Why Chinese immigrants can struggle with English fluency

“Sometimes, people are just afraid to make mistakes and decide not to speak. We have to learn not to be afraid to embarrass and humiliate ourselves.”

Derwing said English-language training for immigrants must focus more on listening, speaking and pronunciation skills, as well as the so-called soft skill of engaging in casual conversation.

How often have we heard other teachers say this of our children in schools? Zhenyong Li gives a great account of the difficulties he finds particularly with small talk.  I am not sure that the children find some of these problems mainly because they pick up the social play ground talk quite easily, but have a problem with academic language.

The study by the Montreal-based Institute for Research on Public Policy followed 25 immigrants each from Mandarin and Slavic groups, and assessed their listening and speaking skills at years 1, 2 and 7

There are observations to be thought about here not least why do they struggle so much more than the Slovak group, and what can we as teachers do to improve this.  Also this is surprising as those English speakers learning Mandarin seem to be really well.  A school in Canton Cardiff has achieved the success of many of its students passing exams for  adults to a really high level.

Read the rest here: http://www.thestar.com/news/article/1205277–why-chinese-immigrants-struggle-with-english-fluency

Zhenyong Li has no trouble speaking English in his engineering jargon, but the Chinese immigrant says it can still be challenging to carry on small talk.

And yet, casual conversation with native speakers around the water cooler is crucial to language development — and social integration — for those whose mother tongue is something else, especially Mandarin.

A new study found the Mandarin-speaking immigrants it tracked had made “no significant progress” in their English accent, fluency and comprehensibility seven years after their arrival here, compared with their Slavic-language (Russian and Ukrainian) speaking counterparts.

The study by the Montreal-based Institute for Research on Public Policy followed 25 immigrants each from Mandarin and Slavic groups, and assessed their listening and speaking skills at years 1, 2 and 7.

“Mandarin-speakers over time did not get much easier to understand when native listeners heard them speak,” said University of Alberta educational psychology professor Tracey Derwing, who co-authored the study with NorQuest College language instructor Erin Waugh.

“They made very little progress in their pronunciation and fluency. They still had many pauses and hesitation.”

Participants in the study — all possessing the same overall language proficiency, well-educated and with similar language training here — were shown pictures and asked to describe them in their own words, while being evaluated by 30 listeners to eliminate any bias or subjectivity.

Researchers also found the Mandarin speakers had had significantly fewer conversations of 10 minutes or more with native and non-native English speakers than did the Slavic participants.

The Mandarin speakers were, as a whole, more reluctant to initiate conversation and appeared to be less aware of current local events than the Slavic speakers.

The Slavic speakers, as a group, the report said, were more assertive and more deliberate in their effort to learn English. They also had an advantage because of interests shared with the larger community (ice hockey, for example), which helped with conversations.

Li, who came here from Shanghai in 1998, said Mainland Chinese learn their English from textbooks through reading and writing, and have no opportunity to drill their listening and speaking skills outside the classroom.

“If you cannot listen or speak proper English, you feel discouraged to participate in a conversation because you are afraid others don’t understand you,” said Li, 52, who has a master’s degree in engineering from the California Institute of Technology and is a manager of a Markham consulting firm.

The Chinese Professionals Association of Canada in Toronto has introduced several programs to address the language gap, which focus on pronunciation and “soft skills” in communication.

“It’s vital to be able to carry small talk,” said its president, Hugh Zhao, who moved here from Shenyang in 1989. “Small talk leads to common understanding and other big topics. It’s not enough just to talk about the weather in Canada.”

Zhao, a computing manager at the University of Toronto, said the Chinese language is very different from the English alphabet, and so are the cultures attached to those language.

Also, silence, which for the Chinese is a virtue reflecting humbleness, is not valued in the West, where people tend to appreciate participation and outspokenness.

“(Mainland) Chinese students are not active in class because, if they understand it, they don’t want to show off. And if they do not understand something, they don’t want to ask and show their ignorance,” Zhao said.

“Sometimes, people are just afraid to make mistakes and decide not to speak. We have to learn not to be afraid to embarrass and humiliate ourselves.”

Derwing said English-language training for immigrants must focus more on listening, speaking and pronunciation skills, as well as the so-called soft skill of engaging in casual conversation.

“Communication is a two-way street. The burden of communication should not be on immigrants’ shoulders only,” she added. “Canadians should not just zone out or shut down when they hear somebody speak with an accent.”

Umeboshi – What are they? – Japan

Following on the Japanese thread from this week I came across this article from the Japanese Times which describes a cooking technique and also gives a recipe at the very end…I was very intrigued by the word itself Umeboshi so was surprised to see it linked to culinary terms as I thought it was perhaps something more geographical … my Japanese sadly is getting no better.  I do love food though especially something that is different from my cultural food experiences so thought I would share this and the history behind it.

Below is the article:

Umeboshi: perfect in any culinary pickle

Special to The Japan Times

Japanese cuisine has more than its share of acquired tastes, and umeboshi are near the top of the list. Intensely sour and salty, these traditional tsukemono (pickles) are prepared over several weeks, starting in June when the fruits of the ume tree are ripe, and finishing up in July under the hot midsummer sun. Ume are related to plums and apricots.

Making enough umeboshi to last the rest of the year was a task in most Japanese households for hundreds of years. Both of my grandmothers made a batch faithfully every summer, each tasting entirely different from the other. My paternal grandmother made pale, moist ones that were more sour than salty, and my maternal grandmother made umeboshi that were so salty that the surface glistened with crystals.

They both made their umeboshi in similar ways, but the differences came from the amount of salt used and how the fruit was handled. My father’s mother lived in a small house in central Tokyo and did not have a lot of room to spread out her umeboshi, so she kept the drying (hoshi) phase short, the salt fairly low, and disinfected her pots with shōchū liquor to ward off mold. My mother’s mother lived in a small town and had the space to give her umeboshi lots of sun and air and relied solely on salt and the natural acidity of the ume to preserve them. Her umeboshi were as wrinkled and brown as her well-worn gardener’s hands.

It’s the latter ones I remember most fondly despite their intense saltiness, because they are so interwoven with my childhood memories of summer. Every August my mother would participate in the age-old custom of sato-gaeri — going back to the small town where she grew up, offspring in tow, for a week or two’s holiday. When us kids got back home every late afternoon, exhausted and soaked in sweat from running around wild all day, our grandmother would give us an umeboshi each.

This was in the days when people used to believe (erroneously, as it turns out) that one needed to take in extra salt during the brutally hot and humid summer; for my grandmother, making her grandchildren eat her umeboshi was her way of ensuring that we stayed healthy. Even now when I bite into an umeboshi, memories come flooding back of sitting on the porch with my cousins, mouth puckering, knowing that I’d soon be rewarded with a tall, icy glass of mugi-cha (barley tea), and maybe some watermelon that had been chilling all day in the well.

The first written records of umeboshi appear as early as the year 200. Initially it was ume-su (ume vinegar), the sour-salty liquid byproduct of the umeboshi-making process, that was prized. The liquid was used as an antiseptic on wounds, as well as to clean and chelate metal items such as bronze mirrors and temple bells. (Ume-su was widely used as an antiseptic well into the 20th century, until more modern antiseptics became available.) In later times, both the pickled fruit and the vinegar were used to treat various ailments, especially of the stomach.

Umeboshi and ume-su were especially cherished in times of war. During the medieval Warring States period (1467-1573), they were valued for their long shelf life, and warlords across the land ordered the planting of bairin (ume groves). Umeboshi were thought to prevent the spread of infectious diseases, ward off food poisoning, and more.

These beliefs continued even into the 20th century, when soldiers carried bundles of umeboshi with them to the front. In the early Showa Era (1926-1989), the humble umeboshi became part of a national patriotic symbol: the hinomaru bentō, consisting of a rectangular bed of plain white rice with a single umeboshi in the middle, resembling the Japanese flag.

Nowadays, umeboshi can be bought in department-store food halls, supermarkets, convenience stores and even ¥100 shops. They range widely in price and quality; cheap umeboshi with artificial flavors are rather nasty, but at the high end they are a gourmet treat.

Traditionally, the best umeboshi come from Wakayama Prefecture, which was called the Kishu Domain during the Edo Period (1603-1867). It was mainly in this region, and during this time, that umeboshi pickled with red shiso (perilla) leaves came into being. These reddish-brown to bright purple-red delights are what most people consider to be the quintessential umeboshi. In recent years, though, umeboshi that are are less salty and marinated in dashi stock (which adds lots of umami) have gained popularity. There are also very low-salt umeboshi that still retain the sweetness of the fruit.

Are umeboshi good for you? Probably so — in moderation. The main “good” ingredient in umeboshi and ume-su is citric acid, which is a natural preservative and conservative, as well as an appetite inducer. White onigiri (rice balls) made with umeboshi filling keep for a longer time than onigiri made with other fillings, and a traditional dish to eat when you’re sick is some plain rice gruel flavored with umeboshi. However, the high salt content is not that good for you, so it’s probably best not to have more than a couple at a time.

Where umeboshi really shine is in the kitchen. Think of them as flavoring agents or condiments rather than pickles; start by using just a little in sauces or on plain rice and so on. Add an umeboshi to a marinade for meat, or put one in the poaching liquid when you poach a chicken for a subtle flavor.

You may find that once you get used to them, you become addicted to their salty-sourness. The first time my husband, who’s Swiss, popped one in his mouth, he almost spat it out in horror, but now he loves them even more than I do. One of his favorite quick lunches is pitted and chopped umeboshi, butter, a drizzle of soy sauce and toasted sesame seeds tossed with freshly cooked pasta. (I like to add a dash of Tabasco.)

The umeboshi section of a department-store food hall can be rather overwhelming, especially during the midsummer and yearend gift giving seasons. Besides the pickled fruit themselves, you can also find a variety of ume-su, ume paste (neri-ume) and umeboshi-based sauces.

Traditionally made umeboshi can keep for years, even decades, and if they do go bad (they turn black) it’s thought to be a very bad omen. However, modern low-salt umeboshi, especially ones marinated in dashi stock, do not keep so well, and must be kept refrigerated and eaten before the best-by date.

Not that many people make their own umeboshi these days, but some still keep up the tradition, including my mother. Hers are somewhere in between the ones by my two grandmothers — a bright reddish brown, somewhat dried but still moist and smooth, salty yet not overwhelming. To me, they are perfection.

Makiko Itoh is the author of “The Just Bento Cookbook” (Kodansha USA). She writes about bentō lunches at www.justbento.com and about Japanese cooking and more at www.justhungry.com.
Recipe: Ume-dashi dressing or dipping sauceThis refreshing and versatile sauce can be used as a salad dressing or as a dipping sauce for cold noodles. I make the sauce without any oil, and add a little oil before using it as a dressing. The oil helps the sauce to cling to the ingredients in a salad. If you don’t want to make dashi stock from scratch, use 1½ teaspoons of dashi granules dissolved into 400 ml of water instead.

Makes about 400 ml

Water — 400 ml

Dry konbu seaweed — 1 10-cm piece

Red shiso-type umeboshi — 4 large

Katsuobushi (bonito flakes) — ½ cup (1 small handful)

Sake — 1 tsp

Mirin — 1 tsp

Light soy sauce — 1 tsp

Ume-su — 2 tbsp

Prepare the dashi stock by steeping the konbu seaweed in the water for 20 minutes, then bringing to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer.

While the konbu seaweed is steeping, pit the umeboshi and chop the flesh finely until it becomes a paste.

Put the stones into the dashi stock and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the mirin and sake, and simmer an additional 5 minutes. Add the bonito flakes. Turn off the heat, and leave until cooled down to lukewarm. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve.

Add the soy sauce, chopped umeboshi and ume-su. Mix well. Let cool, and store in a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid in the refrigerator until ready to use. It will keep for a couple of weeks.

To use as a salad dressing, mix 2 tablespoons of the sauce with  ½ tablespoon of a light-flavored vegetable or olive oil. The best method is to put both in a small glass jar with a lid (not the one you store the sauce in) and shake vigorously.

You can also use the sauce straight up as a dipping sauce for cold udon or hiyamugi noodles; it makes an interesting change from regular noodle dipping sauce. If the sauce is too salty as-is, dilute it with a little water. Add thinly sliced myōga ginger, finely chopped green onion and toasted sesame seeds as garnish.

 

With thanks to http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/fg20120525f1.html