Friday, 31 August 2007

The AltaVista Translator

I've added the AltaVista Translator device to the blog. You can see it on the right hand side, just above my links section. It's pretty useful and fairly accurate (I've tested it) although it seems unwilling to translate some names (especially Afrikaans ones...I saw this on my rugby blog...), slang and some shortened versions of words. The translator allows you to click on a flag corresponding to your language of choice and translates the entire page for you. Languages available are: Chinese (unfortunately only simplified as this is used on the mainland, although most well versed traditional Chinese readers - I'm able, so native speakers should be fine - should have no problem), German, Japanese, Korean, French, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish.

It's a pretty nifty little tool. If you would like to add it to your blog or website, go here. It's free and easy to do.

For my Chinese/Taiwanese friends:
我增加了AltaVista 譯者設備來blog 。您能看它在右邊, 在我的連接部分之上。它是相當有用和相當準確的(我測試了它) 雖然它似乎不願意翻譯一些名字(特別是南非荷蘭語一□... 我看見了這在我的橄欖球blog...), 俗話和一些詞的被變短的版本。譯者允許您點擊鍵子對應於選擇您的語言和翻譯整個頁為您。語言可利用是: 漢語(只不幸地簡化當這被使用在大陸,
雖然最好熟練的繁體中文讀者- 我能, 因此說母語的人應該是好的- 不應該有問題), 德語、日語、韓國語、法語、義大利語、葡萄牙語和西班牙語。

這是一個相當妙的小的工具。如果您會想增加它到您的blog 或網站, 去這裡。它是free-and-easy 做。

PS - I wrote this Chinese, it's traditional.... (ok, Kiki edited a little...)

Sunday, 01 July 2007

Treeless City, Starless night...

It seems as if the standard of journalism in South Africa has plummeted to the same poor depths as the ability of it's politicians to see reason and think logically. One article that is of interest to Taiwanese and South Africans alike is a feature in "Die Beeld" written by one, Cobus Olivier. He spins a yarn that makes it hard to believe that he has ever been to Taiwan, let alone actually lives here. Seeing as he does live here, I expect he is merely pandering to the low expectations of his semi-literate readership. One quote that come to mind is the following:

Hier word koffie en tee koud bedien. As jy dit warm verkies, moet jy daarvoor vra.
Translation: Here, coffee and tea are served cold. If you want it hot, you need to ask for it.

Blogger doesn't have emoticons, but I am rolling my eyes. The entire article is written giving us an "insiders" view of Mr. Olivier's day. He goes on to state:

Die straat om die sirkel is besig. Aan die oorkant van die sirkel langs ’n klein boekwinkel is die bushalte waar ek die bus kleuterskool (werk) toe neem. Busse het geen nommers op nie, net ’n naam in Chinees geskribbel.
Translation: The street around the circle is busy. On the other side of the circle, next to a small bookstore, is the bus stop where I take the bus to Kindergarten (work). Buses have no numbers on them, only names scribbled in Chinese.

There is so much wrong with this single quote. The illustrious Cobus has just admitted to working in an industry that is illegal for foreigners to work in. Yes, foreigners do work in Kindergartens and they get away with it as it isn't really a law that is fiercely enforced or policed much. But this is now the second non-English first language speaking Saffa that has proclaimed to work at a Kindergarten. At least Cobus did so in Afrikaans and in a SA newspaper. The other fellow wrote it in his book (published in English and Chinese) on his Taiwan experience and is still currently working here.
As for the Chinese "scribbled" on the buses. He lives in Zhongli, which is a relatively small town. All major towns and cities have bilingual (albeit with questionable quality) public services and it doesn't take a genius to figure out which bus or MRT to take. Apart from that, like so many of this ilk that I've come across in Taiwan, he seems to live an existence apart from mainstream Taiwanese society. Living in a foreign (non-Taiwanese) bubble without engaging the society he's in the least nor attempting to acquire even the most rudimentary Mandarin skills. The type that stays, two, maybe three years on the island without ever really experiencing anything it has to offer, yet still being dumbfounded to find Chinese characters "scribbled" everywhere. This obtuse kind of existence never ceases to amaze me.

By die kleuterskool waar ek Engels gee, die Melton Kindergarten, storm ’n swerm skreeuende kleuters op my af. “Mr. Coby! Mr. Coby!”. Hulle noem my so, want Coby is die naaste Engelse naam aan Cobus waaraan ek kon dink.
Translation: At the kindergarten where I teach English, the Melton Kindergarten, a swarm of toddlers storm towards me. "Mr. Coby! Mr. Coby!". They call me this, because Coby is the closest English name to Cobus that I could think of.

Oi vey! So, apart from admitting to working in an industry illegal for foreigners to work in, he goes and writes the name of the school. Furthermore, and correct me if I'm wrong, Cobus is the shortened form of Jacobus, which is German, Dutch and Afrikaans for Jacob. Coby isn't even a name, let alone an English name (not to be confused with Kobe, as in Kobe Bryant the NBA star). In the tradition of English names, wouldn't it be better if his students call him Jacob or Jake?

Hier werk ek van 7:30 tot 15:30, met ’n uur en ’n half se middagete. Die Engels wat ons hulle leer is maar baie elementêr en as die Engelse woord nie vinnig genoeg opduik nie, gebruik jy sommer die Afrikaanse woord.

Op ’n dag vra een van die nuwe Chinese onderwyseresse by die skool vir my: “What does ‘mamparra’ mean?” Sy het gehoor dat die een meisie ’n seuntjie “mamparra” noem. Wonder by wie het sy daai woord gehoor?

Translation: I work here from 7:30 to 15:30, with an hour and a half lunch break. The English we teach here is very elementary and if I can't think of the English word quick enough, I just use the Afrikaans word.
One day one of the Chinese teachers at the school asked me: "What does 'mamparra' mean?" She had heard one girl calling a boy a mamparra. I wonder where she learnt that?

What can you say about that? Now I can already see some of the folks back home thinking, "Ag, te oulik! Klein japsnesies wat Afrikaanse woorde se." (Ah, how cute. Little Taiwanese saying Afrikaans words.) Well, bollocks to that. As if we Saffas don't have a hard enough time explaining to all and sundry that SA is in fact an English speaking country and that we (those of us who are first language speakers - not merely nominally bilingual) really are English, you have this gormless article openly admitting to having such poor English that he occasionally can't think of the English word, so he just teaches them the Afrikaans.
Now let's be clear here, the parents pay a goodly sum of money every month to have their kiddies learn the international Lingua Franca, not some bastardised version of it. It's no bloody wonder most of the schools prefer Canadians and Americans, whilst becoming very suspicious at the mere mention of South African nationality.

Our dear writer goes on to claim that they only teach very elementary level English. In my experience (and please note, I'm not claiming nor denying ever having worked at a kindergarten in Taiwan) this means one of two things. One, the school is crap and merely a money spinner. Two, our dear writer is crap and his English ability isn't up to the task. Perhaps it's more a combination of the two. I have known immersion style kindergartens (those where they have a foreign teacher from 7:30 to 15:30) to graduate 7 year olds that have reading abilities (if not speaking skills) at the same or higher level than kids of the same age in South Africa. In fact, where you have kids attending an immersion style kindergarten from age 4 to 7, you may have several students graduating with near first language ability. Granted, these kinds of schools are private and expensive, therefore this is rare but not unheard of.
But if the teacher's ability is so poor that he or she often can't think of the correct English vocabulary and needs to resort to his or her own first (no English) language, then I guess the level of English would be elementary and the children wouldn't benefit as much as parents paying a kings ransom in school fees would expect.

Wanneer die kleuterskool uitkom is die werksdag nog lank nie om nie. Nou is dit tyd vir klas by ’n “bushiban” – ’n naskoolsentrum waar die kinders ekstra klasse loop.

Dit is standaard vir ’n negejarige Taiwanees om 08:00 met skool te begin en dan tot 21:00 of selfs 22:00 besig te wees met skoolwerk. Dan sit hulle 21:00 die aand in my Engelse klas en ek moet hulle opgewonde maak oor ‘n vreemde taal!

Translation: After kindergarten the work day is far from finished. Then it's time for classes at a Buxiban - an after school centre where kids take extra lessons.
It's standard practice for a 9 year old Taiwanese to start school at 8am and to still be busy at 9pm or even 10pm. Then they sit in my English class at 9pm and I have to get them all excited about a strange (foreign) language.

And so the monster raises its ugly head to be identified. Please realise that this bloke is claiming to be working from 7:30am to 10pm Monday to Friday. That's assuming he isn't taking extra work on the weekends. Subtract 1 and a half hours for lunch and a further hour and a half for dinner. That's 11 hours a day. Let's just make it 10. That would give him 50 hours a week! For those who don't know, this is an enormous amount of teaching hours a week. Double the norm. Most of us work 25 hours a week, not including the odd private student on a Saturday. Apart from the fact that the kids (especially the little one) really sap your energy, there is at least some preparation to be done. Especially if you wish to do a good job, making it interesting and educational, not just acting like a circus clown for their amusement.
It then strikes me that this fellow is one of the (too) many who come here just to earn a quick buck and bugger off without really getting to know the island, it's people, it's culture nor it's language. Well, it takes all sorts, doesn't it? It's also this willingness to work absolutely crazy hours that actually has some schools preferring Saffa teachers. Furthermore, I realise that not everyone is interested in Chinese language, history and culture. But, what strikes me about all this (and which is underlined in his article in that worthless rag, Die Beeld) is that this fellow is obviously working such a rate of hours as to compromise his level of teaching. He even admits to this by clarifying his inability to think of certain English words and thus reverting to Afrikaans, further detracting from the actual goal of teaching English to non native speakers.

I guess this is why this article pisses me off so much. Not only is it pretentious and uniformed, but he makes all us Saffa teachers look like idiots and it's guys like this that trample on the very flimsy image we already have. The image of not really being native speakers, and therefore not really qualified to teach English within the ESL/EFL environment.
To Cobus Olivier, it's all a laugh. An article in Die Beeld and a jaunt overseas to hoard as much cash as quickly as possible at the expense of good teaching and the image of all Saffa teachers. However, not all of us are here in such a mercenary capacity. Some of us have vested interests in this country, and yes, even the ESL/EFL industry. Some of us have families here and need and wish to make this our home. A home for decades, not a few years.

Bier is wel duur, maar “pool” is verniet. Na ’n paar spelle stap ek laatnag huistoe. Die strate is nou uiteindelik stil. Bo my is die sterrelose hemel. As jy stip kyk kan jy drie sterre sien. Selfs ná middernag is dit veilg om in die hoofstrate af te stap.

Translation: Beer is expensive, but pool is free. After a few games I walk home late at night. The streets are eventually quiet. Above me lies the starless sky. If you look carefully you can see three stars. Even past midnight it's safe to walk in the streets.

How you can say beer is expensive in Taiwan with a straight face, I'll never know. In a bar a Budweiser or Heineken will cost you NT$100 (R20) for a 340ml bottle. However, the same will cost you a paltry NT$45 (R9) a any 7-11. A local micro brew or Taiwan Beer (draft) will go for NT$100 for a 500ml glass, also. Furthermore, this price has been constant for more than five years now. Working 50 hours a week earning anywhere between NT$550 (R120) to NT$700 (R160) an hour, NT$100 for a beer is a Santa Saver.
As to the stars, if I look out of my house on a clear night I can see the Milky way. I can easily see Orion's Belt and a myriad other stars. Two years ago I even saw Mars on its close approach to Earth. And I live smack in the middle of Tainan city. Were I to go out into the counties the view would be very much the same as you would see in SA.
And so, at least he ends his article on one point I'll agree with. It's safe on the streets, even past midnight. But it's far from quiet. Cars are still rushing around, scooters are humming off to their destinations, eateries are open and even whole families are seated at late night restaurants. If you go hungry in Taiwan, it's your own fault. You can find a place to eat any time of the day. This is the island that never sleeps.

For the entire article (in Afrikaans), go here.

Sunday, 10 June 2007

Being a South African teacher in Taiwan - Part Three

So, to the heart of the matter. After all is said and done, who is qualified to be an EFL/ESL teacher, specifically in Taiwan, but anywhere really?

The Market in Taiwan

Firstly, the customer is always right, right? Maybe not right, but if the customer doesn't like the product, the customer will take his business elsewhere. I think it's fair to say that in Taiwan the majority of folks think of North America when they think of English speakers. In fact, in most parts of the world the USA has come to epitomise, not only Western culture, but the English language. Other than the erstwhile British Empire, and what now remains of it in the likes of Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, it is arguable that no other country has done more in terms of the spread and usage of the English language. And I think this may have more to do with the American entertainment industry than just mere economic power.
That, and the threat of the PRC hanging over this island and the veil of US military protection (to whatever degree) it is no small wonder that when locals think of English learning they think of America, and by proximity, Canada. The fact that schools often list speakers from Britain, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa as native speakers actually argues against the oft made point that Taiwanese are ignorant of the "world outside" their country.
The converse is true, however, in the thought that only blond, blue eyed whites from these countries are genuine native speakers of English.

Be that as it may, usually preference is given to North Americans, and even when "other" English speaking countries are listed the disclaimer; North American accent preferred, is invariably listed. And when one speaks to North Americans of colour, one quickly comes to realise that this preference is actually for; white North Americans.
One can argue about racism, ignorance, prejudice, ageism, national preference and not really get anywhere. The fact remains: commercial schools are selling an image and they are perfectly within their rights to sell whichever image is going to net the maximum amount of dollars.

However, this is not the purpose of this post. My purpose is to define who is qualified to actually teach EFL/ESL. I think, by now, we are all familiar with whom the Taiwanese marketplace refers, regardless of morality issues. As it has been suggested that South Africans are somehow inferior wrt to the English language, and that my thread centres around that misconception, I'd like to start there. What follows is based on my own experiences and observations and has no scientific basis whatsoever.

South African English Teachers

Officially, South Africa has eleven official languages. However, to actually implement this would be a logistic and financial nightmare. As a result, the de facto official language is English and is a required subject in all schools through all 12 grades. To matriculate in South Africa and to not be fluent in English you would have to be a complete linguistic moron. Furthermore, you wouldn't be able to function in South African society at any level and would be economically marginalised to the point of starvation.

Of the South Africans found teaching in Taiwan the majority are white South Africans. White South Africans are largely sub divided into two groups; English and Afrikaans. However, other white groups include; Portuguese, Greek, Italian, Russian and other recent (past 100 years) immigrants from Europe. These groups usually speak their native languages at home and English everywhere else. In South Africa you will find fourth or fifth generation Portuguese who still speak Portuguese at home. So, on all South African forms where language is listed, people always list their home language (first language) and other languages.

from an accent point of view the following main accents may be found, which aren't necessarily related to ethnic group as you may find blacks raised in environments where they have distinct British type accents. One most expats may have seen is the black lady who hosts CNN's Focus on Africa show. The main accent types are: Afrikaner, African, Coloured, South African English and Indian. These accents may be either very strong (the minority) or relatively minor withing the general SA English accent. Most people speak with a relatively "flat" accent characterised by a weak "r" (i.e. not rolled in the American fashion) and a more England type "a" pronunciation in words like "can't" rather than the American way. Other than that I think a casual observer might find that the average Saffa tends to speak a brand of English which is a blend of American and British in terms of how some words are pronounced and in terms of which words are used. An example of this may be the use of the word soccer. Here we tend to use the American term and see Football as meaning American Football.

So, when one is looking for a "Native English speaker" in South Africa you are really only looking at white South Africans of British descent, or coloured (SA gvt term to classify people of mixed race) South Africans who speak English and not Afrikaans at home.
That being said, the difference between a SA "Native English speaker" and second language speaker of European descent (not Afrikaners) are zero. Furthermore, the majority of Afrikaners and other South Africans under the age of 30 have learnt English and have spoken it from a very early age, usually at a stage when the mother tongue isn't even ingrained yet. This is due to the fact that most women work and children are left at day care centres and kindergartens (creche) where English is usually spoken anyway.
You may find people from poorer areas where the kids are raised by a grandmother until school going age, which is usually 6/7, and even then the preferred language of instruction is English. This is especially the case among non-whites who openly encourage and want English based education for their kids.
So, in truth, the myth of the heavily accented "Sef Efriken" is so far on the way out as to be almost no existent anymore, especially amongst the younger generation.

North Americans

As far as Americans are concerned, to be honest, there are so many deviations and and localised accents in the States that to advertise that your school teaches American English almost becomes a lie. Canadians seem to have a more standard accent across the board, but even that isn't entirely true. Canadians themselves often enjoy poking fun at folks from New Foundland (Newfies), whom I can only assume are the Canadian equivalent of the heavily accented Afrikaner of years past.
Furthermore, to say that someone who holds a US or Canadian passport is a native English speaker is a bald faced lie. In North America, as is the case in SA, several ethnic and linguistic groups co-exist. Gone are the days of a WASP America. In fact, I've even heard said by Americans that Spanish is fast becoming more widely spoken than English, especially in the South Western US.
I have personally worked with French Canadians that have had great difficulty following an English conversation once it gets past the basics and into an in depth discussion on any topic. One such fellow used to regularly come up to me before class and ask about basic grammar rules.

Britain, Australia and New Zealand

I would expect that Australia is the "English" speaking country that is least affected by non-first language English speaking immigrants. I would wager that 95% or more Australians are native English speakers. I would be willing to bet that this is almost true of New Zealand where at least 80% of the population would be native speakers. If anyone has a problem with teachers from these two countries it's probably a question of how strong the Kiwi or Aussie accent is regarding the individual.
But then again, in my experience I've found that Aussies and Kiwi's are just slightly higher on the preferential ladder than Saffa's and sometimes not even. Just further illustrates how silly the situation is...

As far as the Brits and Irish are concerned. Well, I've heard Irishmen with good clear accents and some where this wasn't quite the case. As far as accent differences go, England's the place to see. Some English cities have more deviations than some countries. Apart from some of the London accents, the accents up north are probably the strongest. To my ear at any rate. That's not to say I can't understand the folks from up there (or from Scotland), I just have to pay more attention when they speak.

Dude! What's your freaking point, already??

The fact that some foreigners seem to think that their particular little brand of English is superior or "The Standard" is beyond dispute. However, those anal retentives don't influence Taiwanese MoE policy, hire teachers or make the rules. So who cares?
The problem comes in the door hand in hand with ignorance. Parents perceive and the schools perpetuate the idea that they are teaching the kids 美語 or American English. This in itself is ridiculous as no such thing exists. There is just English. Furthermore, in America, as in any other English speaking country, there are regional variations in language use, slang and accent. This doesn't matter very much and is one of the reasons that English has become the prominent global language. English is adaptable. If you're from Johannesburg, SA you'll be able to understand John from Arkansas and Mr Naidoo from Calcutta. This is not always the case with Chinese. And perhaps due to this, the Taiwanese don't always realise that regional accent differences don't really matter much. And besides native speakers, the reason for learning a language is to be able to communicate. If you have trouble communicating in English with an Afrikaner or a French Canadian you're going to be in a tight spot anywhere.

When you really get down to it, there really is little difference between English spoken anywhere in the world. The major difference lies in American spelling vs British spelling. Other than that, how one pronounces a few vowels isn't cause for rejecting someone as an EFL teacher. If that were so, Taiwan would have to choose one US regional accent type and only hire teachers who can prove they were born and raised in that area. Otherwise the entire argument as to who is qualified to teach English based on origin and accent becomes moot.

For my part, I don't think someone needs to be a native speaker to teach English. I know a guy from Jordan who has been teaching here for over 20 years and some of his students are currently teaching. I know some of them and there is nothing wrong with their English.
However, if one wishes to persist with only Native speakers that will be about as hard to enforce and check as traffic rules are on Taiwan's roads.
Surely an interview and a perusal of a potential employee's qualifications should be enough to see whether an individual is in fact qualified (academically) and able (clear accent) to teach English.

Being a South African teacher in Taiwan - Part Two

In Part One the main thread of the post was dedicated to the silly old Alexander letter. Reason for that being that it was the first glimpse I had of folks who think that South Africans are somehow less qualified to teach English than say, Canadians or Australians, and that South Africa may be perceived as something other than an English speaking country like, the USA or Britain.
The Dragon Recruiters information file I received prior to arrival had one thing right, we are low on the list. The preference is as follows: USA, Canada, Britain, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Schools invariably state; North American accent preferred. The preference can change, as some schools prefer Canadian teachers and I have had one or two offers where the school actually preferred South Africans. In the case of the latter the age old reason was given (that is preached high and low in SA) for why foreign shores seek SA professionals; they are hard working and don't complain.

Moving on from the Alexander Flame Fest, that noxious letter wasn't the last I was to see wrt South African teachers and opinions of South African teachers. Here are some excerpts from my virtual living-room, Forumosa (bear in mind that many of these quotes are from Saffa's themselves); After a discussion about this post with a fellow SA teacher, to avoid confusion, I want to stress that the following quotes were not written by me, but are quotes from other people on the web to give readers an idea how some people feel about SA teachers. This includes everything in ITALICS:

I wasn't aware that the number of teachers had declined; do you have info on this? I live in Jiayi and the number of foreigners has increased over the last five years. Many small cities that were once without big-noses now have several (usually South Africans).

You're right about the South African thing though, some I've met can barely speak English. That just shows how stupid the schools are.

Sorry, nothing personal against you Alleycat.
It's just that I recently discovered another school that has 8 S.A teachers. 5 of them could barely hold a conversation in English - Another S.A teacher translated from Afrikaans so other people could understand what they were saying. In meetings they speak Afrikaans, and when the boss says that he can't understand, they say "Oh, we'll speak slower for you" , and then they changed to simple English.
I am not saying that it is all S. Africans, as Alleycat is obviously a class act and a top notch English speaker, but there are some, usually hiding away in small towns. In these small towns they make a tiny salary and are happy, but is this acceptable?????
If I were a parent of one of the kids at the English school where they teach I would not be happy. Actually they didn't even pass the required test for their school, but the boss was greedy and needed a foreign face.

I had better add that many South Africans are excellent English teachers and I am glad to count some of them as friends, but even my S.A friends admit that there are many out there spoiling it for the rest of them.

What I want to know is: has anyone had any similar experiences or know the reasons for the treatment that South Africans (I really hope its not only me) seem to be receiving at the moment? Is there some devious South African ring conniving to send terrible teachers to Taiwan and sabotage the spread of the English language in Taiwan?
There seems to have been a decision taken in the dank halls of power that South Africans are no longer welcome in Taiwan and every effort should be made to root them out and send them back to darkest Africa where they belong (interminable rant deleted for brevity)...Every South African I know who has been trying to get an ARC has encountered obstacle after obstacle in what used to be the simple process of getting an ARC and work permit to teach English in Taiwan.

I am hiring teachers for several Taipei schools. Recently, we were handed a memo from the Dept. of Education that didn't say we couldn't hire South Africans, but said to "use great caution" in hiring South Africans because of the unusually high number of fake diplomas that have recently turned up among them. I'm afraid the source of all the trouble is the actions of a few bad eggs. We ourselves would like to hire some South Africans, but have run into various snags.

Could it be that South Africans accent is not the preferred accent that Taiwanese parents want their children to speak? Finally, could it be that there is not much understanding of South AFRICA by some people who think it is a backwards poor African country when in fact we all know it is not.

When a job requires a NATIVE English speaker is it acceptable for people who are let's say Afrikaans, Tongan, any other language speakers to apply? :?:
If the teacher does not have a good level of English is it just tough luck for the school? I have a South African friend who told me that many Afrikaans speakers in Taiwan have difficulty conducting a conversation in English and yet are English Teachers.

The South African folks who teach in Taiwan can be classified into two groups:
English native speakers
Afrikaans native speakers
Schools in South Africa, at least when I was in high school, were arranged like this:
If, like me, your native language is English-both parents are of British descent-then you were placed in the system with English as your first language and Afrikaans as your second.
If, your native language is Afrikaans-your parents are of Dutch or French ancestry-then you were placed in the system with Afrikaans as your first language and English as your second...

Give these guys a break. The Taiwanese government does not understand, and, as long as they don't, any South African passport holder with a degree has every legal right to be here teaching English. Besides, "times are tough" in South Africa. Taiwan is a fascinating country and an economic opportunity for them, as it is for me and some of you.
Yes, I am not happy that although I am a native speaker and speak clearer than many Americans, Canadians, Englishmen, Australians, New Zealanders (the order of preference among hirer's), I am still, because of my SA passport, ranked with Afrikaners in the job hunting game.
Thank god, however, I am out of that racket.

I find it really difficult to believe some South Africans have trouble speaking English. It's our official language. If there are, however, surely, during the interview, you would be able to tell, even if the person is an Afrikaner, whether he or she is able to speak with enough fluency to teach English.

And that things have recently become complicated in getting teachers from S.A. My S.A colleague suggested that this may be the problem. He said 70% of his countrymen that he has met in Taiwan have appalling English. Obviously, from your reply, this is not the case at all.
Yes, it is easy to tell from a conversation on the telephone, however there are some agents who don't allow contact - this makes me more than a little suspicious.
Back to entry complications - S.A people now require a local guarantor before a visa will be issued even for a tourist. Is this because S.A did the dirty politically on Taiwan or is it because of some other problems?

I find that some South Africans are very critical of the "Afrikaner" accent. Grammatically there might be nothing wrong with some body's English, but it could still be viewed as inferior because of the accent.

However, anyone matriculating from a South African high school without being able to speak near fluent English is not going to be able to function other than as a day laborer, as all business, public and private, is conducted nowadays almost entirely in English. I, therefore, cannot understand how a graduate of a South African university, be it UCT or RAU, is unable to conduct a conversation in near perfect English.
Even I have railed against the influx of Afrikaners, but considering how bad our economic situation is and, yes, the reverse discrimination (sometimes called affirmative action) in South Africa, I cannot with a good conscience denounce anyone who has a legal right to be in Taiwan. Can you?

A great deal has been made on some expat forums and blogs on the whole issue, "Should South Africans be allowed to teach English?" It also seems to be a thread that comes up every once and awhile. But if we start questioning the ability or legality of one nationality to teach English, what of the others? Who, then, are indeed "qualified" to teach English? And so, to Part Three we go...

On being a South African teacher in Taiwan - Part One

I was unfortunate enough to be recruited by Dragon Recruiters (Kaohsiung based racket) on coming to Taiwan, but I was equally fortunate to land a good first boss. That was no thanks to DR, just blind luck. While still in The Republic, DR head boy, Steven, sent me a file filled with "info" about Taiwan and teaching here. I can't say it was very helpful and it was filled with bile about Taiwan and, the first indicator that I would be perceived as less than adequate, that SA English teachers aren't as highly regarded as we might like. His case was built around the "fact" that SA is a little country and that not much is known about it in Taiwan. This may be true, and in fact the popular opinion is that SA is populated by animals and backwards natives running around in skins. This opinion is a generalisation, but the idea is relatively spot on concerning how SA is perceived.

This basic misconception leads to a bigger problem, especially to one in, or hoping to enter, the Taiwanese EFL (English as a Foreign Language) teaching market. I started out in Cishan, which is a little mountain village out in Kaohsiung County, and had little or no contact with other foreigners. My first year in Taiwan revolved around my school and my house and trying to figure out where I was going wrong with my Chinese studies (it later became apparent that few folks - especially the older ones - understood me, because the primarily spoke Taiwanese). After the first year I moved to Tainan and shortly after the move I came across this gem. Here are some highlights:

I am Frank, of HIGHER STANDARDS TAIWAN ASSOCIATION. We are a new, but fast growing group, made up of highly educated people of both Taiwan and Foreign membership. We are a think-tank organization dedicated to improving all areas of life in Taiwan. Recently, there has been growing concern among the general public over the large number of South Africans teaching in our schools.

This is not a good thing for two very important reasons.

Firstly, South Africans are not native speakers of English. Most South Africans speak the AFRIKAANS language which is a mongrel form of the Dutch language...Their accent is absolutely terrible and most North Americans say they have tremendous difficulty in understanding the South Africans...Our children in Taiwan are learning a form of English which is absolutely unacceptable to real English speaking people.
Also, these Afrikaaners have absolutely no grammer skills. It is at the level of a grade six elementary school child in a real English speaking country.
Why do you hire these people considering there are many top Taiwanese students graduating from our universities with better accents than the Africaaners and far superior skills in grammer. Is it because the Africaaners have a white face?
There are many students from our universities here in Taiwan, with majors in English, unable to find an English teaching poisition because the South Africans are crawling all over the Island begging for jobs.
No, your first choice for a good English teacher must be one with a North American accent, either from the United States of America or Canada. The economic and military power of North America dictates the world and their language also dictates the world. Your second choice for teachers must be those from Britain, New Zealand and Australia. You must try to get real teachers.

The second reason for not hiring a South African deals with culture and apartheid. Apartheid is a very offensive policy to any civilized man. In short, it states that all colored races are inferior or lower than the white man and, therefore, they must live separately. The Chinese people were considered colored, under Apartheid, and not allowed to mix with the Africaaners...Yet these same South Africans are here teaching your children.
Because of decades of Aparthied, the South Africans became extremely dishonest, cunning, devious, not to be trusted. In front of you, they are so honest, so kind, so generous, so considerate, but this is just a cover, they are merely sucking for their jobs. All South Africans in Taiwan declare they never supported Aparthied, but by the very fact that they ran away from South Africa proves that they did support Aparthied and they are now on the run.
They are afraid to live in South Africa because the black people are hunting them down for their activities during the years of Aparthied.

Already, in Taiwan there are stories going around of a South African MAFIA. Most South Africans are not of good character despite their wonderfully friendly exterior.
We strongly advice you not to renew contracts with South African teachers and not to hire any more.
Why should parents pay such high tuition fees to a school for a third rate South African teacher that can barely speak proper English.
This is the very first step towards solving this Africaaner problem here in Taiwan. We will follow this up aggressively.

I think any person in a foreign country reading something like this would feel less than welcome and not entirely thrilled. However, the originator of this gem calls himself Frank Alexander, which is definitely not a Taiwanese name. Once you get away from the venom, this is actually an interesting article. With a name like Frank Alexander, this laddie is surely a foreigner (unless he is a Taiwanese posing as one). What makes the article interesting is his abysmal English and poor grammar (kinda like a sixth grader, right?) whilst all the while raging against allegedly bad South African (and particularly, Afrikaner) grammar and English usage.
Additionally, if Frank A is in fact a Taiwanese posing as a foreigner, what of his other position? That of the superior language abilities of Taiwanese graduates? Anyone who has taught here for any amount of time will surely know that graduating from a Taiwanese Uni (or indeed, even passing the GEPT or TOEIC examinations) hardly guarantees any form of linguistic ability. Unfortunately too much is made of passing tests and writing ability, and almost no attention is given to actual listening and speaking ability. If Frank is indeed a poser (as I suspect the moron was), his argument is self defeating.
*edit* That is not to say that I haven't met many Taiwanese with good to excellent English language abilities. However, the majority of them aren't language teachers and cash in on this ability in other professional capacities.

Although, I should say, at the time I didn't find anything funny in it.

More to come...

Sunday, 03 June 2007

Teaching English

My birthday (May 30) fell on a Wednesday, which is a particularly busy work day, so it didn't even feel like a birthday. That being said, I'm 32 now. Feels strange. As a child I'd always wanted to be an international sports person. I was never going to be big enough to be a Springbok rugby player (although, in recent years there have been players smaller and lighter than me, but that's where natural talent takes over - something I also didn't have oodles of) but had dreams of perhaps being a decent middle to long distance runner.
As things turned out, I was just middling (didn't practice nearly as much as I should of) but the potential was there. So then, as I hit 32 I realise, had I gone down that route I would now be at the end of that kind of career. Moving on to new things, as it were. Funny how at 32 I find myself in that position anyway.

Having spent six years in Naval Intelligence and the last four and a half years teaching English in Taiwan (ironically not much different from my previous profession, as the level of English I'm confronted with on a daily basis is basically the same) I find myself at a cross-roads. I really have to give some thought about my future and were I'm heading with all this. Serious teaching in Taiwan (for foreigners) is somewhat of a contradiction in terms. It is possible to teach English at elementary, junior high and senior high schools, but in all honesty, it's not much different from the Buxiban gigs. Sure, you don't have to clown around and act the entertainer quite as much, but EFL teaching is as far removed from "real" English teaching as a jog in the park is from running a marathon. Also, it seems you have less flexibility and you're actually able to make more money with more freedom teaching buxiban.
The other alternative is getting a University job. Now I know guys who have these jobs. They sound awesome. Paid vacations. Few hours a week. Tertiary level students (which implies a higher standard - but the reality is quite different). However, before you're even considered you need an MA and it's best to have a PhD or D Litt et Phil. Also, the Taiwanese Ministry of Education doesn't recognise any degrees done by correspondence. Therefore, for purposes of teaching at a university in Taiwan, UNISA (Ironically an internationally recognised university with highly rated Professors - some of which are at the top of their fields internationally - and courses, as well as some distinguished Noble Prize winning alumni. Amongst them, Nelson Mandela.) is out.
In any event, if normal school teaching in Taiwan (for foreigners) is way removed from the realms of anything considered normal teaching, teaching EFL at a university is even further removed. So far in fact, it approaches the realm of sheer fiction. The Taiwanese education system is terribly flawed at every level and is particularly Confucian bound towards studying and passing tests (know the answer, but not the why) which are all of the multiple choice variety. In my opinion, South African students have a valid point in calling such tests monkey puzzles, as opposed to multiple choice. Also, at university level, students are expected to pass (seeing as they passed the entrance examinations in their final year of senior high) and regardless of cheating, class attendance and an actual grasp of the material, are passed. Especially in English courses, which are not considered all that important, apart from the fact that they are generally so remedial as to be absurd. It is hard to grasp how someone who has spent more than a decade studying a language still has a problem answering a simple question such as, "Hello. What's your name?" or "What day is today?" My favourite is asking an "advanced student, "When is your birthday?" I have encountered third year "English Major's" who have had difficulty with these questions...

So, a university job? I don't think I even want one. So, as far as teaching as a profession is concerned, I have two options. One, stay in Taiwan. Two, leave.
With option one, it seems the best avenue is finding a reputable small private language school that's dedicated towards actual language learning (as opposed to baby sitting), cares about it's students, teachers and Taiwanese teaching assistants. Seems easy enough, right? Wrong. In Taiwan this is about as hard to find as the proverbial needle in a haystack.
With option one there is also the alternative of going to work for one of (the few in southern Taiwan) adult centred language schools. This is actually not a bad option as most of the students are serious (they've grown up and realised that their pay and job prospects in an ever shrinking local job market that has become increasingly competitive can be bettered enormously by simply being English proficient) and wish to improve on a base they already have.

As for option two... Well, there are possibilities. Once I've finished my teaching accreditation (post graduate certificate in education - PGCE) through UNISA the field is open. Ironic that the Taiwanese MoE doesn't recognise it, but Canada, England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand do. Then I'll be able to teach in any of those countries, and qualified South African teachers are rather in demand. Another irony, as Taiwan isn't overly keen on us, and are slanted towards Canadians and Americans, even if they're from Quebec (French speakers) or first language Spanish speakers. It's an oddity within the Taiwanese mind, which is not always particularly logical. I have worked with French Canadians and Spanish speaking US citizens that have needed to ask me to explain grammar to them before they've gone into a class to educate to future leadership of this glorious isle. Have a laugh. I often do.

That said, some other options do remain. Once may Chinese improves beyond the proficiency level of a five year old there will be more commercial opportunities back home as well as in Taiwan/China. There are also other opportunities I'm loath to discuss, as they're still in the "I'm thinking about it" stage.

Remember the halcyon type school described above? The kind where language teaching is actually taken seriously and they genuinely care about students and teachers alike, as opposed to being money grubbers content with whitey acting the clown and entertaining the wee ones? Well, it seems by pure chance, some friendly contacts and divine intervention that I've found one. I've been for an interview (which went well) and will be observing some teaching tomorrow and doing a demonstration of my abilities on Tuesday. If all goes well I'll be starting at one of the truly good language schools at the end of August and thus end a four and a half year career of what can only be described as glorified baby sitting.

With all that said, I must say that I have had some wonderful students over the last few years. Hard workers that take it seriously and like to have a bit of fun. Little boys and girls that play the games and learn and who have improved enormously in the time I've taught them. These little gems have made it more than worthwhile. And the fact that I've been able to live and experience a different lifestyle and culture as made it all a wonderful experience.
It's just that when you start reaching a certain age you start wondering, "What am I doing and where am I going?" There comes a point where playing sticky ball games with 5 year olds, making funny faces and being pointed at for being an oddity in a monochrome society isn't enough anymore.