to q. j. l.

October 18, 2005


Dear Ms. Q. J. L.,


Your letter came over to me as a pleasant surprise. First of all, congratulations! Wuhan University is one of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning in China. Your college experience should be a successful one with your passion for learning.


Take your time over the 3 books you borrowed from me. They are my favorites, because they enabled me to taste the pleasure of reading in the early years of my teaching career. I bought them in 1992 in the local city bookshop. It was a set of 7 books. All the articles are adapted from Reader’s Digest, with thought-provoking questions following each of them. The pictures are good too. I suspect that there are color editions available but in China today no publishing house has introduced them. Black and white editions are already charming enough.


During one or two vacations I devoured the books in my dorm. Life was hard then. It was a poor room of a bungalow. No toilet, no electric fans, let alone air-conditioning, but lots of insects swarming around. I still remember many a summer hot day when I stayed alone in my room reading those wonderful stories. It was holiday time, and so the campus was quiet and peaceful. Sometimes after doing one story I couldn’t help taking up another. And some articles were read more than once.


It is a pity that I didn’t get the recordings of the books. Tape-recordings were published at the same time to go with the books. When I purchased the books there were no recordings available in the bookshop. And in the summer of 1999 I saw the tape-recordings in Hubei Foreign Language Bookshop but I was foolish enough not to buy them. Had I got the recordings I would have enjoyed the books even more and my ability to listen and speak would have benefited further.


What is gone is gone. I do hope you enjoy the three books the way you please. It is a shame that they are a little old and dirty.


Judging from your letter, I honestly declare that your English has been excellent. You beat your peers in all the abilities to use English. Your writing reads so smoothly and the letter was written in a beautiful hand. In fact, writing is a daunting task to most learners of English. I know you already speak clearly and quite fluently. And your reading should be very strong. Therefore, do not worry too much about your English. You may have found out that you have an edge over your schoolmates in English knowledge and skills. Just follow your own plan and you will make further progress, I am sure.


I’d like to focus on spoken English since you are interested in my learning experience. A good foundation in the basic sounds of English is the first step. We have to pronounce English in the English way. Some English sounds are not found in the Chinese language and they should be given more attention and effort to. It takes lots of mechanical practice, quite boring. You know sounds like pleaSURE, cloTHes, cuLture and SHopping.


Plenty of reading would enable us to speak well. Some learners learn to speak English only for the sake of spoken English. That is effort misspent. We use spoken English to communicate with others. I have found many learners have nothing of interest to say on a certain topic once we go beyond pleasantries like, How are you? and Nice weather, isn’t it? They fail to speak well because they have nothing to say. They have nothing to say because they know little about the subject. The best way to expand knowledge is to read, to read carefully, consistently and patiently. With a good knowledge base in the head, you will find words and chunks of language coming to your lips when you converse with someone and when you give a monologue. If you have read enough, just find opportunities to talk. You may talk to others in class, at English corners and even to yourself if you cannot find a partner. But it takes years of practice to speak clearly, fluently and meaningfully. You know it is not over night.


English corners can be a waste of time if you go there without a purpose or without the desire to speak. Some guys frequent those corners for other purposes than English. Some go for a girl friend, for example. Good preparation is helpful to making full use of English corners. Usually English corners offer a certain topic and participants are encouraged to talk on it. If you are well prepared, you will have a pleasurable time talking with others. I bet many people find English corners not very helpful. You know what, some guys go there because they wish those corners could help them pass CET-4. I am afraid they would be let down.


I have come a long way towards expressing myself in English. I could say I have achieved something in this field. In college most of my use of spoken English was mechanical, for the purpose of improving my pronunciation and intonation and for my oral homework. Even after I started teaching in high school, the first few years still saw little progress in my spoken English. As you know, Chinese education is terribly exam-oriented and most teachers in high school taught for words, grammar and exams. And you may have found it is rare to find a high school teacher of English using spoken English colorfully and vividly. My progress started when I changed my teaching style from exam-teaching to teaching for meaning.


In fact the year I taught you was a turning point in my teaching career. You may still remember that I used English to talk with you and that our lessons were centered on meaning. While you found such teaching interesting and exciting, I was making real and honest progress in my ability to speak English. Thanks to my years of teaching and learning this way, my spoken English today is no longer what it was.


Of course I use the language for work. For this reason I get plenty of opportunities to use the language and in my work there are millions of opportunities to use English for a real life purpose. I have experimented with the language to explain, to please, to anger, to illustrate, to argue… Only after years of such practice have I come to realize how correct the cliché is, “Practice makes perfect.”


University offers opportunities to practice your spoken English. Take advantage of them when they occur. And keep in mind that haste makes waste.


These days, the Internet plays a very important role in my English speaking experience. I have access to the net at home and probably will at work in the near future. I use an instant messenger called UC for English. There are some nice English chatrooms on UC. I am able to talk on my microphone. This has greatly enhanced my speaking skills.


Your major is computer science. I hope you spend enough time on it and excel in it. With your strong English, you will be something, girl.


You have been one of my former girl students with the strongest will power. Sometimes I thought you were too hard on yourself, especially when you got into that condition in your fourth year in senior high. I felt upset when I found you were talking to yourself and that you couldn’t help it. I cried in my heart then, “Girl, do not take everything so seriously. This world is too cruel for you.” We live in a complex world where we are often confused. Life is a process during which we gradually learn to better understand ourselves, people and society. We need to be flexible when we come to a dead end.


In university look after yourself well. Make more friends and talk with others. This is also part of life. Anyway, what else should come before good health and spiritual fulfillment? Nothing. When we lose them, we lose all.


This letter will be sent to you by regular mail. If you please, you could also write me by email. You could write to either of the following two email addresses.


At the same time this letter will be posted on my blog. You could access my blog at


Best wishes,





3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Unknown
    Oct 23, 2005 @ 12:03:37

    Hi,long time no see.It seems that Miss Qu has gone to Wuhan University.So,she must be much better now.It’s really a good news.


  2. Shengliver
    Oct 23, 2005 @ 12:28:05

    Summer, summer,Life is harder;For without a lover,Eyes are running with many a tear.Winter is back,In Shangai, keep yourself safe from attack.Haha.


  3. Pei
    Oct 25, 2005 @ 08:11:22

    Happy to hear the good news! So will the other classmates.


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