Some loopholes in Cambridge BEC test

I had the chance to be an oral examiner for Cambridge Business English Test. I participated all the three levels: preliminary, vantage and higher. I noticed there are some loopholes in the test, and frankly I think ESOL could do better to make more money.

  • The biggest loopholes is the small repertoire of questions for speaking. I noticed during the exam that students seem to know the questions beforehand, and had made prepared versions of certain questions we asked. Some are even using the words from the backup questions in their speech. I guess this are some brain dump sites for used questions, and students can just use them to rehearsal. I also believe it is easy for students who have taken the test, to text message the questions to other test takers in the waiting room
  • During part II of the oral exam, one thing that irks me most is that test takers does not listen to their partner’s talk. They keep preparing for their small presentation, and when they are requested to ask a question about their partner’s speech, the frequent question would be: “Of the points you just mentioned, which one you think is more important?”. They deserve a markdown for cheating like this.

Anyway, I think English tests such as BEC, IELTS and TOFEL are just cash cows. Why does BEC need three levels for a speaking test? Can’t it make the grade range from one to nine like IELTS’s? Most BEC takers are likely to take two levels of BEC, which I think is unnecessary. For IELTS and TOFEL, they can go fuck themselves for a short expiration period of the test score — two years. They should make it five years like GRE test scores. I don’t think my English will drastically become poorer after two years, actually it is the other way around. The only reason I can think of is IELTS and GRE wants to make more money on a faster cycle.


The Shanzhai Phenomenon in China

Shanzhai (山寨) can be literally translated as “camp on a mountain”. It also carries overtones as an outlaws’ camp on the mountain. Anyone who have read one of the Four Classic novels — the Outlaws of the Marsh — will get an idea what an outlaw’s camp is like.

Because of the lawless and the underground meaning associated with Shanzhai, it is used to describe the China-made electronics with no brand names or fake trademarks.

The quality of these products is generally good, and the price fits the budget of the wage-earners — two factors that explain Shanzhai products’ ever-increasing popularity and competitive edge.

If you can’t afford to buy an Iphone, you can find a Shanzhai version Iphone, or Hiphone by another name, spending only a quarter of an real Iphone. There are also Shanzhai version for Nokia, Samsung and Sony-Ericsson cell phones. I personally own an Hiphone for a price about $150 dollars, and it does a decent job. Unlike Iphone, it doesn’t have WIFI and the system is not as snappy as Iphone, but it has good multimedia playback cababilities and it looks so close as an Iphone.

The word Shanzhai can also be used to describe anything that is non-official, underground, inexpensive with acceptable quality. For example, many Chinese dislike the extravagant, boisterous, cloying and politically correct Spring Festival Gala held annually by CCTV. In the meantime, the Shanzai version of the Spring Festival Gala, put together by a group of unknown performers with a low budget, becomes a great alternative.

So how to translate Shanzhai into English? I think the closest equivalent I can get in English is “poor man’s something”. You can have a poor man’s Ferrari, a poor man’s Iphone and a poor man’s tangy life.

China Featured

Is Chinese difficult to learn?

Some Oxford-educated English man claims in his blog that China should use an alphabetical writing system, and China’s failing to do so in history partly resulted in the high level of illiteracy. He goes like this

[China failed to invent stuff] Like an alphabet. Really, how hard is that? The Koreans managed to transform their character-based system into a very serviceable syllabic alphabet nearly 600 years ago. Amongst the reasons why China still hasn’t achieved a high level of literacy….

It is not the first time westerners point a finger at Chinese culture and claiming it backward, outdated or lacking creativity. Well, China has to ‘disappoint’ them for yet another time, because China will never use an alphabetical writing system. Koreans designed their square-shaped writing system, Vietnamese reverted from Chinese characters to French alphabets after being colonized and Japanese are using half-Chinese and half-syllables. But these examples do not mean that China, the inventor of its unique writing system, will follow suit just because an Oxford man can’t learn it.

The reason is very simple: Chinese writing system is part of Chinese culture, and it has been a very stable and mature writing system over the past 2,000 years. Its earliest appearances date back to 1,000 B.C. A remarkable treasure of cultural heritage has been preserved by this consistent writing system, and this is part of the reason that Chinese conquered the barbaric conquerors from the North. To claim that China should discard its unique writing system is tantamount to a cultural genocide, something western colonists excelled at. Just look at the whole American continent!

The writing system of Chinese, in all its uniqueness, perpetuated and preserved our culture. It is China itself in one sense.

The value of Chinese writing system aside, I am going to explain in simple words why Chinese are actually easier to learn than English and other major European languages:

  • Chinese grammar is an ideational grammar. It is very straightforward with an intense focus on ideas rather than grammatical forms which are commonplace in European languages. Translated literally, Chinese goes like this: I EAT-le THREE APPLE. No conjugation and no plural form. To express a past tense just add the universal “le” at the end of the verb. The plural form of APPLES is semantically redundant because the word THREE said it all. The economy of grammatical forms and the focus on ideas make Chinese simple to learn yet powerfully expressive, a hallmark best exemplified by Chinese poems.
  • Chinese uses symbols very efficiently, and knowing about 3,000 Chinese characters is more than enough to read extensively in modern China. Ideas rarely exhaust the combination of a few thousand everyday Chinese characters, and a learned person in China is not judged by how many characters he knows. To read extensively in English, one would learn about 20,000 words to say the least. A simple example is suffice to show the difference : In English you say January, February, March etc, but in Chinese you simply say Month 1, Month 2 … I have been learning English for over ten years and I still come across new words more often than not. While Americans have to take the GRE test to enter graduate schools, Chinese students are poring over English glossaries in order to pass the qualifying English test for a master’s program in Chinese Literature. What an irony.
  • Contrary to the widespread superstition that Chinese characters are difficult to write, writing a Chinese character is not difficult at all. Even a Gecko caveman can do it. Sounds too good to be true? Just install Microsoft Pinyin on your computer, change into Chinese language input method, and type “woaizhongwen” without the quotation marks. Do you see it? You have just written 我爱中文 which means I love Chinese language. Admittedly, it takes some training to write Chinese characters by hand, but it is not difficult for Chinese kids at all. It is in their blood, remember? Besides, fewer and fewer Chinese write by hand today because typing characters into a computer screen is so easy and fast.

Ignorance of a foreign culture is always pardonable, but passing judgment about a country’s writing system with quarter-knowledge passes for stupidity.


Starforce Must Die

If something is evil to be tough, then this thing is doomed to be destroyed. Why? Because this is what happened to the rogue CD protection software — Starforce.

I tried to use a multimedia CD that ships with a text book. As usual, I want to use CloneCD to make images of it and load it via Daemon Tools, so that I don’t have to bring the CD all the time, and avoid the noise and vibration of the spinning CD-ROM getting on my nerves.

But this time it is not as simple as that. The CD is encrypted with Starforce, and it did force users to do things against their will! Once run, the CD prompted me to reboot. Obediently I followed, but Windows XP told me it could boot. So I pressed F8 and used the “last known good” menu to boot into XP.

It then asked me to key in the long string of CD-key when I lauched the autorun program. OK, I bowed down to squeez at the small print on the Disk cover, and input the keys with submission. Finally, it ran but I immediately hate the noises the CD-ROM generated and the slow responses of the system.

Starforce is tough because it prevents Daemon Tools to use the CD images. Users are left with no choice except to load the CD, input the keys, and hear CD-ROM groan every time they use it on a different computer. But this is evil and the buyers of the books have to suffer the all these conveniences, and what to do when the CD wears out after repetitive using?

Fortunately, there are people who hate Starforce as much as I do. I pop into this site which has a complete collections and download links to all the tools for defeating CD encryption. A tool which is righteously called Starfucker can be used to screw the older versions of Starforce brutality, and StarForce Nightmare works better for newer versions of beastly Starforce by disabling physical CD-ROMs.

Before I use this tools and take my revenge against Starforce, I found that the latest version of these tools were made in year 2005. I immediately realized that Starforce should already be dead by now, because the cracking tools like this usually are kept up-to-date to combat Starforce. My theory was confirmed when I got a newer version of the textbook, reprinted in 2006. The encryption on the CD was gone, and I can daemon-tool its image again. So the Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press has stopped buying products from Starforce, due to, which I can rightly assume, the floods of complaints from teachers and students.

I have a word for the Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press: your lucrative business, perhaps monopoly, does not grant you the license to walk hand in hand with evil Starforce.

To Starforce: the age of CD/DVD-ROMs will soon be over and give way to Flash memory devices. I boot mostly from USB and rarely use my DVD-ROM. Besides, your technology is causing more trouble to your clients than doing them good. I will be more than glad to witness this evil and tough-looking Russian company bite the dust!


The Most Unnecessary Government News Release

My Translation of a press release on Xinhua website:

A Press Release by the News Office of the District Government of Jiangjin, Chongqing Municipality

In the past few days, a hearsay that “a woman cadre in the government was raped by vagrants” has been widely circulated in Jiangjin area and on some web sites. After investigation, it is confirmed that this story is completely of gossipy and rumor-mongering nature.

The News Office of the District Government of Jiangjin, Chongqing Municipality

April 11, 2008

Below is the original text

The Screenshot of the Government Website

NYT: Reading and Comments about the Olympic Torch Relay in Paris

I read and commented on an article by the New York Times, for the language learning purposes.

And in China, a different sort of backlash has been taking shape — against the companies from countries that seem to be putting pressure on China. French companies like Carrefour are a particular target because of the mayhem during the Paris leg of the torch relay and because the French president has said he may skip the opening ceremony in Beijing over China’s human rights record.

Backlash: a strong and adverse reaction by a large number of people. Mayhem: disorder, chaos

“I think boycotting Carrefour is a peaceful and polite way to express our anger, our Chinese feelings got deeply hurt by France,” said Li Meng, a 25-year-old mechanic who is selling T-shirts in support of the boycott movement in the city of Yantai, in eastern China. “France humiliated China during the torch relay and keeps making trouble for the Olympics.”

Nay. Don’t mix the country with the people. It is better put in this way: “Some French” humiliated China. CCTV reported that Chinese journalists hadn’t received the treatment they expected in Paris. A journalist in a television interview said that the French Authority didn’t give the the Chinese journalists sufficient leeway and good camera positions to cover the torch relay. I am not sure what happened. Maybe those journalists were used to the preferential treatments at home, and they didn’t adjust their mentality well in abroad?

Some photos available on the Internet showed that the French police force had no mercy towards the trouble-makers on the scene and arrested lots of them.

American brands like McDonald’s and KFC have also been named as targets of a boycott because some American politicians seem to be supporting the Dalai Lama, whom Beijing blames for instigating violence in Tibet to disrupt plans for the Olympics.

It is a false alarm. I haven’t heard anything about boycotting these two fast food companies at the moment. What happened in Tibet was violent riots. There is no doubt about it. Many western media, while reports the number of deaths in the violence, failed to admit the rioters were guilty of killing innocent people. This made me realize how prejudiced the western media was in the matter.

No one knows whether there is widespread support for the boycotts, but the opposition comes at a time when many of the world’s biggest brands — including Coke — are expanding aggressively in China and planning huge sales and marketing campaigns to coincide with the Olympics.

No boycott at all for American companies as far as I know of this time. When the Chinese embassy was bombed in Yugoslavia, many Chinese boycotted these two companies, but I don’t think those people never went to McDonald’s afterwards.

Coca-Cola’s most recent quarterly results suggest the extent of its reliance on the Chinese market. During the first quarter, Coke’s unit case volume sales in China were up 20 percent in the quarter, one of the highest figures from any country. Over all, the company’s net income rose 19 percent in the quarter, to $1.5 billion, from $1.26 billion a year ago.

This sentence and the one above really explains it all. Coke is profiting handsomely in the Chinese market and will continue to do so, and only a fool will ruin this good business. Unit case volume sales: what is it? Anyone knows?

Neither Coca-Cola nor any of the other Olympic sponsors has flinched in its public support for the games, but the groups that are protesting China’s policies in Tibet and Darfur are vowing to step up their pressure. This could lead to showdowns, or even to a possible whipsaw for the companies if Chinese youths start protesting en masse in the other direction.

Flinch (its support): make a quick, nervous movement as an instinctive reaction to fear or pain. Whipsaw: a saw with a narrow blade and a handle at both ends, used typically by two people.

Ms. Tethong added, “You have influence, and you know you have influence. Please don’t hide behind a spin.”

Spin: when an idea or situation is expressed or described in a clever way that makes it seem better than it really is, especially in politics, e.g “They have tried to put a positive spin on the situation.” Source URL


A List of Unique Chinese Words

There are many words in Chinese that defy translation. Due to their culture-specific nature, these words lack the exact equivalents in English. It is definitely worth the while to understand these words, because they convey so much about Chinese culture.

Each of the listed words is defined in English, followed by its literal meaning and examples.

Guanxi (关系): nepotistic connections (connections). He has Guanxi in the local railway station, I am sure he can get you a few coveted tickets.

Mianzi (面子): feeling flattered by somebody or something (face). We felt we had a lot of Mianzi, because so many important people came to our party.

Hongbao (红包): a small bribe (red envelop). To get a better sickroom, be sure to give the doctor a Hongbao.

Tie Fanwan (铁饭碗): permanent job positions (iron rice bowl) His 20-year Tie Fanwan was smashed when he was laid off by the state-owned factory.

Zou Houmen (走后门): get an unfair favor or advantage (enter through the back door). His father Zou (le) Houmen, so he won the audition quite easily.

Laowai (老外): foreigners, especially westerners (outsider). Look at that Laowai from America, he is so fat.

Hukou (户口): registered permanent residence (household). He doesn’t have a Beijing Hukou, so it is difficult for his son to go to school in that city.

Danwei (单位): any place of employment owned by the state or the Collective Group (unit). She got a sinecure in a Danwei, but she decided to quit and work in a joint-venture company.