Lecture #1: How to Improve Foreign Language Students’ Learning Habits and Methods

Lecture #1: How to Improve Foreign Language Students’ Learning Habits and Methods



Carl Gene Fordham



Beijing International Studies University



Monday 18 September 2017



I’ve uploaded the lecture I gave at Beijing International Studies University on How to Improve Foreign Language Students’ Habits and Methods where I talked about common problems that students from China face when learning English and suggested some methods to overcome these. These are all based on my years of experience teaching students from China, as well as my own journey learning Chinese.



You can watch it either on YouTube or Bilibili.



YouTube: How to Improve Foreign Language Students’ Learning Habits and Methods

Bilibili (哔哩哔哩): 【傅君恺】如何改善外语学生的学习习惯和方法


Here’s a run-down on what I covered during the talk. Note that I focused specifically on learners of English in China, but a lot of the content could also apply to any foreign language learner in any country, especially the methods part. During the talk I gave the students a list of chengyu (classical Chinese idioms) which they had to then match with the title of each part of the lecture. In this blog entry, I’ll provide them for you here.


Read more »

What We Can Learn from Yang Wen’s “Lost in Translation”

I rarely do book reviews on this blog (in fact I think this is the first one!), but after coming across Yang Wen’s Lost in Translation: Common Errors in Chinese-English Translation (LifeRich Publishing, 2016) I felt compelled to share some of the more interesting parts of the book that might be useful for students.

Yang Wen (温洋) is obviously an experienced Chinese-English translator with an excellent command of English, but what impressed me most were the depth of his observations and his highly accessible writing style. Native speakers of both Chinese and English can glean a lot of practical advice from this book.

In this post I’d like to share a small portion of the many innovative translation methods he outlines in his book. Read more »

Carl’s Recommended English Vocabulary – Part 2

Here’s the next batch of vocabulary I recommend my students learn. They represent the most common words used in everyday spoken and written English according to various corpora. 这是下一批我建议学生学习的词汇。按照各种语料库,它们代表日常生活中的英语口语和书面的最常用词语。

In preparing these lists I discovered that some of the most common words native speakers of English use every day are often completely unknown to Chinese learners of English. Evidently, English textbooks published in China sometimes fail to include some of the most frequently used vocabulary. 在准备这些词汇表的时候,我发现以英语为母语的人日常使用得最频繁的词语经常对学习英语的中国人而言是完全未知的。显然,中国出版的英语课本有时候会遗漏一些最常用的词汇。

Let me reiterate that vocabulary should only be one part of your learning; it is not a magic bullet that will suddenly transform you into a fluent user of English. Your focus should still be on using the language as often as you can. That being said, boosting your vocabulary level will help you gain confidence and allow you to communicate more flexibly in a variety of situations. 让我重申一遍,词汇只是你学习的一个组成部分而已;词汇不是一种妙招,它不可能瞬间让你的英文突飞猛进。你的焦点还是应该放在应用英语上,尽可能多地应用。尽管如此,提高词汇量有助于提高自信,也会让你在各种场合中沟通地更灵活一些。


I hope everyone can enjoy using English to communicate with people from all over the world. 我希望大家能够享受用英文与来自全世界不同地区的人交流而带来的快乐!

Download Carl’s Recommended English Vocabulary – Part 2


Download Carl’s Recommended English Vocabulary – Part 2 here

Carl’s Recommended English Vocabulary – Part 1

My students are always very interested in boosting their English vocabulary. However, I noticed that many of the vocabulary books published in China are of a poor quality – they are either full of Chinglish or don’t select the most practical words for students to learn. So I decided to create a few of my own vocabulary lists for my blog readers. 我的学生总想提高他们的英文词汇量。可是我发现,中国出版的词汇书,大部分质量不好,要么是充满着中式英语,要么是选的词汇不够实用。所以,我决定自己写些词汇表给我的博客读者使用。

One important thing to remember: vocabulary are like vitamins. Absorbing a few each day is good for your health, but there’s no point in taking in too much, as there is a limit to how much information your brain can handle. Also, regular exercise (i.e. practice!) is just as important in learning a new language. So when you learn new words, don’t just memorise them – try to put them into use as well! This way you won’t end up forgetting them. 有一点要注意的是,词汇就像维生素一样。每天摄取一些,对健康有益,但摄取太多则没有必要,因为你的大脑能接受的信息是有限的。而且,学外语时,常规锻炼(即练习!)一样重要。所以,你学新词的时候,不要死记硬背——尽量把它们用出来!这样你就不会忘记它们。

I have chosen these words based on their frequency of use and degree of usefulness. When reviewing them, pay special attention to their pronunciation and example sentences. You may find some of the usages strange – they are not. Actually, this is what we call “idiomatic English”. One of my students, upon reading these sentences, remarked, “My God! Could it be I have been learning ‘fake’ English for all these years?!” 我选这些词,是按照它们的使用频率和有用程度来选择的。复习这些单词的时候要特别注意发音和例句。你可能会觉得有些用法读起来怪怪的——并非如此。其实,这些都是我们所说的“地道英语”。我的一个学生读到这些句子,说:“天啊,那么多年我原来学了个假英语!”

Jokes aside, teachers see the trend of students from China memorising large volumes of ‘fancy words’ as disturbing. It is not only a waste of time, but does little to raise their proficiency in English. The reality is the only way students from China can make any breakthrough in their English is to ‘unlearn’ the deep-rooted mistakes they have learnt and start again from the basics. They should focus on learning the correct spelling and pronunciation of simple and practical words, as well as their common usages and collocations. 说真的,许多英语老师们发现,中国学生背诵大量“装逼词汇”已经成为了令人极度困扰的现象。这样的做法不仅浪费时间,而且在提高英语水平上没什么作用。现实的情况是,中国学生要在英文学业上有突破的话,必须unlearn(忘记)他们学过的根深蒂固的错误,然后重新从基础开始。他们应该集中于学习简单而实用的单词,包括其正确拼写和发音,以及常见用法和固定搭配。

I hope these vocabulary lists provide a good starting point for students to do this. 我希望这些词汇表可以给学生一个良好的出发点来实现这个目标。

Download Carl’s Recommended English Vocabulary – Part 1


Download Carl’s Recommended English Vocabulary – Part 1 here

Another 12 Common Errors in Chinese English Dictionaries

Here’s another 12 mistakes you might find in Chinese English dictionaries. The first blog I wrote on this topic can found here. 这篇文章是我另外收集的12个中英字典中常见错误。我写的第一篇相同题目的博客,可以在这里读到


Please note that I have not included in these posts “standard” or “fixed” English translations of Chinese words that are frowned upon by native speakers of English. Take, for example, the translations of 豆腐 dòufu as “bean curd” and 师范大学 shīfàn dàxué as “normal university”. These kinds of foreign-sounding translations are often ridiculed by native speakers of English. 注:在这些文章里,我没有把那些被以英语为母语的人不太赞成的“规范的”,“约定俗成的”汉译英单词包含在内。举例子来说,“豆腐”翻译成bean curd和“师范大学”翻译成normal university。这种具有外国声调的翻译经常会被以英语为母语的人取笑。


Yet whether these terms can be truly considered “dictionary errors” or “Chinglish” is highly debatable as they, like “brainwash” and “spring roll”, entered the English lexicon long ago. This is not the case, however, with the 12 errors I have included in this post. They are, quite simply, mistranslations, and should be handled with caution by learners of English and Chinese alike. 反而,这些词是否称得上“字典错误”或“中式英语”存在很大争议,因为它们像brainwash(洗脑)、spring roll(春卷)等词一样,早就变为英语词汇。可是,这篇文章里12个错误并非如此,它们应该是简单的误译,英文和中文学生都该谨慎使用它们。



Another 12 Common Errors in Chinese English Dictionaries


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35 Common False Friends in Chinese and Japanese

Here’s some good examples I’ve collected of false friends in Chinese and Japanese – that is, words that are used by the two languages but have different meanings.

There are of course many more than the ones I managed to come up with – if you know of any, please leave them in the comments.

Note that I haven’t included terms like 怪我 (Chinese: “blame me”; Japanese: “injury; wound”), 我慢 (Chinese: “I’m slow” or “(Buddhism) egoism”; Japanese: “patience”) and 切手 (Chinese: “cut the hands”; Japanese: “postage stamp”) as they are not actual words in Chinese the way they are in Japanese. Still, you could argue they are false friends too, as they could be misleading to learners of Japanese who can also speak Chinese.



35 Common False Friends in Chinese and Japanese

1. 私

In Chinese 私 means “personal; private” or “selfish”. In Japanese 私 watashi means “I”. Read more »