships that bring you many things, personal and professional.

I do not know if that answers your question Cliff, but I will come back to the subject. In a word, be yourself and pursue your interests. Avoid complicated rules and do not talk yourself out of attempting things you want to try to achieve.

I found a link to Taoism and language study here.

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