New Weekly Post: Top Trumps

Donald J. Trump is the president-elect of the United States. I am in deep mourning about this, like many. My small-scale resistance starting this week: a list of the bullshit he has wrought upon us all this week,  accompanied by the video of me burning him in effigy on 5 November.

Week of 4 December 2016

  • The media keep flubbing about saying that Trump’s opinion on whatever will surely not be what he has said it was over and over and over again during the campaign.
  • Trump suggested during a ‘thank you’ tour that he will appoint a former general to Secretary of Defense. This breaks with tradition from literally the beginning of the USA, when Washington explicitly put the military’s control in civilian hands to avoid, you know…juntas and shit. Mattis would be the first general since George Marshall to serve in a Presidential cabinet so recently after leaving the military.

  • Trump called the President of Taiwan, breaking more than 35 years of Chinese-American understanding about how to deal with that particular issue. Then denied his people set up the call, and then whined about the attention he received on Twitter. This is the new normal.
  •  Speaking of Twitter whining, the POTUS-Elect also complained that he totally won the popular vote in the election, if one discounts the “millions” of people who voted illegally. There is no evidence…repeat, no evidence….repeat, nothing to suggest…repeat, nothing at all provided by the Trump administration to support this idea. But hey, we live in the post-fact era. I suppose if he says that millions voted illegally, then they must have magically done so. I mean, why would he lie to us?
  • Trump held rallies on a ‘Thank You’ tour which is totally not gloating or sktechily looking like a Nazi rally…oh, no. Why campaign when the campaign’s over? Why not? It’s a brave new world after November 9th. For those who think Trump as POTUS will finally, mercifully pivot to normal…nope.
  •  Trump stated that those who burn the American flag should face jail time or loss of American citizenship. I wonder what he thinks of burning him in effigy?

This is a weekly post for the foreseeable future in which I summarise what new hells Trump has visited upon us all in a convenient bulleted list. I follow this with the video of me burning him in effigy on Gwangalli Beach the weekend before the election in 2016. I refuse to normalise his rule. 

TEFL For Newbs: Punctuation

Basic, Important, But Tricky Topics in TEFL Grammar and Usage (2016 Edition)

by Coleen Monroe-Knight, M.A. Linguistics (UCL)
<–That is the very first time I’ve used my master’s letters! Wheeeee!

In this series for new TEFL teachers abroad who have no previous experience with prescriptive grammar and usage other than that time in Language Arts class in like, 1997:

Phrasal Verbs
Parts of Speech
Verb Agreement

Today’s topic: Punctuation

This one is technically not a grammar topic, but it is nonetheless very important. In fact, punctuation is so important as to have its (note: no apostrophe) own National Day in the USA on September 24th each year.

Let’s (note: an apostrophe!) get started with the very basics. Here are the most common forms of punctuation in English:

  • . = Full stop/period 

  • , = Comma 
  • ‘ = Apostrophe 
  • ” = Quotation Mark 
  • : = Colon 
  • ; = Semi-Colon 
  • – = Dash /Hyphen 
  • ! = Exclamation Point 
  • ? = Question Mark 
  • () = Parentheses 
  • [] = Brackets

These are used in many ways, and I do not claim to be an authority on the finer nuances of usage. I’m not an Oxford Journal copy editor, after all. However, the basics of punctuation should have been emphasised in your schooling. For TEFL students, there may be confusing differences in punctuation between English and their L1. In addition, national and local curricula tend to be inconsistent in how to use punctuation .

My high-level students write an essay for me every week. I see a few problems over and over here in China, some of which were common in Korea as well. For example, the use of commas as full stops:

Then I went home, I found my mother, I went to work after that, My mother is nice.

Then I went home. I found my mother. I went to work after that. My mother is nice.

This is very common. I often find myself writing, ‘Commas are not full stops!’ on the essays. Another one is the use of a comma as a replacement for ‘and’ or another conjunction:

I like to play basketball, baseball. They are nice, easy. 

I like to play basketball and baseball. They are nice and easy.

The one above was fairly common in Korea as well. It seems like it might be that commas are occasionally used this way in East Asian languages, which would explain a lot. An error that is extremely common and pervasive in my experience is the inability to properly set up a quote or part of a dialogue. Observe:

Then my friend said I don’t want to eat that! It’s disgusting!!!

Then my friend said, “I don’t want to eat that! It’s disgusting!”

The important thing is that they show someone else was speaking, by putting a comma before the reported speech and quotation marks on the outsides. This is very important for academic writing as well, since they will need to quote authors of articles and cite sources (or, as some of my students do a lot, copy word for word from an article and attribute nothing!).

Examples of why punctuation is key to good writing and even simple communication abound on the Internet. When I teach punctuation to a high-level class, I sometimes put up examples of the ways it can change the meaning. These are not original to me, but some are pretty funny. See if you can spot the problems!

A notice in the woods: Please use caution when hunting pedestrians using walking trails

A sign on the fridge: NO, Popsicles! (What did the popsicles ever do to you?!) 

A sign on a toilet at a store: Attention! Toilet only for disabled elderly pregnant children!

A headline: Chef finds inspiration in cooking her family and her dog

Sales sale: “BRA” $1.99 “UNDERWEAR” $3 per pack 

My personal favourite: Let’s eat grandpa! 

The perennial: The Panda eats, shoots, and leaves. 

It takes repeated practice from a young age to learn how to punctuate properly. This is important to keep in mind, since most students will not grasp the concepts immediately and they may continue to make the same mistakes over and over again.

The best place to start, in my experience, is to make sure that the students actually know what the marks are called. This sounds simple, but it is very confusing to many of them. I make small signs with the Big Six (full stop, comma, exclamation point, question mark, quotation mark, colon) and put them on all the walls of the room. Then I ask a student to stand up and find one of them. Their classmates can help them by pointing.

Eventually, I ask for teams to stand up and move to the punctuation, going faster and faster so that the students have a fun time running between them. I’ve done this with tiny kindergartners and high school students! It works to make them quickly remember which one to use.

Another way to teach punctuation is to require complete sentences at all times in your lessons. Tell students when they are writing in their books that they are not allowed to use only one or two words, but must have a full sentence. Using the parts of speech from last time, you can say my complete sentence mantra:

“You need a subject, a verb, and an object. You need a big letter and a full stop.”

You will find yourself saying this over and over and over again. It will eventually stick in the students’ brains and they will hopefully always remember that a sentence needs a big letter at the start and some kind of punctuation at the end.

If you have essays that the students are writing, you can also do a peer-marking activity. Give them an essay that is not theirs, and a marker. Tell them that they need to put down three punctuation corrections in two minutes. Then change the papers and repeat.

You can either give the corrections back directly to the students afterward, or if you are concerned they will not have made good ones you can take them to correct yourself. This will give you an idea of whether the students know that they are making mistakes, and how to correct them. This is designed to get the students used to reading essays again and editing their own work, a fundamental skill for academic writing.

Additional Resources:

Eats Shoots and Leave by Lynne Truss

Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White 

Next time: Verb Agreement

Century Park, Shanghai

We went looking for mini-golf, and failed. The park, in the late winter sun….was very bleak. Maybe it’s prettier during the summer, but it sure didn’t feel like the 10 kwai entrance fee was worth it.


We travelled for an hour to get there, for our first foray into Pudong. Truly, it is worse than Minhang Sports Park in our borough, which is free and only ten minutes away on the bus.

Oh well. It was nice to see the blossoms that are starting out!


A new Beer in Situ from The Brew is coming soon!

New Series: TEFL grammar for newbs abroad

Most TEFL teachers abroad don’t have deep knowledge of grammar and usage when we first begin. True, we have a crash course Teaching English as a Foreign Language Certificate from an online or classroom course, often required by law for our work visas. True, we are generally native English speakers who went to school in English (and hopefully some of what we learned in school stuck). True, we are at a significant inherent advantage to our collegues who come from an L2 background, with our implicit knowledge of grammar.

You will, as a new teacher, eventually be asked something like this:

Collegue: What? If you get points, you win the game???? I was always taught that if there is ‘if’ in the sentence, then you have to use ‘will’ in the second part. Is this right?

Native Speaker: Sorry, what?

Collegue: Is it ‘If you get points, you win the game’ or ‘If you get points, you will win the game?’

Native Speaker: Um….either?

Collegue: ????????????????? Is it first conditional or zero conditional?

Native Speaker: ?????????????????????????

This happened a lot to me in Korea, Chile, and China. It’s an occupational hazard of being an L1 (native) speaker in a TEFL office; you are the barometer by which the students’ grammar is apparently supposed to live or die.

That’s a messy job, considering that the vast majority of native speakers have no idea what the hell a conditional is when starting out (then later you find yourself on Wikipedia five minutes before class saying, “There is more than one of them??? OH CHRIST, NO….”). I always felt uncomfortable giving an answer, especially since sometimes in Korea my co-teachers would have a pirated copy of that year’s multiple choice test in their hands and were expecting me to help the kids memorise the correct answer. 100% or nothing, you know.

Fear not, newbie TEFLers. I’ve made a short list of grammar and usage points that are hardest for young learners for you to brush up on. If you Google (or in China…Bing……………….ew) these basic topics, there is a TON of information about them and millions of ideas for how to teach them. I thought it would be helpful to start by putting the ones that trip up most new teachers abroad in one guide, since it’s harder to know what you don’t know when starting out until you have the conversation above. Now you know what you don’t know, you can know what you need to know. Right? Right.

Basic, Important, But Tricky Topics in TEFL Grammar and Usage (2016 Edition)

by Coleen Monroe-Knight, M.A. Linguistics (UCL)
<–That is the very first time I’ve used my master’s letters! Wheeeee!

In this series for new TEFL teachers abroad who have no previous experience with prescriptive grammar and usage other than that time in Language Arts class in like, 1997:

Phrasal Verbs
Parts of Speech
Verb Agreement

When I’ve covered all these topics, I will excerpt the main points for a single crash course post, which y will be able to find here.

1. Phrasal Verbs

Do you know what a preposition is? If you don’t, look that shit up on Wikipedia right now. This will not make sense if you don’t know that category of word. (Hint: in, on, over, under, out…)

Phrasal verbs are a highly typical Englishism, and they trip up students of all ages and levels. I have found that my highest-level students occasionally use a long and complicated word in place of these fuckers, simply because phrasal verbs are irritating.

“No, Jimmy…the lake did not exactly desiccate in the video game….it just dried up. Good word, though.”

The basic formula is this:

Verb + Preposition = Phrasal Verb

For Example:

Go + Up = go up
Get + over = get over
find + out = find out
open + up = open up

The two words together form a single unit of meaning, which is often very different from what they mean on their own. or the phrases verb may have one literal and one figurative meaning, totally unrelated to one another. Complicating matters, some phrasal verbs can be separated by an object and some cannot.

Now, try to count how many of these words you use in a single hour of class. I’ve tried and I bet you couldn’t do it. It’s almost every other sentence in English. Especially in informal speech. Constantly.

The trickiness about this particular grammatical anomaly is twofold; this is relatively uncommon in world languages and the prepositions can change the whole meaning of the Phrasal Verb in weird and unpredictable ways. Consider the following:

Get down =/= get on =/= get off
WARNING: Don’t try to explain in detail to your young learners why exactly the phrase, “The man got off on the bus” is making you blush in class.

The example above illustrates a further problem with these tricky groupings of words. Sometimes, a phrasal verb is actually a complex of verb and multiple prepostitions. Think about the difference between, ‘look down on’ and ‘look up to.’ Why should down and on go together, anyway? It is totally natural to native speakers and automatic, but there is not a precise reason why exactly any of the prepositions ought to go with a verb.

Prepositions are a beast in all the languages I’ve studied, in part because they change depending on the random ways that humans have decided to divide up space (Why in the hell does one say, ‘I have a bag at the hand’ in French and not ‘I have a bag in my hand?’ Can anything be ‘at’ my hand in physical terms? What about the figurative? Ugh…..). It’s a really fun exercise to get together a group of people with many different native languages and start asking basic preposition questions. The arguments that ensue are not on yours truly!

This stumbling block is a big one for most new TEFL teachers, but luckily it is relatively easy to teach. Trust your instincts as to what is correct or incorrect, and go with that. This is a general rule for TEFL.

I like to review parts of speech on the board (Nouns, Verbs, Adjectives, Prepositions, etc.) and then write the verb ‘to get’ in a circle. Then I ask for as many prepositions as the students can think of and cover the whole space with them. Then we practice using each combination in sentences (and I specifically avoid elliciting the word ‘off’ whenever possible).

Send me your questions about how to teach English! What do you find to be tricky for all your students? What was hard for you as a newbie TEFLer?

Next time: Parts of Speech

Late Winter Outfit


Revolution Mug

This week it’s Chinese New Year, which is like Christmas and Thanksgiving rolled into one. We’ve been enjoying warm weather for a couple days, but early in the week it was freezing cold (as is usual in Shanghai’s winter).

It’s hard to be fashionable when you are cold all the time, but I’m managing.


Outfit for work. 

It goes like this in the winter time: bra, shirt, other shirt, dress, other dress, sweater, coat, scarf. On the bottom: long underwear, tights, other tights, knee-high socks, skirt. I’ve taken to wearing colourful skirts as petticoats for extra layers. And yet, one will still be cold as the humidity means it just cuts right through it allllllll….

I did a little DIY for CNY, too. Lanterns made from Hong Bao, the lucky envelopes that people use to give gifts of money at this time of year. One I managed to do backwards, but it looks like a red sun (sorta).

It’s the Year of the Monkey, so our Christmas monkeys are in style still.

We made a Wishing Tree and wrote things we want for the new year, and made a feast of fish and cheese (much better than it sounds) for the night of the new year. Happy 2016!