Posts Tagged ‘proficiency’

They make the best students but the worst teachers

In Uncategorized on January 16, 2015 at 4:41 am

By Antonio Graceffo

The latest in the sad saga of my replacement Chinese teacher:

My regular Chinese teacher, who I like, went home for the holidays and said his friend Huang Hainan would teach me. Sadly, Hainan and I started off on a bad foot. When Hainan wrote to introduce himself, he did so in English. When I called him on it, he said, “We Chinese believe foreigners like to speak English.” If you want to see me fly into a rage, use the explanation “We Chinese people…” as if he was appointed to represent all 1.3 Billion of them. And, since I am usually the first foreigner any of these people meet, where would this belief come from?

Most people know, with me, you get one strike. And he had just used his up. Next, when he came to teach me, he kept telling me the answers to the questions in my Chinese book. If I took more than two seconds to think something over, he blurted out the answer. Once again, I had to chastise him, “Who’s taking this exam? Me, or you?”. Out of respect for my other teacher, who I like, I didn’t slap him. Yesterday, he blurted out the answer several times. The first few times I made a half joke, like, “I bet you could do really well on this exam.” Or, “Are you going to take this exam for me?” The final time he did it, I just started swearing in English, unable to stop, shouting, “You’re the worst teacher I have ever met.”

All this while, I was cutting him slack because he is an English major at a sports university. This tells me he is probably not on the cutting edge of intelligencia There are a percentage of non-sports majors at our sports university, and I have always wanted to meet these people that the athletes know exist and have many legends about, but no one has ever seen. To get into university in China, kids have to pass a national exam, called the gaokao. A high gaokao gets you into a better university….a low gaokao gets you into a sports university.

Can you imagine being an English major at a sports university? Not only does everyone think you must be an idiot, or you would be at a real college somewhere, but also, you are surrounded by people who are bigger, stronger, tougher, better looking, and who, in a way, represent the top echelon of their world. There are 6 million kids studying in sports schools in China, but only about 20,000 spots at sports universities. So, the athletes here are proud to be here. The English majors must feel like complete failures, not to mention that everyone from the administration, to the staff, to the athletes have no idea what to do with them.

Anyway, I didn’t want to judge Huang Hainan too harshly. And I still needed a Chinese teacher. As most people have already gone home for the holidays, there weren’t many choices left for me on campus. Largely, the only people left on campus were the professional sports teams. As bad as Huang Hainan was, I figured he was still a better Chinese teacher than most of the athletes.

This week, the university began to operate on holiday schedule, meaning the training halls close early, at 5:45 immediately after the pro teams fnished their training. I normally have wrestling at 5:45, but now my wrestling training has been moved to mornings, which meant changing my Chinese class to the afternoon. This schedule is les than optimal for me, because I hate having Chinese class AFTER training. I am usually just too tired to pay attention.

While I was busy at work, I sent a quick text to Huang Hianan to tell him we would change the class time to 2 O’clock. He wrote back, and asked, “2 o’clock in the afternoon?” For a guy who I already hated, this was a bold step toward oblivion. I wanted to answer, “No, 2 o’clock in the morning.” But instead, I wrote back, “Yes, in the afternoon.” He sent a text saying “OK, see you then.” An hour later, my phone rang, but because I was teaching, I rejected the call. A quick glance at the phone told me it was Huang Hainan. Five minutes later, he called again, and I rejected the call again. The third time he called I shut off my phone. Later, during the class time, I turned the phone back on, and saw that in addition to three phone calls from him, I had received several text messages, saying things like, “I am waiting for you, where are you?”

What a moron! He knew we didn’t have class that day because of my work. And he already agreed to change the time for the class the next day. And all of this was in writing, in Chinese, so there is no way he didn’t understand or could be confused. So I wrote back. “No, tomorrow. We have class tomorrow.”

He wrote me about five more times to confirm the class for the next day.

The next day, when I finished wrestling, I was just too tired to think of having Chinese class, especially with Huang Hainan. So, I cancelled. He sent a text asking if we would have class the following day So, I cancelled that one too. Next, he texted and asked if there was a problem. I didn’t answer. An hour later, he sent texts with little emodicons of smiley faces and pictures and asked if there was a problem. But I didn’t answer.

That night I received this insane, and incredibly lengthy, SMS message from him on my phone. And he wrote in English, which makes me want to find him and as Mickey said in Rocky III, “Hurt him permanent.” Here is the message, including all of his crazy punctuation: “hi Antonio! Sorry for disturbing you, again. Having learned Chinese with you for three times. generally, I feel not bad. You know, I am English major, but you are the first foreigner I teach Chinese to! I value it, Truly. However, you may feel not good. I know it, and im most responsible for it. Because im a little awkward when in work. Im sorry for that. But I must confess that im not easy in work, because we are not familiar with each other, just you asked and I told, and even sometimes directly told you the answer…before the first time I came, I hoped that we may could talk like friends, tell you what a Chinese think about china is its politics, culture, or national characters. you may share about your storys, talk about something in America. I notices that your desk is filled with “Super heroes” I know you like it,many of my classmates and I also like it, and watching the movies. But maybe you are busy. Buy in playing roles in a teacher as well as a student. Maybe spend one and half hour learning Chinese is luxury, no time t waste whatever, I understand it. Last, whenever you want to learn Chinese, one message and I’ll come. If you want to choose another one to learn Chinese, I still hope you learn it well and have a good time in china!”

I wrote a short reply, “You’re an idiot.” But I didn’t have the balls to send it. I have no idea where to even begin to respond to this, and don’t know if will. I find that Chinese students, in general, have very low emotional intelligence and are extremely socially awkward. I have a theory that the reason prostitution is so common in China is because none of them are charming enough to get a woman to sleep with them. Having said that, I find the athletes to be relatively normal. I think the years of hardship, living away from their families, training six hours per day, since age 12, has hardened them. They are less fussy. Also, they are much happier and alert than the average Chinese student.

Huang Hainan is a product of this insane system of study only, and study to the exclusion of every other experience in life. I still might beat him up, though.


Antonio and His Languages

In Uncategorized on May 4, 2014 at 11:28 am

By Antonio Graceffo, (The Brooklyn Monk)


A lot of people have asked about my languages, which ones I speak, which ones I speak well, and so forth. I have seen interviews or heard myself being introduced on radio shows and things where the claims were blown a bit out of proportion. So, to set the record straight, here is the truth, along with links for scrutiny.
Languages: English, Chinese, German, Spanish, Thai, Khmer, Italian, French, Vietnamese, and Korean
English: Speaks, reads and writes English at native speaker level
Link to video of Antonio Speaking English:
Chinese: Chinese at HSK level 4 level reading, HSK level 5 listening and speaking. Exam results available on request. Admitted to PhD program where all courses, papers, and research are in Chinese. Has distinguished himself as a presenter in Chinese and a diligent researcher (letters available upon request)
PhD presentation in Chinese at Shanghai University of Sport

German: Speaks German at high level of fluency, Attended School of Translation and Interpreting , the University of Mainz, GErmersheim, Germany, 1993-1996 conducted research on second language acquisition theory, under Dr. Kiraly, worked as a freelance and contract translator, and worked in the foreign language department of Deutsche Telekom
Antonio Speaking German, telling the story of his many year martial arts odyssey in Asia

Spanish: Speaks Spanish at advanced level, studied at Universidad Latina, Costa Rica, and Spanish/German translation school in Salamanca. Antonio has spoken Spanish since childhood.
Conducting martial arts interview in Spanish

Thai: Speaks Thai at upper intermediate level. Has conducted extended field research on Automatic Language Growth, using Thai for a base, under the direction of David Long of AUA Bangkok.
Conducting a martial arts interview in Thai

Khmer: Intermediate level. Antonio spoke Khmer better when he lived in Cambodia, but of all languages, Khmer is the one he uses the least outside of Cambodia, so his ability has regressed quite a bit. Recently, Antonio has been returning to Cambodia to train with the national wrestling team and he was forced to begin listening, if not speaking, Khmer again for communication.
Antonio conducting martial arts interviews in Khmer

Antonio Conducting martial arts interviews in Khmer

Italian: Speaks Italian at upper intermediate level of communication but with poor grammar. Antonio was raised non-strict bilingual, with Italian and English.
Conducting martial arts interview in Italian

French: Speaks French at upper intermediate level. Can communicate well, but with poor grammar and pronunciation.
Conducting martial arts interview in French

Vietnamese: Studied Vietnamese and passed upper intermediate exam, however, pronunciation is still extremely difficult, making communication difficult
Antonio Graceffo speaking Vietnamese

Korean: While living in Busan, Korea, Antonio took private Korean lessons at Dong A University. He passed the intermediate exam in Korean but cannot speak Korean, however, Antonio has used Korean to help him understand and explore Chinese as well as the relationship between Chinese and Korean and Vietnamese and Chinese.
Has also studied Russian, but only to lower intermediate level and now cannot speak Russian, but can still read Cyrillic alphabet which has proved useful for research in Mongolian wrestling.
Linguistic Publishing: Published approximately 200 articles in the field of second language acquisition as well as language specific articles. Antonio has done a lot of field research on ALG Automatic Language Growth theory. In the field of second language acquisition he focuses on the area of listening. His articles have appeared in Asian Geographic magazine and even the journal for UN interpreters.
Link to language articles:
Linguistics videos: Produced over 70 Youtube videos dealing with linguistics and language acquisition
CAM TESOL (2013): Antonio’s greatest achievement in the field of second language acquisition was presenting a on listening at CAM TESOL, the largest English language teaching conference in Asia.
Link to Antonio’s presentation video:


Brooklyn Monk, Antonio Graceffo is a PhD candidate at Shanghai University of sport, writing his dissertation on comparative forms of Chinese wrestling. He is martial arts and adventure author living in Asia, the author of the books, “Warrior Odyssey’ and “The Monk from Brooklyn.” He is also the host of the web TV show, “Martial Arts Odyssey,” which traces his ongoing journey through Asia, learning martial arts in various countries.
Warrior Odyssey, the book chronicling Antonio Graceffo’s first six years in Asia is available at The book contains stories about the war in Burma and the Shan State Army. The book is available at
See Antonio’s Destinations video series and find out about his column on
Brooklyn Monk fan page
Brooklyn Monk on YOUTUBE
Brooklyn Monk in Asia Podcast (anti-travel humor)