Why is it important to practice spelling English words correctly for ESL learners?

Why is it important to practice spelling English words correctly for ESL (English as a Second Language) learners? With so much technology that can do word corrections automatically for us when we type, will we ever need to learn how to spell words with a pen or pencil anymore? Also, as schools nowadays use the Ipad for student’s homework and even allow students to use laptops during lessons to do classwork, it seems as though it is rendering the learning of English spelling and handwriting useless. So the question is, is there a need to learn how to spell English words with a pen or pencil anymore?

If I started off by saying that “Studies have shown that people with strong spelling skills have better cognition.” or “It has been shown that people with stronger spelling skills are smarter.”, you would probably think that I’m explaining nothing of my own and just copied and pasted the information here from somewhere on the internet. So if I use the analogy of spelling words with a keyboard instead of a pen or pencil is like using a fork compared to using chopsticks for a meal, wouldn’t you think it is so much more vivid? In other words, a person who only knows how to use a fork could be missing out on many things that the person with the chopsticks has. For example, you can have much more control and be able to grab food gently without pinching through them, you can widen your chopsticks for grabbing or delivering much more food into your mouth, you can use the chopsticks like a pair of scissors to cut food into half or proportions, and so much more!

However, since we have transitioned into the Information era, most people now prefer a keyboard instead of a real pen or pencil because the former is just so much more convenient than the latter. With the back button on our keyboard, we can undo things that we’ve written and don’t need an eraser. Or with just the click of a button, we can erase everything on our screen without throwing away paper and being unenvironmentally friendly. So what is the use of stationery anymore? Should we throw them into trash after we graduate from school? While ‘yes’ is most likely the answer in everyone’s minds, I would actually say ‘no’.

So how is the pen or pencil better than a keyboard? The keyboard may be convenient, but it is actually very limited compared to the pen or pencil. With a stroke of the pen or pencil, you can write each and every letter of an English word in any shape and style that you like, but also the way you write each and every word can tell something about your soul, spirit, and character – the living, breathing being inside of you. As you keep on practicing writing with the pen or pencil, you may even find that the spelling of words is more like an art to be appreciated than it is chore, as opposed to using the keyboard that can only jot down words for you in a mechanical way, without transferring a slight imprint of your soul and spirit. Practice writing passages even – you may even begin to realize that there is much more real knowledge to search for in your brain with the pen or pencil than with the keyboard and the computer, or even the internet.






Why is it so difficult to adapt to speaking English as an ESL learner?

Why is it so difficult to adapt to speaking English as an ESL (English as a Second Language) learner? From the most basic standpoint, if we are not in an environment where everyone speaks English, it can just be very difficult for us to feel natural about speaking a language that has foreign culture embedded within it. So if the problem is that if we have to be in an English speaking environment in order to learn English well, then what can we do about this? To answer this question, I would like to share an experience of my own of how I have adapted to speaking English in my childhood when I just moved to Canada.

Surprisingly, I still have some vivid memories of myself when I moved to Canada from Hong Kong at the age of 7. I can still remember what it was like when I entered the grade 2 classroom on the first day of school at a public primary school in Toronto. When I walked into the classroom and the teacher asked me something that I could not understand, I simply said ‘I don’t know’ over and over because they were the only words that I knew at that time. All classmates were looking at me and I felt kind of embarrassed. Then through out the course of that year, I remember I did not speak much English and only hung around with Cantonese friends who were just like me and moved to Canada from Hong Kong. When it came to doing a presentation homework, I can even remember the teacher asked us to do it in Chinese instead of English. So as strange as it may seem, we actually wrote out our scripts in Chinese and read it out in front of the class. As I look back now, it just seemed incredibly hilarious.

For most of you who must be wondering whether that experience I just mentioned was real or not, I can tell you that I am wondering about the same thing too. Even though I can now speak English in a Western native accent and have had people asking me whether I was an American/Canadian Born Chinese(ABC / CBC), the truth was that it really took some time for me to adapt to the English culture when I was small. So even though I did well in school and was even the form representative back in the local primary school in Hong Kong, I was transferred to a Catholic primary school afterwards, due to my poor overall academic performance that year. Since then, there was an ESL teacher who nurtured me in English and I started speaking English ever since.

So if most of you are thinking that I was lucky enough to transfer to a better school with better teachers, I’d say you might be right. But as I look back now, the real reason why I did not speak English in the first place in the public primary school was that there was no Chinese person speaking English at all! There were a few smart Chinese kids in the class who spoke English, but the problem was that they did not speak Chinese and were most likely born in Canada. So it wasn’t until I met the ESL teacher in the Catholic primary school that I finally started speaking English because not only was she Chinese, but also she actually gave me English tasks that catered to my needs.

So what is my bottom line as to how a person adapts to speaking English? There are certainly different factors that affect a person’s willingness to speak it, but as a child, I didn’t want to speak a foreign language because it seemed weird for me to do so if other Chinese people don’t do the same. Also, if no one made me work hard, I’d probably just continue playing with my Chinese friends. Moreover, common sense told me that I better not listen to someone who doesn’t look like me! In other words, which planet do these people with blond hair, blue eyes, and white skin come from? They all seemed friendly, but they had completely different physical features, which made them looked like complete strangers to me. But as I look back now, I’m really glad that I had a teacher of my own descent who nurtured me in English because it is actually a very useful international language, especially now that we are living in a world that is getting a lot more multicultural, where bilingualism seems to be the base requirement for jobs.


為什麼說英語是那麼困難適應的? 從最基本的角度來看,若我們不活在外國,說英語彷彿是一件不會感到很自然的事情。所以問題就是,如果要學好英語一定需要我們活在一個英語環境裡,但是又沒有機會到外國留學的話,我們可以怎樣做呢?來回答這個問題,我想和大家分享一下我小時到加拿大如何適應說英語的整個過程。

偶然,我還記得很清楚小時候七歲到加拿大的一些情境。在多倫多就讀一間公立小學的第一天踏入課室時,老師問了我一個問題。當我聽了幾次還不明白她是說什麼的時候,由於我腦袋的英文詞彙很有限,我就不斷地重複說“I don’t know”。然後,當我看見同學們望著我的時候,我就感到很尷尬。我還記得那年,我只懂得和跟我一樣剛移民到加拿大的香港朋友玩耍。來到做演講功課的時候,我還記得老師叫我們用中文來做。雖然聽起來有點奇怪,但是我們用了中文寫演講詞在紙上,然後在整班同學面前讀出來。每當我回看這剎那時,我都忍不住大笑出來。

在這個時候,讀者們一定在想我的經歷是否屬實,但是其實我也是正在想這一個問題。雖然我現在說的英語是美式口音,還有很多人曾經叫我"ABC"(American Born Chinese),但是小時候我真的花了一段時間才能適應說英語。雖然我小時候在香港就讀小學時,成績很不錯還有當了班長,但是由於我那年在多倫多的一間公立學校時得到的成績很差,我就轉了另外一間天主教的學校。從此,我就遇見我第二位ESL老師。在她之培養下,我就開始了說英語。



Why is English writing so difficult for ESL learners?

Why is English writing so difficult for ESL (English as a Second Language) learners? For most of us who come from a local background or studied under the Hong Kong education system, we have probably always wanted to avoid taking subjects where you have to do writing tasks, such as English and humanities subjects. When it came to choosing subjects for our senior years in high school, we would also choose Math and science subjects rather than the language and humanities subjects. So the question is, why is it that we tend to think that we can pride ourselves in Math and science subjects to the extent that we can completely forget about other subjects?

As a person who had switched from a bachelor’s degree in Engineering to a bachelor’s degree in Translation at university, it seems as though the most attractive reason for choosing Math and science subjects was that they could easily earn you the highest marks to get into a decent university. After I had gotten a decent grade for my GCSE English at year 11, I thought that I could totally abandon English and humanities subjects altogether, in order to focus on the Math and science subjects that I’d chosen for my A Levels. But as I look back now, I kind of regret. Why is that? Since I’ve started working in the real world, I’ve learnt even if you have a lot of knowledge, language and presentation skills seem to be the foremost thing that companies look at when deciding whether they would hire you. Even though those years at high school only constituted a small part of my life, the subjects that I chose nonetheless shaped who I have become today, and I wish that I could have chosen another foreign language or humanities subject to broaden my horizons.

But the question is, even if we now know that writing skills are useful, why do we still want to skip it? Whenever we get a writing task, it seems so easy for us to procrastinate and not know how to start. It seems as though it is impossible to score all the marks, unlike for Math and science subjects where you can memorise facts and find past papers for model answers to learn from. But for English writing exams? It is just incredibly difficult to find any past papers with model answers! There are marking schemes and criteria, but it seems as though there are no structures of model answers to follow. Hence, if we don’t pay enough attention to the teacher in class, it can just be so difficult to revise when the exam comes, and therefore we would rather not choose such a subject.

However, the crux of the matter is that from the perspective of a person learning English as a second language, it is just so difficult to write in English because to begin with, we do not even have an adequate English-speaking environment at school. The real problem is that our teachers may have only taught us how to write, but not tell us why we should do it! Even when we have been taught the rules and techniques in writing, such as starting each paragraph with a topic sentence, it still seems incredibly difficult because writing seems to be more than just knowledge, as there is also the art of structuring your ideas in order to deliver them well to your target audience. So whatever ideas we put onto a piece of paper, they also have to flow smoothly from one idea to the next in a logical manner.

But have we completely forgotten about what knowledge actually is? It is like trying to convince a friend why you prefer or prefer not to watch a movie, not just because the box office figures can tell you a lot or the movie critics have a certain opinion. Or it can be like trying to predict the result of a science experiment with just book knowledge and not being aware of the environment that could affect the result in the real world. So without the words to communicate what we know, we may never be able to analyze our knowledge to the greatest extent in order to put knowledge into practical use effectively. Otherwise, we would be no different than a computer whose job is just to present information. But in any case, it is now time for us to think about who we are as homosapiens (a.k.a the thinking being, or wise man in Latin), especially now that we are living in a technological world where artificial intelligence is becoming more and more powerful…


對於母語不是英語的人,為什麼英文寫作是那麼困難的?來自香港家庭背景或是在香港教育制度之下讀書和考試的同學們,時常都想避免選擇一些需要考寫作的科目,例如英文和人文科目等等。 來到選擇高考科目的時候,我們也比較喜歡選擇數學和科學的科目,而不想理會語言及人文的科目。試問為什麼我們可以為數學和科學的科目所拿到的分數感到驕傲, 甚至令我們能夠忘記了其他科目的重要性?

作為一個曾經大學時由工程系轉至翻譯系的過來人,高考科目選擇為數學和科學的最吸引之處,就是可以拿到高分數而考入理想的大學。當我會考時英文科目已拿到滿意的分數, 我就以為從此可以忘記所有語言和人文的科目,集中讀A Level選擇了的數學和科學的科目。不過,每當我回看的時候,我就感到有點後悔。為什麼呢?自從我開始在這個現實世界工作, 我學會了即使你的知識有多廣闊,語言水平和表達能力才是公司考慮聘用你的主要因數。雖然高中那些年只是佔了我人生的小部分,但是我選讀了的科目總是對我的個人發展有深遠的影響。 因此,我現在都希望那時候能夠多選讀一些外語和人文科目,更有助廣闊我的視野。

但即使我們知道寫作技能是十分重要的,為什麼我們也會想逃避選讀這些科目呢?每當老師派給我們一份寫作功課,我們都猶豫不決,不知道如何開始做。在我們的腦海中, 寫作不像數學或科學般的科目可以直接把知識貫入記憶,答題目的時候也要懂得用不同的句式把知識表達出來,否則答案就顯得生硬,語言的分數就失去了。至於找past papers(舊試卷)的方面,寫作是相當之難找到標準答案的,可說是要掌握到所有的分數是沒可能的。或許那些評分標準可以讀熟,但是標準的答案根本是甚少或者沒有的, 所以是十分難掌握得到答案的架構。因此,若我們在堂上不留心聽老師說書,我們到考試溫書的時候就會覺得非常之困難,寧願乾脆不選讀所有需要考寫作的科目!

不過,最關鍵的問題其實在於對母語不是英語的人,由於學校缺乏一個英語環境,英文寫作本身就是相當之難。我們的老師或許只教了我們怎樣寫作, 但是沒有告訴我們除了拿分數之外,為何要寫作!即使我們學懂了寫作的技巧和規則,例如每一段都需要一個主題句,寫作也是仍然多麼困難,由於要擁有知識之外, 還需要懂得如何把知識變成有紋有路的說話,才能把寫作顯得對觀眾有共鳴。基本上,每一點知識不能夠隨意放在紙上,必定要有邏輯和層次才可行。

但是我們是否已忘記了知識是什麼嗎?知識,猶如我們在說服朋友為何要或不要看某齣電影,不是因為票房告訴你電影受不受歡迎,或是因為電影評論家給的意見。 或許猶如做科學實驗預測結果的時候,只懂得書本的知識,但不在意現實環境裡對結果有影響的因數。因此,如果我們不懂得怎樣去表達已擁有的知識, 我們根本沒可能把知識發揮得淋漓盡致。否則,我們就跟電腦沒分別,只能機械化地把知識顯示出來。無論如何,由於我們已踏入一個人工智能已經變得越來越厲害的世紀, 我們應該想一想人類在這世界作為homosapiens(科學名稱為“智人”,拉丁文為“有智慧的人”)的地位是什麼…

Why is it so difficult to master English grammar for ESL learners?

Why is it so difficult to master English grammar for ESL (English as a Second Language) learners? To people who are native English speakers, it seems as though they were born with the correct English grammar at birth. This tends to arouse the envy of ESL learners, who often stumble on the usage of English grammar in their sentences. As we non-native English speakers grow older, we tend to forget about the importance of English grammar in our lives, even after years of rigorous grammar exercises starting from kindergarten, to primary school, to secondary school, and even to university. So the question is, can we still go back in time to learn English grammar for those who have finished school?

In our Asian culture, people often say that the only opportunity that you get to learn English well is when you are small and young. Like scientists have said about language learning, our minds are more softly wired when we are young, and thus we can ‘mould’ it into any shape we want, like marshmallow. Then as we grow older, our brains become more hard-wired and much harder for us to ‘mould’ it into the shape that we want. We may still increase in knowledge, but the way we make utterances in English seems to be inevitably affected by our mother tongue language. But why do we see many adult and senior ESL learners still having a desire to improve their English skills at English learning centres?

The reality is that even when we study English at an older age, teachers don’t tend to focus on grammar anymore, but rather, on increasing our knowledge as long as we get our messages across. Everybody seems to think that nobody would go back and take out all those grammar books to do all those rigorous grammar exercises when we were young because it just seems a very awkward thing to do. Whenever we make a grammar mistake in a sentence, teachers would also seldom point it out to us. Even if they do, they would do it in such a polite way, as if we should all treated with respect like adults. But after all, what is the importance of grammar if you can already get your message across to the other person?

Grammar, grammar, grammar – It seems like the word ‘grammar’ can sound a lot like the word ‘grandma’ the more we repeat saying it, especially for those of us ESL learners who don’t pronounce the ‘r’ as much or like to follow the British pronunciation. But in fact, grammar is a bit like our grandma, who is verbose and likes to keep nagging at you all the time to serve the food when it is cooked, even though we would often like to do our own things in our bedroom until the food is really ready. Just like our grandma, grammar can nag at us to get it right with the same level of verbosity, even when we don’t think it is that important. But if we can understand the underlying importance of doing something such as getting ourselves ready to serve the food cooked by our grandma, then maybe we can also fully understand the importance of grammar…

Why is it so difficult to nurture yourself to have a habit in reading English books as an ESL learner?

Why is it so difficult to nurture yourself to have a habit in reading English books as an ESL (English as a Second Language) learner? This may sound like a very simple question to native English speakers, but for ESL learners who never had the opportunity to study overseas or in a native English-speaking environment, nurturing yourself to have a habit in reading English books seems to be extremely difficult to do. However, as ESL learners, whenever we see these brand new English books looking attractive in the bookstore, we tend to end up buying them because we think that would read them in our spare time. In fact, I have heard so many times in my life that we English learners like to buy books, but not read them, which makes it seem like nurturing yourself to have a habit in reading books is actually not a simple matter. After all, why would anyone want to buy books and not read them? So to answer this question that is somewhat like a conundrum, I would like to share a personal story with everyone.

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I remember when I first moved to Canada at the age of 7, when I could barely speak English, my family always brought me to a shopping mall where there’s usually a bookstore that I could hang around in, while my parents finished buying the groceries. Goosebumps books by R.L. Stine were very popular at that time, and since the kids at my school liked to read them, I always got my parents to buy me one Goosebumps book every month or so. However, every time I got a new Goosebumps book, I usually just finished the first or second chapter, then told my parents that I finished it, so I could get a new one. Now that I look back to it, I laugh hysterically and think, “Why was I like that? I just don’t understand my behaviour in childhood at all.” But it seems as though I really loved the covers of Goosebumps books and the smell of brand new books! They always had nice artwork and bumpy designs on their covers so they just felt irresistable to touch and feel with my fingers!

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 Image Source

Years later when I went back to Toronto for university, I had a good laugh at the pile of Goosebumps books still sitting on my bookshelf at my grandparent’s home. I took out one Goosebumps book and read a few chapters, then realized that the stories weren’t all that cool and amazing, even though it was cool to see all those English words come alive. Back in those days as a kid of age 9 or 10, it just came across to me that Goosebumps books were very cool because every kid in my class thought the same way, which can be understood as a kind of fashion trend that was somewhat contagious. This may sound silly and laughable, but don’t people also have the same kind of behaviour with smartphones nowadays? For example, in addition to getting a good smartphone, everybody now wants a smartphone protective case that is durable and chic-looking.

So what is the solution to this problem? On one hand, we certainly need good educators and teachers to nurture our reading habits. But on the other hand, we need to be aware of the distractions that are affecting us in our daily lives, especially now that we have transitioned to a world where technology is ubiquitous. These distractions may be affecting us without us knowing, but if we keep finding ourselves procrastinating and not doing anything useful, then that is definitely the result of distractions affecting us severely. You may think I sound like your grandpa, but I’m here to tell you one important thing: “Stop looking at your cellphone and watch where you’re going!” But of course, I’m not really your grandpa.


為什麼要養成閱讀英文書的習慣是那麼困難的?對於以英語為母語的人,這個問題甚於簡單,但對於母語不是英語的人來說,由於不是在英語環境長大, 要養成閱讀英文書的習慣是一件非常之難的事情。不過,每當我們在書店裡看見一些新上市的書,我們就不知不覺地被價錢或廣告吸引著,使我們要把它們買回家看。 其實,我已聽見過很多人喜歡買書,但買回來後就不看,所以養成閱讀英文書的習慣並不是一件容易的事情。畢竟,誰會花錢買一些自己不會看的書呢?所以來回答這個 極之復習的問題,我想為大家分享一個小時候的故事。

Image result for goosebumps book

我還記得小時七歲到加拿大的時候,當我還未聽懂英語,我家會時常到商場的超級市場買餸。如商場裡有書店,我就會留在那裡觀看,直至父母買完餸為止。那時候, R. L. Stine的“Goosebumps”書籍非常之流行,所以我時常都在學校聽見同學們說非常之愛看這些書,因此每一至兩個月我都會叫父母買一本新的給我看。不過,每當我擁有 一本新的Goosebumps書,我就通常只讀一至二章,然後告訴父母我已經看完,再叫他們買一本新的給我。現在當我回想時,我就忍不住笑,還在想:「為什麼我那 時候會這麼可笑的?我真的不懂我小時的行為。」事實上,我小時候真的很喜歡Goosebumps書剛買回來散發出的新書氣味,以及封面的畫像和凹凸不平的設計!因此,我時常把 Goosebumps書拿出來欣賞封面,然後享受地觸摸其特別設計的凹凸不平的封面。

很多年後,當我在加拿大完成小學回到香港讀中學,再回去加拿大讀大學的時候,當我看見那些Goosebumps書籍還在我多倫多屋子房間的書架上,我就忍不住大笑出來。 然後,我就拿了一本出來看,讀了大概一至兩章後,才發覺這些故事根本沒什麼好看,沒有小時候同學們說得那麼“酷”(cool)。不過,英文字看起來就變得更生動有趣, 都總算是挺酷吧。以前九歲左右的時候,由於同學們覺得Goosebumps書很酷,我就不知不覺地覺得一定很酷,這好像要跟上一個時裝潮流那麼樣。這聽起來或許有點可笑, 但現時世界一般人倒不是有同樣的行為嗎?例如,除了要買最潮流的手機,大家都想擁有一個耐用、時尚的手機保護殼。

我們到底怎樣才能解決這個大難題呢?一方面,我們需要良好的教師幫助我們培養閱讀習慣,但另一方面,由於我們已經活在一個科技無處不在的世界裡, 我們應該對日常令我們分散注意力的事物提高警覺。這些事物或許能夠對我們有沉重的影響,但如果我們發覺自己時常浪費時間,什麼都幹不好的話,這就應該 是被無謂的東西浪費了我們的寶貴光陰吧。或許,這些話有點像你爺爺曾經對你說的,但是我還很想贈你一句話:「不要再低頭望著你的手機,小心看路吧!」但當然,我不是你的爺爺。

Why is it so difficult to gain confidence in speaking English as an ESL learner?

For most ESL (English as a Second Language) learners, the first barrier to learning the language, above all else, is probably the difficulty in uttering the sounds of English words correctly and confidently. As a person who used to be an ESL learner, I can still remember how nervous I was when I spoke in front of the class in primary school when I just moved to Canada from Hong Kong years ago, even when it was just supposed to be a small sharing session. (you may refer to my earlier post) So when it came to a real presentation where I was being assessed, you can imagine how nerve-wracking it could get. Also, the best that I could do was to have the entire presentation script memorized, making sure that I included every point possible to attain the marks. As I look back now, I actually have this thought: “Was anybody even listening? I seem to have left the audience out of my equation entirely!”

It seems as though for those of us who grew up in an Asian classroom setting, we had all been programmed to answer questions in a way to attain the highest marks as possible because if we don’t, we tend to get the image of getting a “big cross” (大交叉) or a “zero chicken egg” (零雞蛋), as translated word-by-word from Cantonese. Most of us ESL learners seem to forget that doing a presentation is also about connecting with the audience and establishing a rapport with them. But why do we often forget about this? Perhaps, we tend to think that the phrase for “studying” in Chinese (讀書) means “to read book”, and hence we may often get the idea that we should focus on “the book” in our studies.

But the question is, “Is our mode of studying, that is – focusing on the book, really not such a good idea?” When it comes to doing a presentation, we may not sound as natural and confident as the native English speakers, but we certainly sound a lot more pertinent when answering questions because we had all been programmed to do such a thing through rigorous written exercises. However, that is not to say that native English speakers like beating around the bush, but the reality is that most of us ESL learners were expected to keep silent throughout the lessons in our Asian classrooms, and seldom had opportunities for academic discussion. Thus, when we give a presentation, we tend to jump straight to the point of delivering our answers to the presentation topic, without spending much time to relate to the audience, which can be like jotting down bullet points for an essay but not writing in paragraphs to express what you want to say.

So what can we do about this? Are most of us really stuck at gaining confidence in speaking English? As already mentioned in my previous article, different education systems and cultures have their own strengths and downsides in shaping the character of a student. So if the Asian education culture is superb at nurturing discipline in students, we ought to be proud of ourselves if students really grow up to respect seniors and not have too much personal opinion when working in a company in the future. However, it is still probably extremely difficult to define what is considered as an ideal, talented individual. But for now, we should definitely realize that the two Chinese characters “讀書” (to read book) is not the entire picture of the word “studying”, especially in the Western world. Perhaps, “進修” (to advance studies) is a better phrase to use when we refer to studying, as it takes our eyes off the book and focus more unto the real world…