ETAS learning technologies

ETAS learning technologies blog

2014 Year of the Horse, 31 January

Posted by ckwok2013 on 29 January 2014

(Extracted from International Business Times)

The Chinese New Year is just round the corner and people all across the country have started preparations to ring in the New Year.

This year, around 3.62 billion are expected to travel to China to celebrate the New Year with family and friends. The Chinese New Year is also called Lunar New Year and is celebrated for 15 days.

Within one week, the Year of the Snake will make way for the Year of the Wooden Horse. People who are born under the horse zodiac are touted as very active and energetic. Like the Year of the Snake, the Year of the Wooden Horse would neither be good nor bad for the people [Read the predictions of the coming year here].

Meanwhile, check out some facts related to the Chinese New Year celebrations here.

1.      Origin: Celebrating Chinese New Year is a centuries-old tradition. It is based on individuals’ defence against a mythical brute called the “Nian”, by using food and mostly firecrackers.

2.      Spring Festival: The Chinese New Year is also called Spring Festival as it marks the beginning of the lunar calendar. The Spring Festival falls either in January or February every year, depending on the Roman calendar. The Spring Festival is celebrated for 15 days worldwide.

3.      Red: The Chinese consider red as their lucky color. Red paper hangings in the house are a must during the merry season. Red is considered a very auspicious color and is believed to drive off malicious spirits and carry favorable luck, satisfaction, fortune and life span.

4.      Cleaning: The cleaning work should be finished before the New Year’s Day, as it is said that it removes bad luck from the house.

5.      Food: Food is considered to be a big part of the New Year celebrations in China. Food symbolizes joy, success, fortunes and long life. During the New Year, the Chinese eat oranges as it symbolizes prosperity.

6.      Biggest Human Migration: During the Chinese New Year the world’s biggest human migration takes place. Hundreds of millions of people travel toChina to celebrate the New Year with family.

7.      Dragon and Lion Dance: Lion and dragon dances happen every year because of their association with the origin of the celebration. It is believed that boisterous drumming and playing with cymbals will pursue away terrible fortunes and malice spirits.

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Cross-Cultural SIG Newsletter 2 (end of year)

Posted by ckwok2013 on 15 January 2014

Cross-Cultural SIG Newsletter 2 (end of year)

This newsletter was sent 0ut a few weeks back to all the members of the SIG who now number almost 40, Yeah!

There’s an interesting little tool I’ve included that helps us to better understand some of the dilemnas or misunderstandings we get into when interacting with peoples of diverse backgrounds so I’ve posted it here for a larger reading public. Have fun.

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When a contract is not a contract ………..

Posted by ckwok2013 on 20 December 2013

This summer I had the good fortune and opportunity to interview the Managing Director of a medium-sized foreign-owned subsidiary firm, Jupiter Ltd (name changed) that manufactures conveyor belting in China for coal mines. With  factories located in Shanghai, sales offices in the north and northwest of China and 300 personnel, this subsidiary company boasts an annual turnover of  RMB 400 million for its Chinese operations.

Most of its customers are coal mining companies in inner Mongolia, ShanXi, Anhui and Shantong, which belong to state-owned enterprises. With more than 100 competitors in this segment of the worldwide conveyor belting manufacturing industry, Jupiter has positioned itself successfully as a boutique supplier of high technology and precision engineering solutions customized to the safety needs of demanding work conditions.

As Managing Director, Ben (name changed), himself an overseas Chinese, leads a small management team of well-educated professionals: a Director of  Operations, a Technical Director, a Finance Director, a Sales Director and a Marketing Director.

Ben related to me that Jupiter once signed a contract with a state-owned customer to sell goods and services for a total sum of  RMB 40 million (USD 6.5 million) over a year’s duration. The terms of the contract were rather vague but Jupiter management thought it would be possible to work out things along the way. As it turned out, the customer did not make any purchases at all during the entire year. A post-mortem analysis suggested that for the customer, the contract merely signaled the intention of having a business relationship with Jupiter and it was up to Jupiter to develop and build the relationship to such an extent that the customer was ready to purchase.

Questions to think about:

  1. Why would the Chinese sign an ambiguous contract like this? What is the benefit for them? Do they do this with competing suppliers too so they can play off one supplier against another?
  2. Why would Jupiter agree to signing a vague contract that doesn’t lay out precisely in black and white what equipment or service package the customer would order, and within a specified timeline? Are you feeling simply forced to do what others are doing? When in China (or Rome), do as the Chinese (Romans) do?

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Travel Anecdote in China Part 3

Posted by ckwok2013 on 20 September 2013

Transport Touts in Beijing 

I stayed at the Novotel Beijing Hotel, which is supposedly a stone’s throw from TianAnMen Square and New Picturethe Forbidden City (both are side by side) so I thought I would brave the busy streets to get there on foot. But after walking for more than half an hour, my destination seemed to be still out of sight. A man on a scooter pulling a tiny one-seat wagon (resembling a tut tut in Bangkok) beckoned to me to ask me where I was going. As soon as I told him, he offered me 30 Yuan to take me there. It seemed like a reasonable price so I agreed and hopped onto the vehicle although not without some apprehension as I wondered how this flimsy contraption would manoevre itself through the heavy traffic of cars, trucks and other vehicles which crowded the streets. Then I realized he was taking us through a bunch of back alleys and smaller streets and I heaved a sigh of (unsuspecting) relief. All roads lead to Rome and as long as he gets me there in one piece ……..

Finally he stopped in the middle of a back street and indicated to me I was to get out here while he waved with his hand in the not too far distance as to how I would arrive at the Square the rest of the way. I got off and proceeded to pay him the 30 Yuan. With a look of utter disbelief, he gave me to understand that the fare was 300 Yuan. I was aghast and started to argue in Mandarin, hoping to impress upon him that I was part local. Unperturbed he held out a card on which was printed prices for various destinations and he pointed to the fare of 300 Yuan listed for the Forbidden City. Now I started getting angry and insisted that he had offered me 30 Yuan earlier. He remained adamant and I could see that he was getting angry with me too and he threw out some broken English expressions to indicate that I had misheard him. Not to be outdone, I reminded him that perhaps he should have shown me the fare card earlier to avoid any serious misunderstanding.

I considered paying him the 30 Yuan and walking away but worried that he might chase after me and that he might get violent. Then I looked down the backstreet and noticed a couple walking towards us. I ran up to them to beg them for help after explaining what had happened. By now, the driver had miraculously dropped his price to 100 Yuan and insisted that was what he was wanting me to pay. The man and woman who were trying to intercede on my behalf, suggested to me that it was not an unreasonable price to pay after all. Tired of all the squabbling, I finally gave in and paid the driver 100 Yuan. A lesson learnt indeed, next time, I would best take a cab (20-30 Yuan) or jump on a bus (1 Yuan) instead. Through the internet, I understood later that an American male tourist had suffered the same fate and gotten roughed up a bit by the driver before he finally parted with 300 Y.

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Travel Anecdote in China Part 2

Posted by ckwok2013 on 11 September 2013

Pedestrian crossings in Shanghai are not for the fainthearted …….New Picture (1)

There are lots of zebra crossings on busy roads in Shanghai and it was an experience in itself, crossing them safely. Legally, pedestrians have the right of way on crossing, however few drivers will actually go the mile and stop for them. As a pedestrian, I am outraged that traffic police are remiss in reminding inconsiderate motorists that people have right of way at the crossings, not cars!! That they are supposed to slow down, yield and avoid us, not us them. Establish a regime of severe fines and tough penalties, I say, to make the roads safe for us all and to make drivers think twice about their selfish and reckless behavior that puts us all at risk.

Mustering up my courage one afternoon, I decided to put what I believed into practice: just like any well-trained citizen in Switzerland, I was going to put first one foot on the crossing, then the other foot to signal to oncoming motorists of my intention to cross and expect that they would slow down and stop for me. I told myself it’s my right to adopt a leisurely pace of crossing without cowering in fear as to whether they would actually stop nor should I be racing across to the other side worrying about being run over by cars that didn’t slow down.

Well …………I survived to tell the tale but the truth is that, they didn’t stop, they barely noticeably braked ………  they would have run me right over if my sister, a 3-year resident, hadn’t simply grabbed my arm and dragged me across the road with her each time I chose to linger …………

It is no wonder that road accidents are the highest cause of death in China!


Admittedly the above image is showing something a bit different from what I described, it seems to suggest that pedestrians themselves are breaking the law crossing against a red light (which does happen too often enough) but actually there are not always traffic lights at crossings in Shanghai or if there are, motorists ignore them at the expense of pedestrians crossing on green.

I couldn’t find a better image. If you find something, let me know.




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Concept of ‘losing face’ – simply an eastern concept?

Posted by ckwok2013 on 29 August 2013

From a recent discussion in LinkedIn forum of SIETAR Europa: Competence in intercultural professions

(Sietar stands for Society of Intercultural Education, Training and Research) 

Cross-Cultural Leadership: How to Avoid Making People Lose Face (LeadershipWatch, Aad Boot)

Business leaders of multinational organizations are often confronted with cross-cultural differences. These differences can cause misunderstandings and awkward situations between people. Especially when people feel they are losing Face. Face – an Eastern concept most likened to the Western concept of respect and dignity. Making people feel they are losing Face occurs more easily than we might expect and can seriously damage relationships.

This cross-cultural aspect of ‘losing Face’ can for instance play a role when you are responsible for leading a complex change project involving people from other cultures.

Brian Cook meets with his Chinese change manager Chan Ling and his team at the Beijing office of a European corporation to discuss last month’s delay in the change deadlines. He questions Chan Ling repeatedly about his team’s underperformance. Brian openly states he believes the team is not pushing hard enough and that there is a lack of commitment. He stresses that Ling is accountable for the results of the team and that he should have informed him about the issues. Ling nods silently and peers out the window. He picks up his papers, walks through the door without further discussion, and never returns. (Example with fake names)

Chan Ling feels he has lost Face. He perceives the directness of Brian’s approach as rude and insulting to him personally. In his culture Face is more important than any other thing. It is almost considered a physical entity, which can be ‘given’, ‘saved’, ‘enjoyed’, ‘considered’, or – and this is every Chinese’s nightmare – ‘lost’. The incident has seriously disturbed the relationship between him and Brian.

Ren yao lian, shu yao pi.

A person needs Face, like a tree needs bark.

(Chinese proverb)

  1. What are your reactions?

  2. Can Brian repair the relationship with Chan Ling?

  3. How can they move forward from here and foster a relationship of respect and collaboration?

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Travel Anecdote in China Part 1

Posted by ckwok2013 on 24 August 2013

Taxi Mafia in Xian"Hey, that was my stop back there!"

After spending 2 days in Xian, on my way back to the airport, I had figured out that I could take the airport shuttle bus which stopped outside the Melody Hotel downtown, opposite the stunning DrumTower for 27 Yuan. With a flight at 11:30 AM, I had allowed myself plenty of time to get to the airport, only an hour’s ride from town centre. So arriving at the bus stand at 07:30 that morning, I was about to get in line in the queue of passengers waiting to board the next bus leaving for the airport.

I was stopped by a woman and a man who asked me what time my plane was. I told them and the woman wrung her hands in desperation as she informed me that the shuttle bus would never get me there on time, that it took the better of 2 hours at the very least to arrive at the airport and that traffic was very bad THAT morning. I was stunned as I was sure I had allowed plenty of time, from having talked to the staff at my hotel earlier.

The woman then signaled to a plain vehicle standing nearby, suggesting that I HAD better take a cab instead for 50 Yuan, sharing with 3 others. Thoroughly confused and bewildered at this turn of events, I didn’t think to walk back up to the people handling the shuttlebus passengers to get their version of things. I just stood by the roadside, forlorn and dismayed, at the thought of having to take a cab which was not only more expensive but less interesting for me than to be with a bunch of passengers in a big bus.

After much hesitation and reflection, I decided it was best to take the woman’s advice and headed over to the unlicensed cab which was waiting with 2 other Chinese passengers who had also been fed the same story as me, that they wouldn’t arrive at the airport in time for their flights. I found it quite difficult to believe that the 2 chinese locals were not more discriminating or skeptical about the story we had been fed. We were being scammed, I was sure of it but what could I reasonably do about it?

As it finally turned out, we got to the airport in just under an hour, which meant I had a 2-hour wait before my domestic flight back to Shanghai. I have posted my experience on the internet to warn unsuspecting travellers for the future. 

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Cultural awareness in the classroom – a fun activity

Posted by ckwok2013 on 20 August 2013

icebergHi there,

I would like to share with you how language trainers can incorporate cultural awareness training in the classroom and describe an activity that is easy to carry out without too much prior preparation.  

The Iceberg Model of Cultural Differences 

There are many metaphors used to explain the concept of cultural differences such as a salad bowl, a melting pot, a tree, mental software, a mosaic of different shapes, sizes, colors, and finally the iceberg metaphor which is often used in the intercultural classroom, being the most popular one. The iceberg draws our attention to the aspects of ‘hidden culture’ or the world of assumptions, habits and beliefs that are not consciously articulated. It implies the danger of thinking one ‘knows it all’ and the need for having a skilled captain or cultural expert to navigate this potential minefield as there is much more to culture than meets the eye.

melting pottreemixed saladmosaic Aim: To help learners identify features that all cultures have in common, those aspects that are visible and those that are not.

Activity: Draw a large iceberg floating in the sea. Ask the class what they know about icebergs. Elicit the fact that most of the iceberg is hidden from view.

Referring to the list of  ‘Features of Culture’ attached, explain that the list shows some of the features all cultures have in common. You might like to have pictures of people doing everyday activities in various parts of the world to illustrate this.

Ask learners to identify those features from the list that they can see in the behaviour of people and those that are invisible. As they share their ideas, record them above or below the waterline on your drawing.

Point out that there is a connection between those items above and below the waterline. In most cases the invisible aspects of culture influence or cause the visible aspects, for example religious beliefs are ‘seen’ in certain holiday customs; ideas of modesty influence styles of dress.

Find other examples of this connection between the visible and the invisible aspects of culture.

You could end the lesson here and move straight to evaluation or you could extend the lesson to look at issues of sectarianism and religious prejudice using well known or recent news events around the world.

Ask the class to consider whether fear of difference – of different religions, the way we believe – creates cultures of fear, prejudice and so on. If so, how can we address this?

Ask the class to consider steps needed to create cultures of peace, tolerance, harmony and respect. This could well be an educational topic if dealing with young learners.

Debriefingbrain cogs

Ask: • Does it make sense to compare culture to an iceberg? Can they think of other metaphors to describe the different ways of thinking about culture? • In some cultures people smile at each other even though they may not like that person. In other cultures this kind of smiling may be regarded as insincere. What does this tell you about the visible and invisible features of culture? • Does it help to explain why people from different cultures sometimes misunderstand each other?

Looking forward to some feedback from you all.


Features of Culture (handout)

 Some of the features that all cultures have in common:

1. Facial expressions

2. Religious beliefs

3. Religious rituals

4. Importance of time

5. Paintings

6. Values

7. Literature

8. Child-raising beliefs

9. Ideas about leadership

10. Gestures

11. Holiday customs

12. Ideas about fairness

13. Ideas about friendship

14. Ideas about modesty

15. Foods

16. Eating habits

17. Understanding of the natural world

18. Concept of self

19. Importance of work

20. Concept of beauty

21. Music

22. Styles of dress

23. General world view

24. Concept of personal space

25. Rules of social etiquette

26. Housing

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Summer fun

Posted by Illya on 18 June 2013

After a long stretch of cold, wet weather, summer has started!

The digital storytelling workshop is blossoming into wonderful stories and ideas, and soon all will be out and living their own stories away from teaching English. Stories aren’t jsut for kids. Don’t we all love a good one? And they can be powerful if used thoughtfully for business English or other specific Englishes. One of the reasons why is that a good story is often based on a problem, and solving problems are a driving source of communication.

You can read more about digital storytelling in the ETAS journal or, f you are interested in looking into digital storytelling while hiding away from the heatwave, below are a couple of websites to browse.

Edtech teacher

educator technology

Using i-movie with i-pad

digital storytelling

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Digital storytelling at ETAS

Posted by Illya on 15 May 2013

If you are an ETAS member and interested in digital storytelling, then head on over to the ETAS website ( and have a look at the Events (external). Or you can sign up directly with the learning technology SIG coordinator (that’s me! see below).
If you aren’t an ETAS member and are interested, then also head over to the ETAS website and become one. Alternatively you can pay the fee of 100.- for the course, albeit without the ETAS membership goodies such as the ETAS Journal, and reduced fees for the events.
I’d love to see you at the course!

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