Posts Tagged ‘teaching’

Children Vs. Adults, Language Learning vs. Acquisition

In Uncategorized on June 29, 2015 at 3:15 am

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By Antonio Graceffo

I largely reject the notion that children learn languages more easily or that if they do, or that this somehow gives them an advantage when learning a foreign language. David Long, the director of AUA Bangkok and the world’s leading proponent of Automatic Language Growth Theory (ALG) said, “We don’t believe children learn physics faster. So, why do we believe they learn language faster?”

All over the world people begin learning English as a child. Across Asia and Europe, English is a core requirement of the school curriculum. And yet all of the professional translators, linguists and people who speak English at a level appropriate to their age and education learned THAT level of English as adults and through study.

My belief is that culturally, our society, all societies, are set up in such a fashion that you teach things to children. I watch a mother playing with her child and she holds up an object and says “ball, ball” a million times. then maybe she says “This is a red ball.” I wish I could pay someone to do that for me. But even with this constant input, it takes years for children to acquire their native tongue. And, acquiring a language is very different from learning a language. Acquiring language generally only happens for the first language is learned in this manner. Here, I am using a loose definition of “first language,” to include all languages widely spoken in the child’s home country. For example, a Swiss person who speaks high German, Swiss German, and French is simply speaking the languages he or she is exposed to and which he or she acquired. Statistically, Swiss are terrible language learners.

At the ALG school in Bangkok, we tracked people by nationality and evaluated who learned Thai the fastest. Swiss were among the lowest scorers. Acquiring language and learning language are very different concepts. I actually had a person who was a PhD in anthropology telling me that he believed Africans learned languages faster. He said, “Africans are such great linguists. I have been in villages where everyone spoke six languages.” First off, a linguist is one who studies language, not languages. Secondly, these people acquired these languages. The test on whether or not an African can learn a language faster than say a Singaporean would be to send them both to school in Latvia.

As an adult, you can use your intellect, discipline, self-control and knowledge of what a language is, to learn a second language faster than any child.

In both Taiwan and Thailand I had friends who were missionary families. The parents went to language classes, while the children attended the international school. A year later, the parents poke the local language, but the kids didn’t. To a thinking man, it should be a no brainer that the one who attended classes learned, but the ones who didn’t classes didn’t. But there is a magical belief that children simply acquire language out of the air. This is clearly untrue.

As for adult discipline, in Taiwan, back in 2002, Chinese textbooks are generally only available in English medium, or occasionally in Japanese. Two Italian priests, who spoke no English, were attending Chinese classes. So they could neither understand the explanations or translations in the book, nor could the teacher help them very much. Where I was able to complete a chapter per day, they could only do one page per day because it took them about 8 hours each evening, to go through the following day’s page, using a paper dictionary, translating each and every word into Italian. Most children couldn’t do that. Had you put 2 ten year-olds in that class, they would simply have failed.

I have had a standing offer, which no one has taken me up on, but I challenge anyone in the world to send me and a 10 year old to a country chosen at random, where neither of us speaks the language, and test which of us learns the language faster.

Welcome to Brooklyn Monk on Youtube

In Uncategorized on March 13, 2015 at 4:38 am


I’m Antonio Graceffo, the Brooklyn Monk, and welcome to my youtube channel. My two main areas of interest are second language acquisition theory and martial arts.

I am currently a PhD candidate at Shanghai University of Sport where I combine both my interests, taking them to a new level.

I am writing my dissertation, in Chinese, the topic of which is a comparison of Chinese traditional Shuai Jiao wrestling and modern, western wrestling.

As part of my field research, I train daily in several wrestling styles as well as san da and judo. Although I am nearly 50 years old, I still fight in competition from time to time.

Watch Welcome to Brooklyn Monk on Youtube

My channel Brooklyn Monk1 is largely about my own journey though Asia, exploring and documenting languages, martial arts, and ethnic minorities. Beginning in 2001 through the present. I have lived in about 7 countries, learned 5 languages and studied and documented countless martial arts. Along the way, I also fought professionally and amateur, I wrote six books, several hundred magazine articles, published academic papers, appeared in movies and TV shows, and produced hundreds of videos which are available here on my channel. I have play lists dedicated to the various phases of my research including: Martial Arts Odyssey, Linguistics and Language Learning, Interviews, and the War in Burma.

I hope you enjoy my channel and if you’re doing research and need some help. Please shoot me a message and let me know. Also, don’t forget to follow Brooklynmomk1 on Twitter.

I’m Antonio Graecffo from Brooklynmonk1 reminding you to get in the gym do your reps, do your sets, do your round work, keep training and fighting, and please get in the libery and read a book.

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Violated Linguistically, Keep Your Tongue to Yourself

In Uncategorized on September 17, 2014 at 1:18 pm

By Antonio Graceffo

Substitute teaching in a high school, I was a little vague about when class started. When I heard a bell, I just went. The principle said to me in Chinese, “No, your class starts at eight twenty-five.” I said, “OK, thank you,” and sat down. But then the English teacher had to show off how good her English was. She came over to me and said “You can play your class at twenty-five minutes past eight, ten minutes later. But as you can see, according to this clock the time now is only eight twelvth.” Ah yes, the dreaded “eight twelvth” I would have to “wait ten minutes later” to “play” my class. Va fan culo!

This is so typical that to show off or to “practice” Chinese say the longest most convoluted sentence they can. I often hear them using the specific dialogue from chapter seven, like, “Will you eat in our school cafeteria, or do you prefer to eat such delicacies as fresh leafy vegetables, legumes, meats, and savories…” As soon as you use the word “savories” I know you’ve been memorizing dialogues again. And I don’t want to be your partner.

I gritted my teeth and said, “Yes, I understand the concept of telling time.” Since then, I have played and replayed the situation over and over in my head, wondering if I should have ripped into her in English and made her cry. I think the reason I react so badly to Chinese people making long statements from the vocabulary list in chapter eight, is that, one, she is calling me an idiot by suggesting I didn’t understand the principle. Two, she is not very observant, since I answered the principle appropriately, which would suggest I understood. Some people argue that people like this aren’t trying to insult me. They are juts practicing. Well, I don’t understand how this is practicing. Since no native speaker would use that many words to convey such a simple message. And since she obviously already knew these words….What exactly was she practicing? I guess she will get better and better at THIS and next time, she will cram “robust peaches at the peak of freshness” into the sentence.

That night, when I went out to get some food, I bumped into one of the newly arrived German students. I stopped to ask how he was getting on, when I noticed he had an Asian girl with him. Thinking he couldn’t possibly already have a girlfriend, after two days in country, I asked her in Chinese, “Where are you from?” I thought maybe she was another foreign student. As expected, she didn’t answer. So, I said in English, “Where are you from?” He answered for her, saying, “She is from here. She’s my language buddy, assigned by the university to help me learn Chinese.” Now, I was confused why she didn’t answer me. So, I asked again, in Chinese, “Where are you from?” She just smiled and said “Yes” in English. So, I switched to harsher Chinese and asked, rather forcefully. “I just asked you twice, where you are from. Why didn’t you answer?” She replied in English. “I am sorry, but I can’t understand your Chinese.” So, I asked in Chinese, “Why don’t you understand me? Everyone else does.” But she didn’t budge. She said, “Sorry, your accent…” I exploded, and started shouting in English (maybe I should have done it in Chinese, but I wanted the German guy to know what I was saying.) I am a doctoral candidate in this university. All my classes are in Chinese. All my classmates are Chinese. Everyone understands me but you.”

I just didn’t see how this was going to end well. And I felt embarrassed for the poor German guy who probably had no idea what to do. So, I just mumbled under my breath, in Chinese, “Forget about it. You have no manners.” As I stormed off, she called after me in English, “I understood that. Your Chinese is so good.”

I know people think I get mad about nothing and fly off the handle, but this person intentionally made me lose face. I can’t imagine she did this to help me. I don’t think she cured famine or Ebola by doing this. She wanted to make me look bad and make herself look smart. Also, she is supposed to be helping this guy with his Chinese. Obviously, his Chinese won’t be as good as mine. So, will she constantly shoot him down, till he gives up and speaks English with her? I actually had a language exchange partner in Korea who laughed at me every time I spoke Korean. And I know he did this so I would give up and we could just speak English, for his benefit. Instead, I told him to go f— himself, and possibly I threatened him physically, I don’t remember. I probably did threaten him physically. Sounds like something I would do.

And very much like Fred, I have to ask, why is this ok? Why does she get away with this? Why is it that if I stopped typing right now, scoured the campus, found her and ripped into her verbally, I would be the bad guy?

Well, wait till tomorrow night’s post, because, I am planning on being the bad guy.

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)

Misdaventures in ESL: Married to a Dictionary

In Uncategorized on May 18, 2014 at 3:00 am



By Antonio Graceffo

Language learners can be intelligent and even have a fairly large vocabulary, but cultural barriers may still prevent them from learning. In Asia, for example, because students have been forced, since childhood, to memorize long lists of vocabulary, it is very common for them to be married to the concept that each English word has exactly one meaning, regardless of context, and exactly one translation into their mother tongue. And this belief is often so ingrained, trained over a period of decades, that in spite of my education and being a native speaker I cannot dissuade them of it.
Here is an example from a high level group of adult students in China. We read a text about the threat of a pandemic wiping out most of Europe. They knew the word “epidemic”. So, I explained that the “demic” in “pandemic” was similarly related to a disease. And they were fine with that. Next, I asked if they knew the word “pan.” Instantly, they all said “frying pan.” I commended them on knowing ‘frying pan,’ but pointed out that in this context, pan had a different meaning. To which, they responded, “frying pan.” So, I told them that ‘pan’ meant ‘across.’ And that a ‘pandemic’ was an epidemic that went across national borders.
“Yes, because the frying pans are dirty.” explained one of the more intelligent students. In fact, he even rethought “dirty” and said “un-san-i-tary.” Once again, I was very supportive. “Nice word.” But I went on to explain that ‘pandemic’ had nothing to do with a frying pan. In the end, I had to simply move on. Not only did they not learn the meaning of “pan”, but they think I was lying to them, and they will never trust me again.
In another class, with an intermediate level, private Japanese student in her fifties, the article said “After seeing the film in the cinema, the star felt it was a real work of art.” So, I asked my student, “What does it mean when they say “a real work of art?” The student didn’t know. So, I explained, “It means the actress didn’t think this was just a movie for entertainment. It was something special.” So, the student asked “Art mean special?” I tried several more times to explain, in vain. “She meant the movie was beautiful.”
“Art mean beautiful?” she asked.
An interesting point about older Japanese students is that they often speak in very broken English, well below their level. But their reading comprehension is exactly on level. Apart from this one hang up, the student understood the complex text about the making of a short film which won awards.
“The movie was meaningful.” I tried again.
“Art mean meaningful?”
It was one more example of students looking for, even needing, each English word to have exactly one meaning and one translation. “Yes, it means special, beautiful, and meaningful all at once.” I conceded. And we moved on.
Another example was a text that said someone had accused someone else of murder. The student didn’t know “accuse.” So, I simplified by saying, “It means you say someone did something wrong.” She responded “accuse mean say?”
“Not exactly, it means to say someone did something wrong.”
I went through several examples of accusing someone of murder or bank robbery or rigging the votes in Florida. After going through a number of examples, the student said “Understand now. Accuse mean tell.”
The absolute worst example of this phenomenon I have ever encountered was in Cambodia. In an intermediate class, mostly full of college students and young professionals, We read an article which began something like this “If you think baseball is boring, you should try cricket. A cricket match can last three days and end in a tie score of zero-zero.” I confirmed if the students knew what baseball was. And they did. Next, I asked if they knew what cricket was. One girl quickly said, “A small animal that makes music.”
“Yes,” I agreed. “That is the common use of the word cricket. But here, it has a different meaning.” We reread the opening sentence. Then I asked “Can anyone guess what cricket refers to here?” I wasn’t expecting them to know it was a British game, or have a picture of the game in their heads. They had obviously never heard of it. But since cricket involved a match and could end in a tie score, and it was being compared to baseball, I just wanted to see if they would guess that it was some kind of a game or sport.
I went around the room, asking, “In this text, IN THIS TEXT, specifically in this text, can anyone guess what cricket means?” The first three students all said, “A small animal…”
I tried to use logic. “Let’s test your theory that ‘cricket,’ in this text, refers to a small animal.” I read the text aloud, using a substitution. “If you think baseball is boring, you should try a small-animal-that-makes-music. A small-animal-that-makes-music match can last three days and end in a tie score of zero-zero.”
After I finished reading, I asked “Does that make sense?” To which, the whole class dutifully replied, “Yes, teacher.” I just decided to scrap the text and move on. This wasn’t a class on insectology. Entomology maybe, but insectology, NEVER!
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)


Foreign Education in China

In Uncategorized on February 28, 2014 at 2:01 pm

By Antonio Graceffo

Nearly one million Chinese students registered for classes at American universities during the 2012-2013 academic year, says an article in US News and World Report. But with tuition fees for foreign students of $38,000 or more per year, education in the US is way out of reach for the average Chinese family. The solution that China has found is to move the foreign education to China. Foreign universities have opened campuses and joint venture programs across the country, using the English language to teach degree subjects. The schools are still considerably more expensive than a domestic university, but much cheaper than going abroad. A bachelor’s degree at University of Nottingham, Ningbo Campus costs $14,000 USD, for example, whereas a BA at Shanghai University would cost only about $3,200 USD.
Some of the foreign universities who currently have programs in China include: New York University, Shanghai Campus, Duke-Kunshan University-Wuhan University, John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Nanjing Campus, University of Birmingham Guangzhou Centre, and Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, Suzhou to name a few.
A deep respect for education has always been a major feature of Chinese culture. In the past, however the educational options open to many families were limited by the family’s income. Over the last 10 years, however, Chinese families have been earning more and more. According to a report by Accenture the average hourly wage in China has increased from less than one dollar per hour in 2005, to approximately $2.25 an hour in 2011, with the average annual income in 2012 rising to about $2,100. Much of that money is being pumped into education. Some of these families save for years and years to send their children to a foreign university program in China. But the foreign programs are especially popular with China’s wealthy class. According to the Hurun Wealth Report of 2012, “One out of every 1300 people in China has a million yuan or more”. Leaving them with savings large enough to fund a foreign education inside or outside of China.
Since 1978, China has had a one child policy. With life expectancy steadily increasing in the new, affluent China, this often leaves four living grandparents and two parents with only one child to support. This means the life savings of six adults could be pooled to pay for the education of one child. The increased income, combined with a one child policy has left a tremendous number of families in a position to pay for a foreign university program.
University of Technology Sydney, in cooperation with Sydney Institute of Language and Commerce operates a program at Shanghai University. This is one of many foreign programs which doesn’t actually offer a foreign degree in China. Students who complete the program in China get a certificate. But students who complete a two-plus-two program, two years in China followed by two in Australia, receive a university degree from UTS. Another option is that the students can complete their BA from Shanghai university concurrently with two years at SILC, then go to Australia and complete a second BA. These types of programs have made a foreign education even more affordable, since the first two years are done in China. This leaves parents to pay for only two years of study abroad.
Karen, a second-year student in the UTS, SILC program explained why the program appeals to Chinese students, “First of all I can get two degrees, one from China, and one from the foreign university which benefits me interviewing for a job.”
In an informal survey, the two most common reasons students gave for studying in the hybrid program were to improve their English and to prepare to study abroad.
“My friend and my parents both think it is a good way to improve English. But my parents may worry if the courses we studied whether can be adapted to the situation in china.” Said one student. “Because I want to improve my English and I can be better adapted to the foreign study style if I go abroad for further study.” Said another.
“First because of study abroad, my parents want me study in SILC. Also this program is cheaper than going abroad for studies. More cross nation companies setup in China currently. They need more employee with a broad and good command of English to deal with foreign business. So study in SILC will help me to get a god job after graduation.”
Whether students do the full four years abroad or do half in China and half in a foreign country, they still need to adjust to the dramatic differences between western and Chinese education.
Another SILC student commented on the differences between Western and Chinese teaching styles. “There’s not so many instructions given by western teachers. We have to study individually and initiatively, which is quite different from Chinese pattern. Also studying speed is very fast, since we have three semesters per year.”
During a series of student interviews, responses like this were very common. “I think the most difficult thing is the deference between Chinese and foreign teacher patterns are hard to adapt to. Sometimes the customs of how to teach in class, what kind of homework to do differ. Class is quite different from I used to do as a Chinese student.”
The foreign teachers also found that teaching Chinese students was different than teaching in the West. One teacher, Rada, said “Chinese kids are more respectful. Teachers are important here. But it is more challenging to get them to speak and participate.” She went on to say, “It’s like pulling teeth.”
An American teacher, Niko had this to say, “The biggest challenge is that they are taught never to question anything. But in western education you have to question, analyze, and debate.”
Rada, “Parents put pressure on the kids. They are motivated not only to make money, but also to make their parents proud. Avoiding shame seems to be a huge part of the culture.”

In the English language programs teachers often complain that they have to demand less of the Chinese students. “The expectations are much lower here than they would be in an English speaking country. We have to go slower and dumb down the course, if you will.”
In addition to the English language programs, which seem to be the largest and most well established, there are a smattering of programs sponsored by Germany, France or other countries, using other languages as the medium of instruction. One student in an English program explained, “The other foreign programs in our school UTSEUS (a program offered through a French university) it’s often a little tired since they have to learn French, which they never studied before.” Many of the English medium programs require that students pass the IELTS exam either before or during the course. But the European programs couldn’t make such demands because there are so few Chinese students who have had the opportunity to study German or French till fluency.
As a result, a French engineering teacher complained, in very broken English, “The students understand nothing about I say. So, I am have to speak English for teach my class.”
Apart from the language issues, foreign and Chinese universities are very different. Chinese education is largely focused on rote memorization. The best students are those who can most dutifully and correctly repeat what they have heard from the teachers. Students also work in study groups, sharing notes and assignments. This is in sharp contrast to Western education which values critical thinking, individuality, and original thought. One student had this to say, “The requirement in a foreign program is too different form the study style in my previous study. Such as presentation and discussion these things are not common in high school.”
Many of the students complain about the difficulty of dealing with both the language and the unfamiliar classes. “We must learn many major courses. And academic English in such a short time. It is also a challenge to pass. And my friends in other programs do not have to pass IELTS.” Students in foreign programs often commiserated with friends who were studying in other foreign programs. “I have a friend studying Shanghai Jiao Tong University, majoring in Michigan program. They had to pass the TOEFL so that they could go to Michigan to finish their bachelor’s degree. And their courses are hard.” Another girl said, “I have friends in western Liverpool University, China. They say that Liverpool is expensive. European schools have too many activities and lessons…too busy.”
As much as the students were aware of the benefits of the foreign program, many of them didn’t choose the program themselves.
Giles, a teacher at SILC explained how the students came into the program. “Parents simply tell them what to do and what to study. You don’t know how many kids have told me ‘I would prefer to study nuclear physics or anything but completely unrelated to business.’ But parents made them study business because this is where they believe the kids can make money.”
Niko said, “There is a belief in the society that parents know best. And you always do what parents tell you. Even their peers would tell them to listen to their parents, which is very different from the west.” Niko went on to say, “They are taught by parents that education is important, and part of Chinese culture. And this is true, regardless of class. In other countries it may be class. But here, it is everyone.”
Most of the foreign programs are business related. Business and technology seem to be the two choices that Chinese parents agree on.
Niko said, “The Chinese are focused on education as a tool for social mobility. They mostly study business or engineering. You don’t get a lot of Chinese kids studying philosophy or liberal arts. If they are studying something else, it is most likely because they didn’t have the scores to get into business and engineering.”
Parents in the new China are willing to spend a fortune on their children’s education because they see it as an investment. They hope that investing in a business or technology degree will return real dividends. Unfortunately, however, data shows that Chinese university graduates have increased six fold in recent years. New grads are facing a tighter job market and low wages. A graduate from a $140,000 USD education in the US will be returning to a China where the average income is just over $2,000 a year. And yet, each year, the number of students opting to go abroad for studies or to study in the local, international university programs increases dramatically.

Antonio Graceffo is the author of the Monk from Brooklyn, Warrior Odyssey, and several other books about Asia. He lives in China, where he is a PhD candidate at Shanghai University of Sport.
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)

And They Still offered me the Job

In Uncategorized on February 20, 2014 at 12:36 pm

ESL Teacher Blues

By Antonio Graceffo

Shanghai University offered me my old job back and even offered to work my teaching hours in such a way that I could continue with my studies, but the problem is that the two universities are just too far apart and it would be impossible to study and teach at the same time. The university where I study, Shanghai University of Sport, is also trying to put together a job for me, but until that happens, I decided to go take a job at a language school, very part time, just to have a little income in the mean time.

Two days ago, I answered a bunch of want ads, and sent them my cover letter, CV, and copies of my diplomas. Yesterday, I began receiving calls to set up interviews. Today, I had two interviews, and I remembered why I hate language school jobs and why I am willing to put in the time and effort to earn my PhD and hopefully, NEVER have to teach at a language school again.

At the first school, I sat down for the interview and the woman asked me, “Can I please have your passport?” This is so typical of job interviews in China. By showing up for the interview, they believe you have agreed to accept the job. I think, for them, it would be unimaginable that you would sit through the interview, but decide not to work for the company. I told her I would bring my passport next time.

“What year did you complete your BA?” Believe it or not, I was stymied. In all the years I have been working, no one ever asked me that question. In fact, when I hire people, I would only ask that question of people in their twenties, just to get a handle on how many years they have been working. With older people, you normally ask how many years of experience they have, or maybe if their degree was in a subject relevant to the job. You certainly don’t waste time asking about a BA if the applicant has a Masters or PhD. I thought back and I came up with the answer, “Nineteen ninety-four.” I wondered if she was even alive then. I also wondered if that was the wrong answer. Maybe they only hired people who graduated in odd numbered years.

The next question was, “Do you have teaching experience?” Now I was just stumped. If there was any possibility I was going to say “no” why would they even call me in for an interview? I was applying for a senior teaching position, not a trainee or just out of college job.

“You know, this information is all on the CV I sent you.” I told her. She looked a little uncomfortable. “I never received it.” She answered. As I really didn’t want the job anymore, I decided to be honest. “That’s impossible. It was attached to the very email that you responded to when you invited me to this interview. Also, wouldn’t the CV have been the reason you called me in?”

Part of my frustration wasn’t her fault, it was simply the frustration of being back at the bottom of the ESl world where I was when I first arrived in Asia, after having had great jobs in Europe. I wanted to believe that they had seen my CV, were impressed, and called me in. But now, I realize they simply called me in for no reason and were probably going to offer me the job.

“You sent your CV to Emma. I am Mary.” She explained. What the hell does that mean? “I sent the CV to the one and only email address on the job advert. What happened to it once it got here is none of my business.” She agreed, humbly. Then we sat in awkward silence, till I suggested. “Maybe you could go get my CV from Emma, and we could continue?”

The rest of the interview went reasonably well, until, as I was leaving she asked me what I planned to do after I finished my PhD. I told her I would probably teach at the British and American College. She asked, “Oh, do you have a degree that would allow you to do that?” first off, she knew I am getting a PhD in education and was asking what I planned to do after the PhD in education. So, isn’t it clear that I would be qualified? Next, she was holding my resume, but had obviously not read it. “I have a graduate degree in TESOL.” I told her. Suddenly, she seemed very interested, “Oh, you do? Wow, that is great.”

Believe it or not, they still wanted me to work there, as soon as we figure out which center is closest to my house.

The next interview was the all-time winner. I walked in and although they had spoken to me in Chinese on the phone, they insisted on speaking to me in English during the interview, but their English was so bad that I didn’t always understand the questions and they NEVER understood my answers. They led me to a small meeting room where they gave me a form to fill out. All of the information on the form was on my CV. Nowadays most professional schools have you copy and paste from your CV on line. Then they print out the form as a talking-point during the interview. I didn’t understand why they needed me to hand write the same information again, but I filled in the form. About half way down the page was a single block which read “Teaching Experience”. What did they want me to write in this block? I have been teaching on and off since 1988. There wasn’t room to write names and dates of schools. So, I just wrote “Fifteen years of experience, see CV for details.”

Believe it or not, that wasn’t the worst form I ever saw in the ESL world. Once, the block next to “experience” was the same size as the one next to “name.” I simply wrote the number “10”.

Another question asked how long I planned to be in Shanghai, so I wrote “Until I graduate in 2016.” Another asked how well I could speak Chinese, and I wrote “HSK 4”. The interviewer came in and the first thing she asked was “Can you introduce yourself to me?” This is exactly what we ask kids when we are evaluating their English. I have never had anyone begin a job interview like this, but I complied. Next, she asked, “When will you go back to your hometown?” My hometown? What does that even mean? I was born on Long Island, grew up in Queens, went to school in Brooklyn, lived in Tennessee…Where is my hometown, and why does she need to know when I plan to visit it?

Again, I knew what she meant, and why she asked. But it annoyed me that someone who runs an English school, which employs foreigners, would have so little concept of how to talk to foreigners or how our culture worked. The question about a hometown is significant for Chinese people. For westerners, we generally think of our hometown as where we reside. But for Chinese, the hometown is where you were born. The legal rights of Chinese citizens depend largely on where their legal hometown is. And because it is the city you were born, regardless of where you live, the official hometown can almost never be legally changed. If you are from a third tier hometown, you would have to apply for a visa to visit Hong Kong or Macau. Depending on your hometown, you may never be permitted to visit Taiwan. What’s more, you would need a permit to move to a large city like Shanghai or Beijing. No matter where you live, you would be required to return to your hometown of record, from time to time, to file certain paperwork or comply with government requirements.

I know this about their culture. But why don’t they know that this is not true of our culture? They say the average American moves house more than 5 times, and that 85% of Americans wouldn’t recognize the house they were born in.

“Do you mean how long will I remain in Shanghai?” I asked. She nodded. “Until I graduate in 2016” I said, pointing at where it was written on the form she was holding. She asked several other questions, all of which were on my CV and the form she was holding. When she asked about teaching experience, I told her I had been teaching for years and there was a detailed list on my CV. “Oh, well, have you taught in China?” Go check the CV! I wanted to shout. But I answered calmly, “Yes, I taught at Shanghai University.” She nodded and asked, “So, did you only teach children in China or have you also taught adults?”

What? “Neither, I taught at the university.” I repeated. She nodded, “And were the students adults or children?”

“They were university students.” I explained, losing patience. “I was a university teacher, teaching university students.” Now, I was starting to get a bit annoyed.

Her next question was hilarious, “Can you say some simple Chinese words?” To which I answered, “Yes, I can.” And we sat there silently for several minutes. Even if I wanted to give her a better answer, I didn’t know what she wanted. Did she actually want me to rattle of a list of simple Chinese words? Chair, table, stomach ache, tea spoon…I pointed at the form she was holding and said, “It says right here, HSK 4. If you need me to speak Chinese, I can.” She didn’t answer, so I switched to Chinese, but she sort of tuned me out.

Next, she asked how much money I wanted for a 100 minute class. I had never heard of a 100 minute class, so I wasn’t prepared for that question. Normally, you state a price per hour, and the classes can be as many hours as is customary at that school. An hour is usually only 50 minutes, but you get paid for the full hour. So, I thought for a minute, 100 minutes is a bit more than an hour and a half, so I told her my rate for a bit more than an hour and a half.

“So sorry, that is more than we can pay.” She told me. “I can only offer you our maximum.” The maximum was 10% less than what I had asked for. It wasn’t ideal, but I really should start working, and 10% isn’t that much to give up. Plus, it was probably going to be a very temporary job. So, I agreed.

“We would like to hire you, and you can begin teaching today at 5:30.” She announced. With that, she handed me an employment form to fill out, which had the same information as the previous form. There were also terms and conditions of employment, one of which said that if I agreed to teach a student, but quit before that student’s course ended, I owed the company $2,000. There was no scenario in the contract where the company might owe me $2,000.

“We have an adult student who wants to learn some information about Canada. Do you have information about Canada?” she asked.

“With me? No, I do not have information about Canada with me. But, if you have course books or materials about Canada, I would be happy to teach them.”

“Yes, we have many books.” She said, proudly.

“Books about Canada?” I asked.


“I see.”

The interviewer excused herself, and another woman came in. I took her to be the boss, the one who had called me on the phone, speaking Chinese. She told me, “The student wants to learn oral English.” She told me.

“I thought she wanted to learn about Canada.” I said.

“She wants oral English about Canada.”

“I have no idea what that means.” I said, honestly.

“It’s OK. You can speak Chinese very well. She doesn’t speak any English, so you can explain to her in Chinese. Or her daughter can translate.”

“Her daughter? I thought this was a private lesson.”

“Yes, well, her daughter will also be in the class. She is eleven and speaks some English. She and her mother are moving to Canada and they both want to learn oral English.”

And the best way for them to learn oral English, apparently, is for me to talk to them in Chinese, or to have the daughter translate.

They took me to the book shelf and told me I could choose any book I wanted for the lesson. “I have no idea about the student or the books. Please tell me which one to use.” I said, thinking how far this was from university teaching and how much I hated doing this. They selected a business book which would have been way too difficult for someone who doesn’t speak English, and which had nothing to do with Canada, and which would have been completely inappropriate for an eleven year-old, who wouldn’t know those words and concepts in Chinese.

It was still two hours till the lesson was meant to start, so I said I would go down to the café and prepare. I noticed the book had listening and speaking lessons which required a CD. So I asked, “Do you have CD players in the classroom?”

The first interviewer told me, “I don’t think the CD will work.”

You don’t think? You mean you aren’t sure? Has this never come up before? “Why not?”  I asked.

“Because we do not have a CD player.” She answered, smartly. And yes, she was right, I also think if you don’t have a CD player, the CD will not work.

I took the book and was headed out the door when I realized I didn’t have paper. “Could I have some paper?” I asked. The boss lady asked, “Do you need a book or paper?” I don’t know why she asked that. But I answered, “I need some paper to prepare my lesson.” The other woman asked, “How many pieces, one?” Yes, I need exactly one piece of paper to prepare a lesson. God forbid you should hand me “some” paper. She gave me one piece of paper. As I headed to the elevator I was thinking, OK, I am going to do this one lesson, collect the fee, and then quit. But while I was waiting for the elevator, I thought, this is the dumbest job, at the dumbest company, and I am going to hate teaching these kinds of disorganized, unprofessional lessons. Also, something finally hit me about the money. At any other teaching job, fifty minutes is one hour. So a two hour class is 100 minutes. That means I should be getting two hours of pay. But they were only offering me one and a half hours worth.

I walked back into the office, and said, “I am really sorry, but I don’t want to work here.” I handed back the book, but I kept the single piece of paper. Ha, ha, I won.

“Why don’t you want to work here?” Asked the boss lady.

“Because you are too disorganized. You don’t even have a CD player. And the pay is too low.” Another issue was that it was more than an hour from my house, by subway. And there was no way I could justify a two hour roundtrip to teach 100 minutes and get paid a fraction of what I normally make.

I had said it. “You’re too disorganized. You don’t even have a CD player.” I said exactly what I was thinking. It is amazing that only when we want nothing do we receive everything. It was one of the most liberating moments of my life, not only because I was saying “no” to that job. I was saying “no” to every unprofessional language school for the rest of my life.

I will hold out for a university or corporate job. Life is too short to waste teaching “oral English about Canada.”


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

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