IELTS is so popular

Please, sir, can I go to the other class?

The kids in Class 16 are all right, but not the brightest bunch in the world. When we were dividing the classes into IELTS and General English, only a third ended met the criterion for the IELTS class, which prompted the Dowager Empress Cixi to ask us to even out the numbers. We did that by transferring the ten best 4.5s to the IELTS class.

What happened at the end of class this morning?

Ten kids (not all necessarily 4.5s) asked to move to the General English class. I don’t know how Cixi is going to react to this, but the whole idea of IELTS classes is a Bad Idea™. Our kids will benefit more from general English than from techniques in doing the IELTS exam because in the latter the learning of English is only incidental. We’re not trying to teach them (advanced) English to raise their level for the IELTS exam. Besides, we don’t have the time in the space of one term. I don’t know whether any of them are planning to do the official IELTS exam.

The reason why we do IELTS classes is, really, all about image. IELTS is a proficiency exam, but it seems typically regarded as a university entrance exam where the pass mark is 6, even although there’s no passing and no failing. But because the English in the IELTS exam is meant to represent that of an educated native English speaker, the associated tasks are regarded as academically more demanding than the usual sort of thing. Thus if our kids are doing IELTS classes, it makes the school look good regardless of reality which is, in my mind, that IELTS is pretty much a waste of time until you’ve completed at least one degree at university.

I’ve thought once or twice recently that teen IELTS might be better for younger learners of English if parents and schools want something like it. It’d test them on their knowledge of txt; or their ability to talk about a subject as if they’re experts on it and their views count, but are, in fact, too dim to know they’re not and they don’t (try to untangle that sentence ^_^); or their inability to listen to any sort of authority figures (don’t circle the correct answer; and don’t listen to instructions); or their incompetence in using punctuation (marks deducted for adhering to generally accepted standards) and writing coherent sentences (run-on sentences, good; clearly defined sentence boundaries, bad).

Give the kids a chance, I say.

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A film or two

Prefatory note.

I’ve watched a whole bunch of films recently, but should really have been posting reviews progressively instead of letting a large pile build up on the sofa.


Kung Fu Hustle.

Martial arts comedy from Stephen Chow in which local thugs, the Axe Gang, cross swords with kung fu masters who are living incognito in a slum. You get exactly what you expect in films like these, but it’s bloody good fun nonetheless.


No Country for Old Men.

A somewhat vague rather rambling film in which a drug deal has gone wrong, and Javier Barden goes round killing people as he tries to recover the money. It’s one of those films which has no conclusion because things just carry on as they already have been.


AvP 2.

Having blasted off into space at the end of the first film only to have carried the seed of their destruction with them, the Predators crash their ship near Smalltown USA and the Aliens decide to go looking for a bite to eat.

Back on their home planet, the Predators find out that things have gone pear-shaped, but instead of sending a team to sort out the mess, only one of them goes, and gets nuked along with the rest of the town.

Don’t worry. The final scene hints at the possibility of AvP 3: Teen Alien. No, come to think of it, do worry. While AvP was, grudgingly, all right, this represents the slippery slope to endless and increasingly dreadful sequels.


American Gangster.

This appears to be based on a true story about the rise and fall of Frank Lucas in the 1970s. It’s interwoven with problems surrounding the en­dem­ic corruption in various forces in America at that time as Russell Crowe’s character more or less has to work independently outside the force. Although Lucas was eventually jailed, his time was reduced for helping the police with their enquiries.


Appleseed. Ex machina.

It’s been ages since I’ve seen any new anime. I didn’t even know that there had been another Appleseed story. In this one, Olympus is under threat from a mad scientist who’s turned his dead girlfriend into a psychotic supercomputer (bit like Galatea in Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040) which is controlling both cyborgs and humans. It’s fairly obvious from the outset that Connexus is going to be a Bad Thing™.

Meanwhile, a new model bioroid based on Briareos and looking just like Deunan’s now mecha boyfriend appears. She’s not keen about a bioroid that looks like Briareos, but the three of them must join forces to defeat the mad scientist and his zombie girlfriend.

It’s worth noting that the quality of the animation is another step up even compared with Appleseed. Just a pity the story isn’t so good.


Vexille.

More anime, but not a title I knew. It had a very odd style about it until I glanced at the sleeve and saw it said 3D. It’s watchable, but the colours are hideous. In the story, Japan has been cut off from the rest of the world by an impenetrable electronic barrier. After a meeting is attacked by the Japanese, the Americans want to know what’s happening in a country with which there’s been no contact in ten years. They send in a small group of agents who discover that due to some trickery by government and business, Japan has been flattened (literally) and the surviving population forced to live in small coastal enclaves. In fact, the Japanese are all dead, having been turned into androids.

I wondered whether the film was even Japanese to begin with because Japan wasn’t being presented in its usual rosy light. It was only once Vexille got to Japan that the tragedy was revealed. I assume it’s meant to be a satire on corporate culture in Japan in which so many people have been turned into robots.


Jumper.

Darth Vader has the power to jump from one place to another. he is eventually hunted down by a group of people calling themselves paladins who think Jumpers are an abomination in the sight of God. It’s the usual sort of thing. The bad guys catch the good guys; there’s a big fight; the good guys win. Turns out Darth’s mum is also a paladin. Somewhat point­less. If this is the film of the book, it might’ve made more sense if I knew the original story.


The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

Long and dull.


There will be Blood.

Also long and dull.

Actually, this story might’ve been much better than it was if it’d been less arty and a little more, er, actiony [sic!]. I spent the time doing some translating and having a shower. Got back to see Daniel Day-Lewis beating the religious nutter to death. If you don’t see this one, you’re not going to miss it.


Pierrepoint – The Last Hangman.

Timothy Spall plays Albert Pierrepoint, Britain’s last hangman. It covers both the executions in which he tried to dispatch the condemned swiftly and then treat them with dignity afterwards and his personal life outside his public duties. Although he tried to approach his other job professionally, there were times such as the occasion when he had to execute a friend and the production-line executions after Nuremberg when it wasn’t so easy for him.

Spall puts in a solid performance. It wasn’t exactly the most exciting work and the film, fortunately, didn’t attempt to dramatise the executions in the way Hollywood would’ve.


To Kill a King.

The colouring of Elizabeth The Golden Age to satisfy the need for drama may have ended up casting Sir Walter Raleigh in the role of alleged royal boyfriend, but the portrayal of Oliver Cromwell in To Kill a King actually makes EGA look much more historically accurate. To Kill a King is the story of Fairfax and Cromwell after the end of the English Civil War. They insist on calling each other by their first names in almost every line of dialogue as if this establishes what good friends they are.

Cromwell, played by Tim Roth, comes across more like some Hollywood psychotic than a religious fanatic. In one scene, after Charles I has been executed, a street pedlar sells relics. Some solders from the New Model Army turn up to arrest the man and with them, for no particular reason, are Fairfax and Cromwell. Cromwell pulls out a pistol (primed and ready to fire) and shoots the man in the leg against Fairfax’s protests before then shooting him in the throat and leaving him to die. Fairfax finishes him off.

Fairfax then arranges to have Cromwell assassinated, but when he admits the plot and although Cromwell is ordering the conspirators to be burnt, nothing happens. After the Restoration, Fairfax was pardoned. I don’t think Charles II would’ve pardoned the makers of this turd of a film.


National Treasure. Book of Secrets.

I only bought this one because it’s on at the movies here and I was curious to know what it’s about. The answer? A treasure hunt.


Patlabor the Movie 3. WXIII.

Read the title as W13. It’s the usual sort of thing: monster from Tokyo Bay wrecks havoc on the city. A little dull at times. Like the Appleseed film, it came with decent English subs.

That’s half the story

Smash and grab.

Yesterday, the kids in Class 5 wanted to watch a DVD of footage recorded from CCTV news of the events in Τιβέτ. Although the coverage was clear­ly biased (no scenes of Chinese police quelling demonstrators), it was also clear that some of the protests were motivated less by aspirations for Ти­б­этан iνδεπένδενcε than by the pleasure of wanton vandalism. A bunch of people were attacking a branch of the Bank of China, but I can’t imagine the money inside even came into consideration.

Some of the images I’ve seen could be from anywhere in China. Something happens and everyone else stands around gawping. The “struggle” for Τι­β­έταν фрээдом was reduced to mere street theatre. In other words, they’re not all necessarily fighting the good fight.

[15.08.14. I’m keeping this entry partly because it undermines the idea that unrest in Tibet is all about fighting the good fight against the forces of occupation. I’m also keeping it because it relates to sensationalism and bias in the media, which is an aspect which we look at in IB English B.]

Chengdu Saturday

What’s the deal with the weather?
In the past five weeks (or possibly even longer ago than that), there has been only one Saturday I can recall when the weather wasn’t rubbish. That was last Saturday. But to make up for it, this Saturday has been utter shite. It started raining last night and was prolonged enough and heavy enough to cause surface flooding. It was no more pleasant this morning and although the rain has stopped, it’s cool enough to warrant a scarf.
 
You might think that blogging about the weather is fairly desperate [It is. –ed.], but I’m noting a meteorological phenomenon. In the future, a string of rainy Saturdays will be known as the Chengdu Saturday Effect. For my discovery, I’ll be cited in all the best journals of meteorology and feted at annual gatherings of meteorologists. [And does the so-called Chengdu Saturday Effect include inane, lunatic ramblings? –ed.]
 
If the weather looks like it’s going to remain dry this afternoon, I might go in search of Alatriste again. [20.08.14. A big mistake. The film was awful.]

A little something for later

Fetch my musket!

I note that the opening of Terminal 5 at Heathrow was a bit of a disaster. The Indie had the intro to this story beside a picture of this young man who, I thought at first, was really excited at the opening of T5, but is actually saying something else.

t5

You’ll have to blame the Indie for this. They put the story about T5 beside the unrelated picture of some gun-wielding adolescent.

Chinglish and the Art of Irony

It’s not against the rulls [sic!].
 
Last week, we were doing a unit about rules and their ways. It was one of the issues-for-modern-teens units that you get in each theme of CES. In this one, the shrill and inflexible Lin brutally rejects gradience when confronted by the Sorites Paradox. No doubt her head would explode if she was informed that her left leg was going to be amputated because she was ten seconds late for class. "But it was only ten seconds," squealed Lin as the headmaster came into the room with Duradana glistening cruelly in the soft glow of the fluorescent lighting. As he flourished the blade enthusiastically, the light glittered along its edges, and with a swish, he took off Lin’s left leg. "Least it gets me out of games," said Lin, who promptly lost her right leg for being unable to participate.
 
The final exercise in such units allows our pupils to decide what to do. They might continue the unfolding drama or choose some other activity. If the book wanted to be helpful, it should rate each activity according to how much effort needs to be put in so that pupils don’t have to spend so much time identifying which activity will require the least amount of work. Sooner or later most of them realise that their best choice is to do nothing except when I turn up, which is when they pretend to be doing something.
 
This is what a kid from one of Quincy’s classes produced.
 
rulls_sm
 
Rather ironic, methinks, since violations of spelling and the grammar of standard English effectively reinforce the message.

Portuguese spelling reform. Or should that be ‘Ortuguese’?
 
According to the story World’s Portuguese speakers in new attempt to unify language, the Portuguese are trying to unify their orthography of the language. Last century, the Portuguese themselves went one way, while the Brazilians went another, the latter taking into account changes to their variety of Portuguese which had advanced further than the same changes in European Portuguese.
 
The article says that c, p, and h are out, while y, k, and w are in. Unfortunately, it doesn’t give any details apart from the fact that h is silent (as it is in all the Romance languages I know). A further search online suggests that in words with -ct- or -pt- (and other environments?), c and p have become redundant because the sound they formerly represented has disappeared.[1]
 
The article doesn’t bother saying why y, k, and w are in. y would be nothing peculiar. It’s already used in Spanish. k and w are a little odder because the Romance languages typically prefer c for velar stops or qu (orthographic throwback to Latin). And [w] isn’t unheard of as a sound, but seems to be largely unacknowledged.
 
I’ll see whether I can find any more information later this afternoon.
 
Notes.
1. Although this may be the continuation of an old change. Latin octo "eight" > Portuguese oito. Perhaps words which were adopted from Latin in more recent centuries, which included sequences of consonants that were no longer found in inherited Portuguese, were then subject to the same sort of change.

There are other ways of doing it

Go on! Get into the post, you little bastard!
 
In Entering exotic characters, Bill Poser talks about ways of getting non-standard characters into blog entries without actually mentioning charmap, which is the program that comes with Windows that lists all the fonts on your system and their characters.
 
charmap01
 
Hit the Windows key + r and type charmap into the box. Select Advanced view so that you can see the extra stuff, especially Group by, which is a quick way of getting to the set of characters I want. Because I installed a level of Chinese/Asian language support on my computer, I may get a few extra options that other people don’t have. If I want Chinese characters, then I normally select Simplified Chinese by PinYin, which automatically takes me to the SimSun font; but if I want Greek or Cyrillic characters, then I’ll choose Unicode Subrange.
 
You can either double click on the character you want or click on the Select button. Obviously, click on Copy to, er, copy them. When you’ve back at your blog entry, hit ctrl+v to paste them.
 
With characters that are part of the ASCII set, you can also insert them by using the Alt key and the numeric keypad on your keyboard. Num Lock has to be on for this to work. Let’s say you want upper case A with a grave. If you click on that character, you’ll see the Unicode value along with a brief description on the left at the bottom of the dialogue box, and a Keystroke value on the right-hand side. Hold down the Alt key and then type 0192 on the numeric keypad before releasing the Alt key. This basically covers accented letters such as á, à, â etc. You can see the range of these in a font if you select Windows: Western in the Character set box. Because I have cause to use some of these characters quite frequently, it’s no big deal to remember the decimal value of characters so that I can add them quickly to posts.
 
In some cases, Unicode values may be a better bet than the actual glyphs themselves. With Unicode characters, you don’t need the leading 0s. For example, capital A with a macron (Ā) is U+0100, but sticking Ā in plain text HTML is enough. Curiously, when I added that character, I switched to HTML mode in LiveWriter and typed in Ā. But when I switched between modes again, HTML mode had Ā as well.
 
Of course, the biggest problem is the more exotic characters. In other entries, I’ve used images when I’ve transcribed words using the IPA because I know that not everyone will have the Doulos SIL font or some other font containing characters specific to the International Phonetic Alphabet. For example, if you can see the transcriptions of the following words, then you’ve got the characters stashed away somewhere on your system:
church /ʧɜːʧ/
judge /ʤʌʤ/
I’ve changed the font to Arial Unicode MS because LiveWriter was messing up the length mark in the Doulos SIL font. I was intending that you should see this –
 
church
 
– but LiveWriter was rendering the length mark out of proportion to the rest of the font.
 
The accented characters are nothing unusual, but as for IPA, I’ll only use those on special occasions.

Park life

浣花溪公园 (again).

I went back to Huanhuaxi Park this afternoon, a destination which was possibly so popular that the road, as you approached the entrance, had been blocked off and both lanes devoted to outward bound traffic. I went back to take some photo­graphs, although didn’t snap huge numbers in the end. here are a few pictures of the place.

huanhuaxi001 huanhuaxi002
huanhuaxi003 huanhuaxi004

In the first picture, you can see the “Dome of St Paul’s” in the background. In the second, the bridge in the background had a bunch of people selling stuff. Most of the vendors were selling food, including spicy potatoes which looked rather tasty, but PICC had also set up a stand halfway across the bridge. Seemed a most incongruous place to have it. The last picture is, of course, a classic Chinglish moment.

18.06.13. Edited formatting and added tags.

With floures white, blewe, yelwe, and rede

Fading blooms in focus.

Red flower at Shishi

After fiddling about with the camera last night to finally and properly familiarise myself with its functions, I went over to school this morning to try and get a picture of the elusive pink blossom. It’s not elusive because there are few of them, but elusive because my attempts to get one in focus have generally failed miserably. But as you can see, I was more successful today, although the blossoms are already beginning to fade.

It was good practice in using the macro setting on the camera, although I see from some of the other shots that I took that I needed to increase the depth of field to get the whole object in focus. It’s hard to tell from the screen (whether you enlarge the picture or not) how the details have come out. I’ve been keeping the aperture open to keep the background blurred, but with macro shots where the subject has some depth, you need that little bit of extra background as well.

But during my roaming around the school, I went into the building where the lecture theatre is. There were some workers chiselling the tiles off the wall, but the gate to the rooftop garden was open and, having never been up there before, I went up. There were a few bonsai trees up there and, unexpectedly, a display of stuff animals in a case running along the inside of the parapet.

stuffed01 stuffed02

There was also another room up there which I thought was going to be for storage. Instead, it turned out to be a small science classroom which seemed very much like the Marie Celeste, with equipment sitting on the tables as if it’d been being used moments earlier.

After a week during which the weather can only be likened to violent ejections from the posterior of a cow, the sun is shining and the sky is blue, filtered through the usual haze of pollution.


The Floure and the Leafe.

While I was looking for a title for this entry, I stumbled across (but not upon ^_^) an online concordance to the works of Geoffrey Chaucer. I remember using the Chaucer Concordance when I did my MA and wrote an essay about Chaucer’s use of cas, aventure and fortune in Troilus and Criseyde. The title is line 186 from The Parlement of Fowles. That was one of the texts we had to read when I did Chaucer as part of my MA. The reading got to be mechanistic so that I could keep up. I think with Chaucer I had to read 150 lines a day; from Homer (either Iliad III or Odyssey IX; I forget which) I had to translate 30; and I forget how many I needed to do to complete Beowulf.

I’ve only ever read The Book of the Duchess or The Parlement of Fowles once and think there’s a good chance that I’ll never read them again. Long gone would seem to be the days when I might read something more than once because if I’m going to read something, I feel that my time is better spent on something that I haven’t read before.

One poem in imitation of Chaucer which I’ve never read is The Floure and the Leafe. I’ve had an edition of it for years (I think probably the text to which the link above takes you), but never tried reading it.

When that Phebus his chaire of gold so hie
Had whirled up the sterry sky aloft,
And in the Boole was entred certainly;
When shoures sweet of raine discended soft,
Causing the ground, fele times and oft,
Up for to give many an wholsome aire,
And every plaine was clothed faire

When Phoebus had whirled his hair of gold so high to the starry sky, and had definitely entered into the Sign of the Bull; when sweet showers of rain descended softly, causing the ground many times and often to produce a wholesome air, and every plain was beautifully clothed

With new greene, and maketh small flours
To springen here and there in field and in mede –
So very good and wholsome be the shoures
That it renueth that was old and deede
In winter time, and out of every seede
Springeth the hearbe, so that every wight
Of this season wexeth glad and light.

with new green, and causes small flowers to bloom here and there in fields and meadows – so very good and wholesome are the showers that they renew what was old and dead in winter time, and out of every seed springs a plant so that every being of this season grows glad and happy.

And I, so glad of the season swete,
Was happed thus upon a certaine night:
As I lay in my bed, sleepe ful unmete
Was unto me; but why that I ne might
Rest, I ne wist, for there nas earthly wight,
As I suppose, had more hearts ease
Then I, for I nad sicknesse nor disease.

And I, so glad of the sweet season, happened to be in this situation one night: as I lay in bed, it was very unlikely I was going to get to sleep; but why I couldn’t rest, I didn’t know, because there was no creature on earth, I suppose, who was more content than me because I had neither sickness or disease.

Wherefore I mervaile greatly of my selfe,
That I so long withouten sleepe lay;
And up I rose, three houres after twelfe,
About the springing of the day,
And on I put my geare and mine array,
And to a pleasaunt grove I gan passe,
Long or the bright sonne up risen was;

Because of which, I marvel greatly about myself that I lay so long without sleep; and up I got, three hours after twelve, about the springing of the day, and I put on my kit and clothes, and I went to a pleasant grove long before the bright sun had risen;

In which were okes great, streight as a line,
Under the which the grasse so fresh of hew
Was newly sprong; and an eight foot or nine
Every tree well fro his fellow grew,
With braunches brode, lade with leves new,
That sprongen out ayen the sonne shene,
Some very red and some a glad light grene;

in which there were great oaks, straight as a line, under which the grass, so fresh in hue, was newly sprung, and eight or nine feet apart from its neighbour grew every tree, with broad branches and laden with new leaves that sprang out towards the bright sunlight, some very red and some a pleasant light green

Which as me thought was right a plesaunt sight,
And eke the briddes song for to here
Would have rejoised any earthly wight.
And I, that couth not yet in no manere
Heare the nightingale of all the yere,
Full busily herkened with hart and with eare
If I her voice perceive coud any where.

which, as it seemed to me, was truly a pleasant sight, and also to hear the song of the birds would have gladdened any earthy creature. And I, who could not yet in any way hear the nightingale throughout the year, listened very attentively with my heart and ear to see if I could perceive her voice anywhere.

And so the poem goes.

18.06.13. Edited HTML, altered the layout of the poem, and added tags.

The Sun over Breda

By Arturo Pérez-Reverte.

The Surrender of Breda by Velázquez

As I mentioned in a previous post, I was waiting for the plot of The Sun over Breda to get going. As it is, the story doesn’t really have a plot in the way Captain Alatriste did, but is rather about Spain’s military ad­vent­ures in Holland. Alatriste may be the star, but most of the story is told from Íñigo Balboa’s perspective, which results in the Captain featuring in the tale rather than being a central part of it. 

After Captain Alatriste, I must admit that I found The Sun over Breda less satisfying because it was too much like a news report. There needed to be some connection between the first and second novels personalising the whole story. Thus Alatriste might’ve not only been on campaign in Flanders but also evading Gualterio Malatesta or one of Luis de Alquézar’s other hired assassins.

On the other hand, the story is a good picture of war. The Spanish forces may fight the good fight, but they are ill apayd for all their efforts, and mutinies, because they haven’t been a single doubloon in months, are not unusual. They like to think they’re honourable, but often honour and decency get thrown out of the trench when musket shot is flying.

The book ends with a mock editor’s note about Velázquez’s painting, the Surrender of Breda, and the figures in it, as if the characters who featured in the book might be found in the picture.

Appendix

Although I haven’t been to the DVD shop to see if I can find a copy of Alatriste, the reviews on the IMDb say that the film covers all the books and is long and dull. [15.11.13. Not wrong. The film is dreadful.]

[23.08.13. Sometime later. Well, I did eventually see the film (there’s probably an entry about it not far away), which was fairly awful as far as I vaguely remember. Actually, since I remember none of it, not even how bad it was, it must’ve been bad indeed.]