Dear Mr Jiang,


Congratulations on your embarking on the journey to fresh territory. Having left behind high school, you will grow further in uni.


Good that your college English teacher is beautiful and, better still, she speaks fluently. One year one of my ex pupils was admitted to a uni in Xi’an. When he met me in the first winter holidays, he complained that his college English tutor, a man in his fifties, spoke English like farting. No offence. So I hope you cherish your present English teacher and learn from her.


I will be very glad to stay in touch with you. Just keep in mind my email link and drop me a line at your convenience. I normally do not call my former pupils on the mobile. And I do not answer the texts that somehow manage to make it to my device, either.


First of all, enjoy uni. High school for a lot of teens is a nightmare, with dictatorial teachers and rigid rules and regulations. Uni will see you grow into a real man by providing you with freer choices. I can’t imagine what Chinese teens would be like if life in uni were the same as that in high school. Besides doing your books and exams in uni, take care of your social life and be prepared to mix with the guys around you. Social skills, for most of us, are too important to ignore if you want to live a happy life on the remaining legs of your life journey.


As far as the English language is concerned, you have laid a good foundation. As you have found, college English should not be a big issue. Following the teacher and the course books will help you sail through your CET-4 and CET-6. However, I would like to see you go beyond your course books and the tests. There are real language skills that most college students could not possibly acquire in a classroom due to the limitations of the system.


Read an online British or an American newspaper in your free time. The Internet contains so much info that it has inundated a lot of users with games, videos and porn. But if you have a clear destination in mind, you could stay on top of the info sea and shine. Choose a quality paper from an English speaking country and stick to it. Read it regularly, say an article a day. By the time you have done it for several months, you will find your knowledge enriched and skills elevated to a new altitude. The Daily Mail from the UK is a good choice.


After you have got fairly comfortable with a newspaper, it will indicate that your vocabulary is large enough and that your exposure to real English is sufficient. Then you could pick up those English books on the subject you are studying. I have no idea whether some of your courses are taught in English or not. Whatever, you could get those books in English and read them. And you don’t have to spend a fortune on a physical book. You could get an e-book for free on the Web and read it digitally. Reading your subject books in English should give you an edge when the time comes for you to write your thesis in two or three years.


Reading a quality newspaper will equip you with a good knowledge of English. It will help you a great deal with all the English proficiency tests you are likely to sit, CET, TOEFL, IELTS or whatever. But when you finish uni and join the career world, your communicative skills in English should be of greater importance than a good grade in a test. How you write and how you speak often will determine your success, depending on the nature of your profession.


You could develop your productive skills outside your classroom, too. Find opportunities to speak in English. Visit an English Corner if you like. There are hordes of foreign tourists on the street of Xi’an, whom you could approach and converse with. Or in the vacations find a part-time job where you can speak English. Furthermore, a lot of Chinese speak English on the Web with people from around the world these days. Ask the guys around you whether they know such virtual communities. Your college teacher might give you good recommendations. Some chat apps run on a smart phone. I am sure you do have one. When you are free, you could practise speaking English on your smart phone through a chat app.


There is no secret to better speaking in the Chinese context. Most good English speakers in China speak a lot of English, and their mind is working as they are talking. Just remember to talk, talk, and talk, and to make sure that your talk is meaningful (that’s why your mind has to be on).


With good amounts of talking, your confidence will go up, and you will conduct yourself better when you are addressing an audience, large and small. Without enough talking bolstering you up, you would simply freak out standing in front of your listeners.


Talking is vocal. Your words evaporate after you utter them. And you don’t have to be 100% correct in talking. That’s the nature of spontaneous speech: fluency, confidence, plus clarity. Some minor mistakes are tolerated by the audience, and you can correct yourself while you are going.


Compared with speaking English, writing is a minefield. Informal writing is easy. When you write to me or a good friend, you probably do not pay much attention to your spelling, grammar or cohesion. But when it comes to writing for an academic or career purpose, you will go out of your way to present standard English. The crux of writing English is to be correct and appropriate. Because your words are there on the paper or on the Webpage, they do not evaporate like your utterances. No error or inconsistency would escape a critical eye.


It takes loads of patience and practice to write decent English for a native speaker. For us non-native users, it poses greater challenges. These words are said not to scare you off, Mr Jiang, but as a caution that you really have to take writing extremely seriously if you hope to present good English on paper someday. As to the subtleties and nuances of the skill, I am afraid that this short message cannot have them explained properly. With a clear goal in mind, though, you can master it, as many fellow Chinese have.


I am writing the reply in my study. This is the fourth day of my National Day holidays. Mr Jiang, you cannot imagine that we, students and teachers alike, have got six days and a half off this year, a record break in the school history. You must be enjoying your holidays too. Have fun.


Best wishes.




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