Archive for ‘Culture’

August 11, 2016

Olympics, China, Nike commercial, Chinese Culture, Vintage

This ad has potential for 1) warm-up before class starts; 2) activating vocabulary about sports. This is Nike ad for China made in the 1980s.

February 23, 2015

Hip Hop Grannies in China

Hip-pop -嘻哈Xīhā (an onomatopoeia),,街舞jiēwǔ (street dance),也叫黑泡 hēipào (black bubble, literally,a term created based on the English term’s sound).

Watch on. You wont’ be disappointed. The granny is 71-years-old. (-: And you can practice listening to Chinese (Beijing dialect is spoken in this video). (看一下,你会喜欢的。这个老奶奶71岁了。还可以练习听中文 (录像里面是北京话)。

September 15, 2014

Names and Culture

Names and cultural connotations of names are typical contents of language learning. For Chinese learning at the advanced level, we also teach about names, and add more cultural discussion and use more authentic input.

Below is an excerpt from a sina web piece that has gone viral “为什么这么多人黑周星驰“, about why Stephen Chow (director and actor of Shaolin Soccer, Chinese Odyssey, King of Comedy, etc.

It goes like this:



August 28, 2012

“My English name is Smacker! ” (Fun video clip from sexy beijing)

Name and naming practices have a cultural context. Naming someone in English in an english-speaking environment will be different from naming someone in English in a non-English speaking environment, such as in China. So, why do many Chinese people adopt an English name? This video clip from the series Sexy Beijing (a parody of Sex and the City) provides interesting insights. All in all, language is a tool for social functions. English names in China have a range of functions beyond the mere provision of an identifier.

Use in the classroom:  show the video after practicing “greetings” and “asking about names” and other such typical first weeks of class items (first-semester level). the repeated question-answer sequences provide listening practice and grammar reinforcement. Then students can discuss whether they have a Chinese name or not, what their name means, and what is the story behind the name (heritage learners will have a different story from non-heritage learners, typically).

Then the teacher can provide additional cultural discussions with 1) the quora thread by clicking this link:

And 2) Deborah Fallows’ Dreaming in Chinese“, Chapter 6, A brief introduction to Chinese names”. See a review of the book in New York Times here.

Students can use this worksheet to choose a Chinese name: Your_Chinese_Name

(if you use or like these ideas and the handout, could you leave a comment or click the “like” button? 🙂 Thanks!)

June 18, 2012

Snag film: Exploring China

Explore China (A Snag film)

The link is here:

Keywords: authentic shots; contemporary China; environmental concerns; 45 minutes; documentary.

January 23, 2012

Journey of the Noodle (video to supplement textbook and for communicative practice)

《面条之路》  (This is part 1 of a 6 parts TV series about the noodle, its history, its wide varieties in China and around the world and mouth-watering noodle dishes!)

Teaching ideas:

Target levels and students: intermediate to advanced; heritage or non-heritage/advanced.

How: as the video is 50 minutes, it is best assigned as homework with accompanying worksheet or writing assignment. But show the clip for about 10 minutes in class so students have a “taste” of it and you can clarify the context and contents of the video.

If you work with a textbook, this unit is a good supplement to provide cultural knowledge and communicative practices (listening, discussion and writing) for a learning unit that deals with culinary traditions in China.

a.before showing this video in class or assigning this video as homework, have students brainstorm 6 noodle-like food items/dishes from 6 different cultures (such as: 中国四川的担担面; 北方的杂酱面; 广东的馄饨面; 山西的烩面; 美国的鸡汤面; 意大利的通心粉, 千层面).  Prepare a number of images representing these noodle dishes in case students don’t recall these easily or do not have the Chinese words for these canonical food items.

b. have students watch this clip in class or as homework. Students write down 6-10 new Chinese words they learned while watching this clip. Students log these words in their vocabulary log-book. Next class teacher can use 5-minutes in class to exchange vocabulary.

c. what worksheet or homework to assign:   possible ideas:

1) each student or groups of students, are assigned a particular segment of the video to write a summary/recap, and note down one thing that they did not know before watching the video. Be read to share ideas in class.

2) each student or groups of students study a particular dish in terms of how it is made by the following categories: ingredients; methods/procedure; sample food images. do a presentation of their findings, by poster, by blog entry, or at, or using photstory3 as a form of digital story-telling.

3) students create a class noodle recipe book (a noodle dish that they want to learn to make, or a noodle dish that is their favorite comfort food).

January 9, 2012

Discussion work on first-day of class after winter break

Not all speaking activities work, for different reasons. Borrowing Tolstoy’s truism, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” good speaking activities are all alike; every “unhappy” speaking activity is unhappy in its own way.

Lately a teacher talked to me about her first-day of class. She was a very very good teacher, creative and resourceful. She was puzzled and disconcerted with three Chinese-heritage students in her class who sat together in class, talked when not required to talk and kept silent when required to do interaction work.

For this particular lesson we discussed: first day of class after  the winter break. a warm-up activity where students sat in groups to  (while speaking Chinese) find out: three things all members of the group did over the break, and three different things they each did and not shared by other members in the class.

Sounds pretty good, an information gap activity. But for advanced-levels when students have surpassed the threshold of iterating simple facts, the task is not as challenging and motivating. And when the topic is about winter break, things we do during breaks are quite similar and no suspence which may prompt no incentive to talk.

When we plan the task, we anticipate what students may say in response to the topic. For this particular topic, likely students say “I ate. I ate too; I slept. I slept a lot; me too; I watched movies–here the topic may become interesting, but students, if not prompted by teacher, rarely go beyond “me too”. “I skiiled.” I did it in colorado. I did it in Wisconsin.” Then, moments of silence. Looking at teacher. Hoping for the activity to end.

My reflection: if the task involves narrative and story-telling, the instrinc motivation for telling a story is that it is worth-telling (see Ochs and Capps’s book titled Living Narrative).

So, perhaps, if we change the topic of discussion to:

  • Talk about things you did but had never wanted to do.  不想做却做了的.
  • Talk about things you didn’t do but had really wanted to do.  想做又没做的.

The answer is unpredictable and draws on a story-worthy juxtaposition. The task is still pretty simple and suitable for short warm-up activity.

When we design unfocused speaking task (meaning that we are not using the speaking task for students to use a particuar language form, such as the past tense, the “de” structure” etc. Reference: Rod Ellis [2003]), the topic has to elicit something worth-telling, affective, with personal involvement.

For example, I list below some typical speaking tasks in the language classroom and suggest modification for the task to be more fun for advanced learners:

practicing saying numbers and digits

traditional drills: using cards with numbers and have students say them out loud.  Or the teacher says the numbers and studnets write them down.

modification—> studnets pretending to be at a ball/banquet and are having fun. Then the loudspeaker (a student plays the role of the MC) begins to say a string of numbers (they are licence plate numbers of unsuitably parked cars which will be towed if not moved.) Every student is given a card in advance which bears one of these imaginary licence plates. Students naturally pay attention to listening for their number and repeat to check if they heard it correctly. The unclaimed cars will be towed. Haha.

talk about poet Li Bai

traditional activity: Li Bai a typical cultural topic in the Chinese heritage class and advanced foreign language class. But I guess students don’t quite see the point of reading the poem “the moon light at my bedside, is like frost on the ground”–the poem is beguilingly simple, even plain.

modification: — > select a poem by Li Bai that has a bit more “flare” for the students’ age and temperament, such as the poem where he danced with the moon or tried to scoop the moon out of the river. Instead of explaining the poem, we could show the poem in Chinese, juxtaposed with an English version as translated by the google translation tool (the translation is guaranteed to be hilarious). Students can discuss why the translation is not correct, and how best to translate the original poem. This exercise will incoporate cultural topic, will let students see that google translation has its limitation,  while using the target language to communicate (the idea of “languaging”).

Describing a room

traditional task: at around 2nd-year of a basic language program, students will learn to talk about housing, interior of a house, furniture, domitory living Typical speaking tasks are role-plays and picture-description.

modification: 1) identifying differences between two otherwise very identical images of a room–newspapers and children’s books tend to feature such puzzle activity. Save some of them and they make good picture-prompt for practicing room-description.

2) detail-recall. students are shown pictures of a room for seconds. Then they compete to see who recalls the most details of the room, with accuracy (and using fully formulated sentences).  The pictures may also include some unnoticable details (such as a cat under the kitchen table). Children’s books are full of household items and good as prompts, such as the following timeless classics.

These two books are: If you give a pig a pancake. If you give a mouse a cookie.

December 21, 2011

Writing prompt: cultural differences

A good writing prompt motivates thoughtful responses and is a prerequisite for meaningful reaction piece. Prompts using multimodality (movie clips, songs, images) often provoke reactions more concrete and complex.

I came across the following images depicting stereotypical differences between the Chinese way of life vs. other cultures. Cultural comparisons necessarily build on scripts and stereotypes, so they tend to over-simplify, but the facts depicted here are quite humorous and not without insights.

The images below are from Xu Cui’s blog at

Cultural Differences

Sample writing prompt based on the images:

Prompt in Chinese:


  • 如果你曾去过中国,你觉得哪几组对比准确,哪几组对比不太准确? 你有过相似的文化差异的经历吗?选择你觉得准确或者不准确的几组对比,写一下你的经历和感受。
  • 如果你没有去过中国,凭你自己的感觉,你觉得哪几组对比比较有意思?为什么呢?你有过相似的文化差异的经历吗?

Prompt in English:

These images depict differences between the Chinese culture vs. other cultures. In your essay, please consider:

  • If you have been to China, based on your experiences, which pairs of these comparisons do you find most accurate in depicting the cultural differences you felt and which are less so? Please elaborate on your answers drawing on your knowledge and personal experiences.
  • If you have not been to China, which of the pairs of comparison do you find most interesting? Why so? Have you encountered similar cultural differences as depicted?