Shengliver’s Note: This letter to my epal Julia was written and posted in the autumn of 2006. Some email messages have come in of late enquiring about Shengliver’s learning experience. I hope this letter will have some of the questions answered.


Dear Julia,

 pen and paper 03

After I was done with my speaking turn, I checked out your mail. Thanks for writing and thanks for sharing. Actually, your story turned out to be a bit surprising, for I had been expecting an account of your HAPPY memories of my town.


I had my supper after going through your mail. Your letter was on my mind at supper. I started thinking about a reply.


Every day after supper, it is time for me to do my share of housework – I do all the dishes for the day and I also clean the kitchen thoroughly, the stove, the kitchen table, the fan and everything else. This work normally takes me about an hour. You might believe it is a bore to do the dishes. But I have turned the work into something enjoyable by multitasking. I listen to English radio programmes on my mobile wireless headset when I am doing the chore. A transmitter sends the programmes by radio waves from my laptop. And my mobile headset is a receiver of the programmes. Because it is mobile, it is not connected by a wire to the laptop and I can listen while working or moving about the room. I am immersed in the English programmes. At times I wonder whether I am doing the chore or I am doing English.


This evening is no exception. I was on the radio programmes while doing the chore. I found myself doing another job meanwhile. I couldn’t help thinking about your story and how to respond to it.


Now I am writing, having done all the work in the kitchen. My wife is browsing the web and my daughter is already in bed, probably dreaming about her first school day this semester tomorrow. I am at my laptop, tapping the keyboard, and this letter is taking shape. It will be a bit lengthy and I hope you are patient to read it through.


I sympathise with you for your teenage experience. Loss of your mom at such a young age was no doubt a blow to your family, especially to you and your younger brother. Most stories about living with a stepmom here in China are stories of horror. My father had two stepmoms, believe it or not. He used to tell me about his bad experiences of having the two stepmoms. That’s why I said I sympathise. However, not all stepmoms here in China are that horrible. I believe that there are some happy stories somewhere of stepmoms and stepchildren getting on well. Luckily, I find you quite forgiving. Being a mom, you have appreciated how difficult it must have been for your parents then. I am happy you have decided to come back and visit them one day. They will be all smiles. You do have a big heart, Julia.


I was born in a small village in one of the satellite counties. I was lucky to be able to find a teaching position here in my school. Having been here for over ten years, I have turned from a green young man into a father, and one of the senior members of staff here. I am grateful for what I have. And I have worked all these years to be a better teacher. My hard work has paid off. I know what progress I have made and where I am heading for in my career. And it is my honour to meet you on the web. When I learned we are connected by the same city, I was excited. I seldom met such a good speaker from my city, to tell you the truth. Besides, the English you used in your mail is the best I have ever read from a non-native user of the language. Such good English tells me that you take your studies very seriously. I hope you keep your effort up. Just one step further and you will be something, Julia.


When you came up for the first time, I mistook you for another pal of mine, who is Julia, too. That Julia is a college teacher of maths, but she speaks very good English. I bet the other Julia will read this letter if she comes to my blog. She might be saying, “Wow, this is a letter to me.”


You know very well what a hectic life high school teachers lead in your home province and elsewhere in the country. That is my lifestyle. Nevertheless, I will try my best to make it there when it is my speaking time. I didn’t get to know this nice place until 2005. Actually, I did not start to use the computer until a couple of years ago. One of my epals based in Dongguan introduced the rooms to me. There is an entry titled Breeze on my blog. Breeze is this pal. He is a very special person. I have not met him for almost a year. Probably he is still working in the south. But I am not sure. The administrators have been very friendly. When I was talking there one evening about a year ago, they promised to give me one hour every evening, and I happily accepted the good opportunity. I have been a volunteer speaker there ever since. I have been able to do my talking most evenings for the hour except for occasions beyond my control. When my connection is faulty or when I have duties at school, I cannot talk there, but I seldom fail the turn.


Being a volunteer has taught me a lot. I am proud that I have chatted with speakers of all flavours, speakers from all the provinces and regions of China, Tibet and Taiwan included, and speakers from overseas as well. My speaking partners come from all walks of life – teachers, students, engineers, doctors, accountants, government officials and many others. Listening to and talking with speakers with various accents, I have accustomed my ear to English spoken in different ways and colourfully. I have progressed tremendously in my ability to talk in the foreign tongue. I owe it to all my friends and the administrators there. Of course, benefit goes in the opposite direction. My talking has been of some help to the listeners and my speaking partners. Despite that, I am more of a learner than of a teacher in the community. I learn something new every day, something about the language itself and something about the world. I promise to keep up my talking in the years to come. It is a pleasure to know that you have found the experience beneficial.


For learners like you and me, upper-intermediate and / or advanced learners of English, learning is all about having an environment where the knowledge and skills are put to use. In real life, most Chinese are not so lucky as to have such an environment. Can you speak English on a shopping trip? Can you speak English with people on the street? It is impossible and it is not necessary. Chinese will fulfil all our life purposes. However, to uplift our language proficiency to a higher level, we have to take advantage of all the chances there are to sharpen our skills. I have tried my best to create a good environment for myself to use English, especially spoken English. I do speak in the classroom. I speak with my colleagues in English, too, in the office. Still my talking on the web enhances my skills further. Without the many hours put in virtually, I wouldn’t be able to speak as it is.


I hope, Julia, that you will try your best to create your own language environment. Find time and chances to read, listen, speak and write every day. Be regular and stick to it. In time, your progress will AMAZE you. Of course, your English is already very good.


The instant I learned you recorded yourself as well as me, I knew you were an excellent student. Recording and listening to yourself is an efficient way to improve your way of speaking. I have, through this method, detected the faults in my pronunciation and talking, and then I have worked hard on those weak areas. If you look at yourself in a mirror, you will have a better picture of yourself. The recorder is a mirror in our learning experience. It mirrors our speech.


It is 22.44. I am about to close this letter. If you don’t mind, I will post this letter on my blog as the latest entry. I have received mail from a lot of pals but I have not got the time to answer all. If they happen to read this letter on my blog, they will find some of their questions answered in this mail to you, Julia.


My blog has grown from a grain of sand to something much bigger. An egg maybe? The number of hits has been jumping fast. Some friends enter following the link on my Windows Live Messenger. A lot more bump into it while googling key words like BBC or EXAM. Still some simply enter it for no reason at all. I am aware of my responsibility for the upkeep of the blog. I will write responsibly. It is a pity that I cannot write every day. However, when I have the time and the urge to write, I will. Thanks, Julia, for your presence on my blog. Welcome back.


It is 22.50. Time to say goodbye. Remember me to your hubby and your lovely kid. May you be happy in Wenzhou every day. Good dream.





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