A great way to motivate students I found

I found that a great way to make my middle school stuents laugh and feel confident about their spoken English is to remind them that at least we’re not in Japan. One overdramatized, stacatto rendition of “Haro, misutaa. Zisu izu a pen.”* is all it takes. Everybody in Asia loves an opportunity to feel better than Japan, and although neither are renowned for their foreign language prowess, I find the Taiwanese tend to butcher the sounds of the English language a bit less.


*P.S. “Hello, mister. This is a pen.” A sentence that people with Western faces often get hit with by kids, and drunken businessmen, in Japan.

i use that method too, after being in japan for a year…i felt truely blessed whne i came to teach the kids here…
however, i found that some of the kids have japanese mothers and i thought that i should stop.

…let me put your “joke” in a different context.

“well, at least we’re not in [insert country that you like]: those [insert stereotypical characteristic] always say [insert denigrating comment]”

that’s the formula that informs your comment. it combines generalization–a statement about a whole country of people and stereotyping along with a dash of ignorance.

and i’m not trying to jump down anyone’s throat. i just think that the comments you’re making to your students perhaps are a bit more serious than you may think.

and even if one’s students may not be of the race that you are making comments about, or have parents or relatives of that race, for those who are clear and free of connection with said race, such comments encourage ignorance and xenophobia

and since we’re educators, i’d hope that such an outcome wouldn’t be desired from your teaching.

This is hint. A lesson for those PC types not in the English teaching biz, like embryopoet.

You do what you can in the classroom to get the kids to talk. Everyone knows, including the Japanese, how bad Japanese are at English. As a matter of fact, People will comment how good a Jap’s English is if it is good.

Now about the kids and teaching English. Japan is one topic that will get students, who normally won’t talk, talking. When you have actual experience teaching(9+ months) in Taiwan, feel free to give out your PC advice. Before then shut your mouth and listen, Taiwanese are already racist and have an incredible love/hate relationship with Japan. They are heavily influenced by Japanese Culture. At some book stores you’ll find more books about learning Japnese or in Japanese, than anything about English and this includes Eslite.

DOn’t tell people how to swim if you’ve never done it


I think any comedian will tell you that playing around with accents – regional or foreign – is totally fair game for humor. Everybody talks funny somewhere. From an American perspective, greeting somebody you’ve never met before with “this is a pen” is pretty bizarre and funny. So is the ability to use “let’s” or “I feel” before a noun.

I do agree, though, that ethnic jokes are kinda playing with fire. It’s best to put it in the context of “one time I heard this (nationality) guy say to me…” and then launch into the impression. That way if anybody happens to be of that ethnic background, you can say you were just making fun of that guy, not a whole nation. (Although I must say, the dude in my class whose father is Japanese, a fact I didn’t know at the time, laughed the hardest!)

I wouldn’t say most Taiwanese are consciously racist, but they definitely have some set beliefs about what goes on in the countries around them. I can’t have a serious talk about my wonderful trip to Thailand, even with my honors students. In fact, I can’t even breathe the word “Thailand”, without some wiseass blurting out “renyao!” (Try it if you don’t believe me.) Korea is the land of girls with thick makeup and guys with bad tempers. Indonesia is a country made up entirely of housemaids. Mainland China is the evil land of Mordor. End of discusion. Japan’s kinda like the a-hole older brother, who handed down all his old clothes and toys to his kid brother Taiwan.

What it all boils down to is that I’m here to teach, not preach. When I talk about Thailand, I’ll talk about it as a cool place to visit with lots of cool scenery and history. I won’t say the word “renyao” once. If they want to go on believing that it’s just a country full of shemales strutting around in skimpy clothing, that’s their loss, not mine.



thanks for clarifying your approach to your joking; i do agree that, especially with jokes about ethnicity–which many around the world will defend with their lives, if necessary–that they shouldn’t necessarily be avoided, but should be worded properly so as to emphasize that such a joke is not a generalization about a people but an observation about a certain individual or even common characteristic about a group of people. after all, stereotypes are such because they somewhat accurately describe at least an aspect of a culture; it’s just the overemphasis of a particular aspect that leads to gross stereotypification.

that’s unfortunate though that, in your observations, taiwanese tend to express their simplistic views of other groups in such a blunt fashion. well, perhaps not unfortunate if individuals can move past their generalizations to interact with members of other societies as individuals rather than as representative of the national coalition of housewivery or the ad council for thick makeup. then again, i’d say most people around the world fall victim to overgeneralization of other people; perhaps its a human nature type thing that in my view should at least be tempered by a trained mind.

teach not preach. good way to put it. though some degree of confrontation, or exposure to another way of voicing one’s views, could be instructive, if not to show taiwanese people “the way” but to demonstrate another way of discussing other people. after all, does keeping one’s views to oneself and not voicing them really change one’s views?

[quote=“Okami”]At some book stores you’ll find more books about learning Japnese or in Japanese, than anything about English and this includes Eslite.

But they don’t want to read a book about Japan in English. Supposedly. :unamused:


here’s a conversation i had while i was studing chinese in beijing a couple of summers back:

shouhouyuan: ni hao, cong na yi ge di fang lai?
me: meiguo.
shouhouyuan: zhen de’a! ni shoude zhongwen hen hao!
me: (unsurprised expression) bu shi, zhende bu shi.
shouhouyuan: cong meiguo lai de…ni zhidao uhh…michael jordan, chicago bulls, zhidao ma?"
me: forced smile
shouhouyuan: zhidao ma?
me: zhidao, meigeren dou zhidao.
shouhouyuan: ni ye dalanqiu ma? (emulates movement of shooting)
me: wo? bu shi, xiaohaizi de shihou da, xian zai bu da, xianzai xue zhongwen.
shouhouyuan: puzzled expression
me: puzzled expression at his puzzled expression
shouhouyuan: zhen de’a?
me: dui, wo hen xihuan zhongwen.
shouhouyuan: hao. uhh…

it wasn’t innocuous for that little mild-mannered shopkeeper with his big smile and his whisk broom to assume that i knew how to play basketball. it’s ignorance. it’s not malicious ignorance–in a way it was refreshing, after having to deal with stereotypes of drug use, substandard intelligence, illegal behavior, and laziness. but it’s ignorance nonetheless.

but i wouldn’t have helped anyone if i hadn’t emphasized that i was studying chinese. i consciously brought that up; i presented him a paradox: a black man…who studies chinese…does not compute, does not compute!!!

it doesn’t help anything or anyone when people throw their hands up and say nothing can be done and then call out people who attempt to challenge the status quo. “pc”-ness as you call it–or a culture of greater superficial respect–started to grow as a social attitude when people refused to just let things slide and started to challenge the assumptions behind what people were saying. when someone made a joke about sending his wife back to the kitchen, someone spoke up and said, “that’s not funny.” someone cracked a knock-knock about knocking up some black chick, and someone said, “that’s my peeps you joking about”

i believe that the humor we indulge in (at least in america) has become the socially-acceptable way to express the views that one truly harbors but knows wouldn’t be appropriate to say in a serious tone and the way to see if others share his/her views. the laughter and smiles replaced head nods and “mm-hmms” to express agreement. that’s why i don’t assume that humor is simply a joke.

someone makes a comment about japanese english and everyone guffaws in vocal agreement. someone makes a comment about sleazy asian girls and even cracks up. someone makes a joke about foreigners’ habits and, people are up in arms! why does it only hurt when the comments are against one’s own group?

individuals interacting with individuals as individuals, a person who is a composite of a variety of heritages and influences and interests–rather than as the jap who can’t speak english, to put it bluntly–is the hope that keeps me trying to make things happen, to hope for a future when people aren’t singled out because of their nationality or skin.

succumbing to the lure of an “innocuous” joke to keep things moving doesn’t help anything. in fact, the more powerful effects such a comment can have on one of your students remain to be realized. it may work for most teachers and most students in the short term but, if you care for people and especially for children, you’ve got to look at the long term as well. those little snide comments that teachers and other “authority” figures have said to me over the years, i haven’t forgotten them…and the little quiet kid who didn’t speak up when you made that comment may be mulling over your words right now. and that’s not the power of the word, that’s the power of ignorance to cause self-doubt, to spur individuals to anger, to hurt, to disdain.

returning to my anecdote, what i did then, and what i try to do now, is to use myself as a counter-example to prejudiced thoughts, by word and deed to challenge people’s ignorant comments and attitudes and to get people TO THINK. in that situation, i presented an image of a black man who studied chinese. that, my friend, was more foreign to him than meeting michael jordan.

here, i presented the image of the overly-sensitive pc-type, knowing that such an image would generate a knee-jerk response of, “hey, pc-rookie, everyone knows that japanese students can speak english, what’s the big pc deal? get off our case.” it’s that so enticing propensity to generalize whole groups of people rather than to interact with people as individuals that i hope my example and my words can help rattle.

to me this isn’t an issue of pc-ness, or an issue of experience and pragmatism. it’s an issue of respect. and it’s an issue of being better educators. but that’s my passion, and i know that perhaps few in taiwan share that perspective.

and yes you’ve caught me on my soapbox. let the suds billow forth!

Laugh at yourself, or your own culture, and you achieve the desired effect in spades. I’m an Englishman who spent several years in Wales, learned French at school, and German in Germany. Relating a few of my experiences shows them that I, too, have had to go through the hell my students are now experiencing.

Start with the longest place name in Wales and offer to let anyone go home who can say it:


Most will try. It breaks the ice, and if you can’t say it yourself you’ve established some common ground. I always make a point of erasing it from the board and saying something like ‘No way. Forget it. Impossible.’

Next, a few words of French:

Qu’est ce que c’est? translates literally as what is it that it is?, a ridiculously complicated way of asking what something is. The answer, of course, has to accomodate the male/female quality of every noun. I usually wander around the room pointing out that male student x is sitting on a female chair, female student y is standing on a male floor etc.

If that’s not ridiculous enough then let’s poke fun at the poor old Germans.
Du, Dich, Dir, Sie, Ihn, Ihnen, Euch - actually I don’t know all the words for ‘you’ in German but those few are bewildering and daft enough that they’ll get the message. If they don’t then tell them that nouns in German are male, female or neutral - and a beer bottle is more feminine than a girl!

“Aren’t you glad you’re learning English?”

If you wish you can go on to explain that English is a confused combination of French and German, with a bit of the old celtic thrown in, and that’s why it never makes any sense. Then they know that you know how hard this is for them, and they don’t feel bad about finding it hard.

After bashing your own culture (I include all of Europe as ‘mine’.) it’s probably OK to have a go at the Japanese, or even gently tease your students over some common mispronunciation. I often ask if anyone speaks any other languages and there’s usually someone who will try a bit of Japanese, Indonesian or whatever. Getting them - the class - to translate it to English is a fairly effortless way to start them down the right path.

Many of my colleagues will try to learn some Chinese from the students, both to show the way and to get the English translation from students who think they can’t speak English. I try to avoid it myself, but it’s usually good for a laugh.

Then we’re into learning English and I really piss off the PC crowd with a very simple method I call ‘making fun of Americans’. It’s especially effective when using an American text book, as everything is spelt wrong and/or mispronounced - at least to my mind. I try to be clear that there is no definitive right or wrong way, and that I’m not going to penalize them for using AmE but it’s a great way to get them to think about - and thus remember - the lesson.

For instance, should you pronounce the T in often? Most Taiwanese are taught not to, but some are more comfortable saying it the way I do. Having tried it both ways, and laughed about it, students will remember how to say the word without feeling self-conscious.

One of my pals from the states plays the reverse game and makes fun of pompous Brits who have to make English unnecessarily complicated. (All those U’s in neighbour, humour etc!) This has exactly the same effect, although it may lead to the SAS being sent to teach him the error of his ways.

Some (definitely not all) students start to actually have opinions about English and choose one or other style. I guess in a way it’s encouraging a form of discrimination, perpetuating stereotypes even, but at the same time it is encouraging them to pursue native english of one form or another. Personally I’m here to teach English, not to raise other people’s kids. If one of my students walks into the classroom and says “Yo dude, whazzup?” to my “Good morning, how are you?” I’m more happy than if he just says “Hello teacher” and falls asleep.

Hmm, just read embryopoet’s last posting more thoroughly.

He is absolutely right that every one of us has a duty to contest wilful stupidity and ignorance as part of our daily lives. It is only through challenging people’s misconceptions that we will change them, but…

This is not our country. Coming here and telling people what to think is a bit of a dodgy proposition, especially about some third-party country. I don’t know any more about Japan than the average Taiwanese person, I’ve never been occupied by Japan, and I’m not going to fight other people’s battles for them.

If the Japanese want to be respected by the Taiwanese then they can come here and confront people themselves. My job as a teacher is to earn the respect and ‘affection’ of my students so that they will follow me and try to fulfil the educational objectives that I have been entrusted with. Challenging your students beliefs is unlikely to change them, especially if you are a new teacher and they haven’t yet learned to like and respect you. It may lead to increased hostility and make it harder for you to do the job you are being paid to do.

As an accepted, respected, and trusted authority figure - someone who has helped a student reach his academic goals - your opinions are more likely to carry weight. But before you get there you have to overcome the Michael Jordan association, or in my case the pot-smoking surfer preconception. (I do neither.)

I only have enough energy to deal with Taiwanese attitudes towards me personally, and that’s the only battle that I really feel entitled to fight. Wasting my time defending Japanese colonialism - which is how it would be viewed - is a non-starter. It would alienate me from my students.

Try this: as a study text give them an article on how the Chinese immigrants to the USA were treated in the nineteenth century. Then discuss racial superiority and introduce the concept of respecting individuals instead of stereotyping them. It’s a discussion topic, let them figure it out for themselves. Follow up with lessons on different countries - be honest about good and bad, and above all LAUGH!!

Humour is not simply a way of attacking people. Humour is a way of accepting and dealing with differences between us, and a lot of the bad shit out there starts when people start taking themselves too seriously. If we can’t laugh at the Japanese, or black people, and we presuably can’t laugh at the Taiwanese because that would be belittling our hosts, then who can we laugh at? Blondes? I am one. The British? I am one. The Irish? Several of my friends, and they have told me a lot of very funny ‘Brit’ jokes. Women? Some of my favourite people.

Take away the ability to laugh at some identifiable socio-economic group who is different from ‘us’ and what are you left with? “There was this guy who was identical to me in all respects and he did something funny.” You couldn’t laugh at a joke like that because then you would be laughing at me, someone different. Or you are just like me, in which case you’re laughing at ‘us’, yourself.

So what you’re saying is that either we have a world without laughter, or we have a world where everyone is afraid to laugh at anyone other than themselves. I’m sorry, but if you can laugh at yourself then I can laugh at you too. And if you can’t laugh at yourself then you have a problem; or rather, the rest of us have a problem because we have to stop dealing with the world the only way we know how and start being uptight and serious all the time for fear of upsetting you.

Jeez, look how serious I’m getting! Now I need to lighten up. Where’s that laugh lab website??

http://www.laughlab.co.uk/ Got it.

According to Dr Wiseman laughter is an evolved response to tension or discomfort when we find ourselves dealing with situations that are not as we expect. The punchline of a joke is such a situation, as is a black man speaking chinese - from the point of view of an unsophisticated person who has just had all his preconceptions challenged.

Here’s another interesting finding from his two million respondents:

People from The Republic of Ireland, the UK, Australia and New Zealand expressed a strong preference for jokes involving word plays,

[i]Americans and Canadians much preferred gags where there was a sense of superiority

"Well, at least we’re not in Mexico: those taco-benders always say, “You like my sister?”

"Well, at least we’re not in mainland China: those gob-spitters always say, “Taiwan province.”

"Well, at least we’re not in Poland: those dimwits always say, “Light bulb’s out – we need another guy!”

"Well, at least we’re not in India: those great unwashed always say, “Ek rupie! Ek rupie!”


i agree that humor has a variety of uses, most of them particularly useful and helpful to many. i guess i sort of furrow my brow when i hear humor that comes at the expense of another sort of people; being american, judging from that dr.'s comments, it’s sort of what we do, the humor we use to get through our lives.

in my experiences teaching (not in taiwan but elsewhere) i’ve used self-effacing humor a lot. i hesitate to make fun of others or those from another group for one because i don’t appreciate it when people are malicious about it–like i said, we americans like to pick on each other–and also because i don’t find it helpful for building a community or getting others to understand each other. but yeah, making a complete fool out of myself, that’s the key to my teaching technique.

but about humor that takes to task another culture, the reason why i address it is because in my experience such humor usually masks a more serious prejudice that the person may express through the joke but not really realize. for example, i am from a particularly segregated city in the midwestern US, Saint Louis. frankly, people from both “sides” rarely interact meaningfully and so move on in life perpetuating those prejudices. as a youth i was brought up never to trust a white person, but because of my experiences outside of the home with friends from school i was able to counter that upbringing and look at people as people, not without their racial culture or ethnic heritage or sexual orientation but primarily as a person. yet i’d say that in my experience few get to that point where they counter that prejudice that they internalize from humor and snide comments. the average person’s intuitive knowledge of a different culture gets reinforced by such comments because he/she hasn’t really known someone of that community, befriended someone of that culture.

unfortunately i can’t even count how many times in the past few weeks, even from close friends and family, i’ve heard some snide remark about people of asian descent: “you watch out for them girls, they got vd; don’t sell your body parts, you know they buy them over there; don’t eat any dog…” etc. etc. and even though the people who said that kind of stuff didn’t really intend to denigrate another culture through their ignorance, they still said it. what can i do but try to figure out a way for them to see their ignorance?

after a comment by someone, i’ve found that by simply asking, “what did you mean by that?” gets the person questioning their own words and gets them to examine just what could lie beneath what they may consider as a harmless joke. that’s the question i should’ve asked dave instead of trying to expose what i saw as the underlying tones in his comment and jumping down his throat even though i didn’t mean to. i’ve also found that by simply reacting in a different way than expected–ie. not laughing–can have a similar effect. it’s all about just getting that person to think.

i agree that taiwan is not our country and that it’s not our responsibility or even place to change their culture. yet i don’t think that asking someone to defend their statement or think about what they stated is changing culture. i think it’s simply teaching people how to think more thoroughly about the implications of their speech.

it’s also important to pick one’s battles. for instance, if it’s someone i don’t even know that well, i’ll take a different, more indirect approach than if it’s say my father. in any situation, i try to do it out of love, and i’m far from perfect at it. so yeah, it’s not cool to harp on my students the first day. but it’s also important not to forget that comment and to find another time more appropriate to address it.

When discussing stereotypes with your Taiwanese students be aware that probably none of them has ever spoken more than a couple of sentences with a foreigner (except maybe an English teacher), much less had one for a friend, so they will surely buy into whatever racist generalization they are fed, especially by their worldly foreign teacher.

When I taught conversation classes, I was shocked when an apparently bright student told me, “I hate all Japanese people.” Wanting to prompt deeper consideration, I passed out discussion questions in my classes, asking how Chinese and Japanese people dress, speak and think differently from Taiwanese, but I dropped that assignment when I discovered that none of my students had ever met an actual Chinese or Japanese person and their answers were solely conjecture based on TV and other biased sources.

Yup, you’re both right.

And, much as I believe in us all being able to laugh at ourselves and each other together, the sad truth is that a lot of people laugh at others as a way of expressing their own negative feelings.

I’ve been appalled at some of the ‘jokes’ that people who see me as one of their own have told me. Sharing a joke is one way of forming bonds, important for a teacher, but yeah - it can also serve to reinforce prejudice. Wish I knew what the answer was.

On a positive note, I met an Irishman once who expressed views about Northern Ireland that were at odds with my own. I kept fairly quiet and he later told me a joke that I couldn’t help finding funny.

Although we had differing views about a particular topic, we both realized that we had a lot more in common than we had believed. We both agreed that the butt of the joke, with whom I am allegedly allied, is more different from ‘us’ than we are from each other. And thus a rift was healed, at least on a personal level, and we became good friends.