Archive for February, 2020


Reflections: China-specific ESL Grammar Lesson Plan,

“Present Perfect”







Student name:            

Ying and friends. (She lives in Nanjing but exercises can be adapted to any city!)



October, 2019






Student information:

– L1 Chinese, Full-time students

– Learning English for a better future after graduation

– Wants to improve the ability to speak with foreigners when traveling

– Primarily wants to improve speaking and listening skills, but also have better IELTS/TOEFL  results

– Weaknesses: Listening, reluctance to try newly learned language, stubborn “Chinglish” habits


NOTE: SS stands for “student/students”.







1. Concerning word order in questions as some “wh-“ question words come at the END in Mandarin:



2. Concerning the lack of conjugation of verbs in Mandarin, and the non-existence of auxiliaries:



And in this regard, and specifically, regarding the present perfect, the difference between the use of 1)   / (guò), and  2) (le) for completed and not completed actions in the past.





You saw the movie “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” yesterday,

Zuótiān wǒ kàn wò hǔ cáng lóng le.




Have already seen the movie “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”

Wǒ yǐjīng kàn guò wò hǔ cáng long.



3. Concerning intonation: Syllable-centred intonation instead of stress-focused intonation as in English and its use of thought groups and elements such as the schwa /Ə/. For example, wrong stress such as placing the stress on the auxiliary and not using, or not BEING ABLE TO HEAR contractions (“I have been there” vs. “I´ve BEEN there” vs. “I´d been there”). Learning grammar is very important, but using this grammar for COMMUNICATION even more so.


Concerning pronunciation of past participles using the /θ/ sound in verbs such as “think” and “thought”. Solution: show how to pronounce as we did together for number three and the “paper test” in a previous class.  Also, the pronunciation of multiple final consonants (clusters). Example: past participle of  “judge”, “judged”; “ask”, “asked”.


4. Coming from a “gaokao-centred” tradition of tests and perfection, helping the SS understand that learning a language is a very different process, especially as regards the speaking and listening skills. Helping the SS understand that making mistakes is part of the process and that perfect pronunciation is not our goal; though improvement in intonation is REALLY important. Learning relaxing and enjoying are of great importance in learning a language. Of course, passing exams such as IELTS and TOEFL are necessary steps, but there is no point in passing the test only to not be able to communicate once one goes to live abroad, for instance in Canada.


5. Consider the issue of “saving face” and understanding that one should be proud of taking risks in learning a language even if they do not always work! Tell your own stories of learning diverse languages. Communication is the goal. Focus on the idea that learning a language is changing yourself, your identity. It requires courage and it is admirable.


6. A broader understanding of education in terms of critical thinking and problem solving given the many complex realities China faces today in terms of the environment and many others. Idea defended in ewery single interview presented to work in China. The 2020 situation makes this even more indispensable.









Present the “Present Perfect” by focusing on speaking and listening skills. Will be presented not by  looking at ALL the complex forms of “Present perfect”, but focusing initially on its use for actions regarding an indefinite past (use of  “ever” and “before”, to be introduced). This reduction of options so as not to overwhelm the SS. Use of “for” and “since”, for actions that start in the past and continue in the present, to be introduced later. Use of “already” and “yet” and “just” will also be delayed. Use of “Present Perfect Progressive” to be introduced later.



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Hi xxxx,


Hope you and yours are continuing to do well under such serious circumstances.


Have monitored the situation in China constantly, and have seen the worldwide spread of the virus develop.


As always, though I could write a one-line email, I have taken the time to reflect on the situation and to share this reflection with you and those at xxxx. I write so because those dying daily in Wuhan must never be forgotten, nor must their horrendous deaths ever be in vain.


Truly the “golden period of containment”, the crucial period in which any viral spread can be contained, was lost in China. It is, without a doubt, the responsibility of China to understand the reasons why such a golden period was lost. Recognizing one’s most fundamental weaknesses is what great leaders do. Not the contrary. True leaders are proactive, not reactive. And, isn’t that what education is all about? Including education at xxxx?


In this regard, I must confess I cannot but marvel at the attitude by Chinese Officials here in Canada, and elsewhere, with regards to extending the visa entry date. Leaders understand that special circumstances require special reconsiderations, especially if the ¨leader¨ has been the primary cause of the disruption! One wonders whether anything will be learned.  Not to mention the Chinese Visa Centre’s words when they called me to inform of this decision. Will not repeat them! Unfortunately, the “Méi Bàn Fǎ” attitude, is extremely powerful.


Individuals in China have had to make the best of a horrendous situation. Such discipline in the face of adversity should surely make it possible for China to come together to find solutions to its most fundamental issues. As I mentioned repeatedly in all my interviews to work in China, China must move beyond education for the “Gaokao” and “IELTS-preparation” towards a kind of education that sees empathy and problem-solving as the core to a better future for all. If China does not continue to bridge the gap between its ¨haves and have-nots¨, among other things, this will not be the only epidemic.


Now, if you have seen my resume, it clearly shows that I had to stay indoors for about a period of 2 years as I could not walk and only slowly recovered though I was told I would never walk again in my life. 2 years! Wow. So I think I know a little bit about what the Chinese are going through right now. I learned a lot about illness and many other things. Hopefully, the Chinese will too.


As regards xxxx in particular, I must also confess that I am sorry to see this opportunity slowly disappearing on the horizon. Though I have nothing but good things to say for the efforts, you —xxxx—- and also xxxx and xxxx have gone through during these last few months  (I am very thankful and hope you never felt pressured by me in negative ways). I also wish Meten had proven to be more proactive and much less reactive. To think of critically tragic situations using the concepts and practices of normal situations only creates further disbalances. For instance, xxxx could have though of grater flexibility in its conditions. But that is not for me to say.


Of course, I am sure xxxx now has its own problems at ALL levels, even and perhaps more seriously, at the economic one.


Having said this, as I told you I would give you a final response towards the end of February or beginning of March,  I have come to the unfortunate conclusion that this visa entry will have to be lost with what all that implies for me at different levels. There are really no solid conditions to be able to begin a new project in a new country under these circumstances.


However, I will continue looking for the opportunity to teach in China as, I hope you have seen from my emails, China is of great concern for me as a teacher. Perhaps it will be through xxxx, of xxxx finds ways to make things possible, or perhaps through ISAC or even EF, or other institutions that may be interested in teachers like me who both respect China, but are completely against the “Méi Bàn Fǎ” way of life because it is founded upon a view of life as TRAGIC. Life and learning are not tragic, they are joyful and lead to profound happiness in oneself and others.


I myself have gained SO MUCH in the process already: 1) have improved my spoken Mandarin extensively, 2) have digitalized all my ESL exercises fully, 3) have completed several courses on blended education and started the creation of my own, 4) have truly learned about China beyond the facade, 5) have continued to improve in many crucial areas, and finally, 6) have shared what I learned in my period of illness with others who are going through difficult times themselves in health-related areas.


Finally, and please forgive me, I will quote Confucius. I have indeed worked hard to try to understand him and will try to continue to do so, and have also dedicated decades to reading and studying the greatest thinkers in the West a well.


Confucius said:


“2.15 The Master said, “If you learn without thinking about what you have learned, you will be lost. If you think without learning, however, you will fall into danger.”


2.16 The Master said, “Working from the wrong starting point will lead to nothing but harm.”


(Analects, Slingerland translation, and the very good course on Confucius: https://www.thegreatcourses.com/courses/books-that-matter-the-analects-of-confucius.html )


Let us hope we all learn to think and think to learn. And let us all work from the right starting points, especially if we have political, economic, material or managerial power. For what is the point of having all these if they cannot even avoid the most basic tragedies?


Thank you for the opportunity and let us hope a new one appears on the horizon so that a teacher like myself can one day visit China and humbly try to share the few things I have learned along the way.



Have a great day in China and please say hello to all at xxxx (xxxx, xxxx, xxxx).






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UPDATE: CONCRETE  YouTube Channel  “PROACTIVE ESL”  created as part of the project, here:

PROACTIVE ESL with Teacher Andy


As well as “Business English and “English for Academic Purposes” online courses at www.edmodo.com



Blended Education Model for the Improvement of

ESL Speaking and Listening Skills via Zoom Meetings/Webinars.



Andrés Melo Cousineau


January-March, 2020.






A. Introduction

B. The basic two-pronged project

C. The interconnection to curriculum

D. Other benefits and risks

E. The Question of Motivation

F. The Question of Assessment

G. Other experienced blended-teaching application samples: EF

H. Disrupting the blended model: The Humanities´ original disruptive essence

I. Technology: hardware and software.

J. Sources and bibliography





A. Introduction


As I have been an in-class ESL teacher for many years, one who is also a photographer and permanently up-to-date with technology, I have always been interested in seeing the possibilities related to teaching languages beyond the physical classroom, be it through hybrid, blended or flipped classrooms. In other words, continuing to traverse the ¨brick to click¨ adventure, as they say. Especially in the learning of languages, the use of the internet has become an everyday fantastic possibility. Some of my personal favourites, among many: “Mango” https://mangolanguages.com/ and “Tandem” https://www.tandem.net/ . For a more complete directory see here: http://c4lpt.co.uk/directory-of-learning-performance-tools/learn-a-language-online/

I myself have used the online learning options not only at Coursera, having finished three courses already (including learning Mandarin!), but also several at Udemy (for drone photography) and many more at the amazing The Great Courses (including many directly related to the role of the Humanities in education and cultural understanding). Moreover, I have been lucky to have learned multiple languages in diverse periods of my life and have been able to do so using diverse methodologies and technologies. This has taught me best how to be a better language teacher. A flipped kind of teacher! LOL.

I particular, I see the disruptive possibilities for current ESL classes by using online teaching as a form of emphasizing oral active (speaking) and passive (listening) production given that many students feel that both speaking and listening to English are some of the most difficult skills for them. Just today I heard once again, after having heard so many others,  how a student repeated, “my English is broken”, and at the very same time added seriously,  “but I have a very good teacher”. I am sorry, great teachers do not have students who end up seeing themselves in this way. Learning English thus becomes a source of frustration. But learning is definitely the highest joy available to humans. This is why I told him to tell me how you would say “My English is not broken” in Tibetan, for he was exiled from Tibet. He immediately offered the translation. I told it to repeat it to himself out loud. He got what I was saying to him, and laughed.

So we do need disruption. Disruption is necessary. Technology can be another avenue for such disruption. However, technology on its own can never be disruptive. This is why disruption is generally praised while avoided in reality.  Few  “talk the talk, AND, walk the walk”. As Bates puts it:

“teaching and later distance education, to a force for radical change in our educational systems – but radical change based on the full potential of e-learning is something that still has yet to occur on any significant scale”. (Bates; my emphasis)

And this disruption is not merely progressive or futuristic. True disruption moves beyond technology, Otherwise, we moderns would be the only disruptors in history! It also involves seeing that perhaps the truest education is the recovering of certain forms of understanding which are now lost to us. The original disruption is the disruption of the soul. Coming from the Humanities, one need only think of the original disrupter, Socrates. Everyone knows his name, few read him. And even less so read him in the original Ancient Greek. Learn Ancient Greek, disrupt yourself. Talk the talk, walk the walk.


B. The basic two-pronged project

More specifically, my project is twofold;

First off,  to create a set of more permanent online lessons geared towards understanding why it is in fact so difficult for some students to speak and listen to English, for instance, by focusing on:

a) pragmatic pronunciation and fluency issues such as the “schwa” and issues such as the difference between “stressed-timed” languages and “syllable-timed” ones (or, another way of putting it, focusing on “thought groups”) which I believe are crucial to overcoming the sense of failure many students have in themselves,

b) the use of specific grammatical areas such as “tag questions” or “phrasal verbs” or “past progressive”, and many others, which students “LEARN”, but cannot actually produce in their communicative interactions (what the specialists, and there are tons of specialists, call “acquire”). For instance, you can have a billion apps on “phrasal verbs”, but not a single student be MOTIVATED to learn them. You can complete the sentence: “She is a teacher, isn’t she?” in a textbook or exam, BUT NEVER be able to produce a SINGLE tag question in a conversation.

and finally,

c) communication-focused topics such as c.1) those used in Business English classes —and their conception of realia and real-world assessment— which include “communication”, “presentation and body language”, “leadership”, “ethics”, “multiple intelligences, and many others, or c.2) the fundamental communicative functions which are the core topic of what is known as “Survival English” (“Buying Things”, “Giving Directions”, “Ordering in a Restaurant”, etc.).  The Mango app EXCELS in this regard,

All of these, most of which we have already prepared over the years, would be set up by using screencast software such as “ScreenFlow” for the Mac in combination with other software such as Keynote, PowerPoint, iMovie (see “Technology Section” below.) and linking the finished video vlogs as specific lessons on YouTube to reach a larger audience —not of TESL experts— but of frustrated ESL students.

Secondly, and this is the real concern of this piece of writing, to use technology to engage in 1-to-1 classes (or, very small groups of maximum five such as those used in Business English environments), by means of a video conferencing technology called “Zoom”; a technology which can also be linked to broader Learning Management Systems (LMSs).  In this sense, this second focus is very different from the huge MOOC courses whose audience, by their very nature, is extremely large. In contrast, mine seeks more of a 1-on-1 interaction so that the speaking and listening skills can be focused on an individual case. (or perhaps, in some cases a maximum of five students). But even for larger groups, this would apply as well, if scheduled correctly and using one’s imagination.


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