Why TA Writing Workshops: (1) you can improve your writing, since we’ll be looking at nuances of grammar and ways to write better sentences; (2) this requires little preparation compared to other assignments.
In-workshop assignments are distributed at the beginning of workshop sessions, and you are expected to finish and return them to me before you leave. Not homework.
Why short assignments: (1) they require less commitment, and (2) they are easier compared to the longer ones (good for those doing more than 22 credits).
We’ll have three short assignment discussion sessions before midterm, and they revolve around the same topic: how to be a better student. Last semester, we talked about how to be more productive, and this semester, we’ll try to figure out how to study more effectively. I know everyone has different a learning style, and I hope through this assignment, you can develop your style, improving your note-taking skills, developing your study habits, etc.
Watching assignment: In the following YouTube channels, you can find videos (generally short ones, most less than 10 minutes) in which each YouTuber shares his/her study tips. You don’t necessarily have to watch videos from them; if you find other similar-themed videos that interest you more, you’re more than welcome to share them with us! After you have at least watched one related video, you can write your brief reflection and/or come to a short assignment discussion session.
After midterm, we’ll watch longer TED Talks (than those you watch in the first hour sessions) and discuss them. You can watch a 10- or 20-minute TED Talk. Afterwards, you can write your reflection, and/or come to a discussion session.
Watching assignment: Any TED Talk. Some suggestions:
Or you may just check out their playlist of the most popular talks of all.
Why longer assignments: If you somehow believe that learning English can help you gain “international perspectives” (whatever that really means), you should give one of these a try.
Assignments 1–3 can make you more informed about current events, and the remaining three can, to a certain degree, be regard as dramatic representations of social issues behind those events in our contemporary world.
It’s difficult because it’s essentially a comedy show, so it’s full of cultural references as well as proper names which you might not know. Plus, Oliver speaks a somewhat curious variation of British English.
This assignment can give you more context as you read our first assigned reading for group project presentation. Also through this assignment, I hope you can learn more about what’s happening in America after Trump took office. Last Week Tonight, despite it being unmistakably liberal, has a team that tends to do well on fact-checking and citing sources of materials used for their show.
Steve Bannon, Breitbart, Infowars
I also assigned an episode from Freakonomics Radio so it should seem familiar. You know that both Dubner and Levitt are quite articulate and speak this clear American English. Plus you can find the transcript of this episode. So, this assignment shouldn’t be too difficult.
People here in Taiwan start talking about Uber again after our Transportation Ministry ordered Uber Taiwan to cease operations, and you might be able to sense some sentiment attached to this issue. This assignment invites you to consider Uber from another perspective—that of an economist. This assignment serves as the continuation of our gig economy discussion last semester.
Uber, demand curve
The language can be more difficult—you’ll hear more than one variety of British English in the podcast. Other than that, it depends on how informed you are about western politics: if Theresa May, Article 50, the commons and the lords and Marine Le Pen don’t sound completely strange to you, you should be fine.
We’re reading an article on homelessness in the US. In fact, housing is also a huge issue in the UK, and you can learn more about it through this assignment. On the other hand, Taiwanese media tend to focus too much on the personality of Trump, as if he was the only person that matters in the international political scene. But Brexit and the sentiment against which Le Pen rises up as well as its implication to the unity of EU are also worth your attention.
Brexit, Theresa May, Article 50, Marine Le Pen
The following articles are written in a higher-level English:
This can give you an idea of how this assignment can be difficult: In the Heights is the winner of Best Musical of Tony Awards in 2008, and entered the finalist of Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2009. This information might give you some idea of the level of English you can expect. Further, the lyricist frequently mixes Spanish with English and uses obscure words. Also, the extensive cultural references can strike you as quite daunting. That said, the musical can really teach you something you didn’t know and put things into perspective. Indeed, it’s the most challenging longer assignment, but it’s also the most interesting and informative one.
This assignment means to enable you to appreciate a different culture and another side of America. If anything, this assignment can give you an idea of why Trump is elected and a sense of the unfortunate entanglement between class and income manifesting in contemporary American society. In this light, this assignment is related to many of the assigned readings for this semester. Also, if you found Hamilton: an American Musical from last semester interesting, you can’t miss In the Heights.
This assignment will show that we and Americans are indeed different, but also surprisingly similar at the same time. You will have a glimpse of Hispanic culture and the situation of Latin American immigrants.
Lin-Manuel Miranda, Washington Heights, Latino/Latina/Latinx, graffiti, hip-hop
Yeah, I’m a streetlight, chokin’ on the heat
The world spins around while I’m frozen to my seat
The people that I know all keep on rollin' down the street
But every day is different so I’m switchin’ up the beat
’Cuz my parents came with nothing, they got a little more
And sure, we’re poor, but yo, at least we got the store
And it’s all about the legacy they left with me, it’s destiny
And one day I’ll be on a beach with Sonny writing checks to me
I am the one who made it out!
The one who always made the grade
But maybe I should have just stayed home . . .
Hey, boss, I’ll cover the mdio.Kevin
You don't speak Spanish.Benny
Five years with these drivers?Kevin
You’re not Latino.Camila
How much English did you speak when you started here? Benny is honorary Latino.Benny
(KEVIN hands BENNY the radio.)
Ahem, there's a new voice riding the heat wave today—Kevin
Just get them from point A to point B.
With ninety-six thousand, I’d finally fix housin’
Give the barrio computers with wireless web browsin’
Your kids are livin’ without a good edjumication
Change the station, teach 'em about gentrification
The rent is escalatin’
The rich are penetratin’GRAFFITI PETE
We pay our corporations when we should be demonstratin’GRAFFITI PETE
What about immigration?GRAFFITI PETE
Politicians be hatin’GRAFFITI PETE
Racism in this nation’s gone from latent to blatantCOMMUNITY
I’ll cash my ticket and picket, invest in protestVANESSA
Never lose my focus 'til the city takes notice
And you know this man! I'll never sleep
Because the ghetto has a million promises for me to keep!
(spoken) You are so cute!
Fresh off the boat in AmericaEMPLOYERS
Freezing in early December
A crowded city in Nineteen Forty-Three!
Learning the ropes in America
In español, I remember
Dancing with Mayor La Guardia
All of society welcoming mami and me!
You better clean this mess!ABUELA CLAUDIA
Paciencia y fe . . .EMPLOYERS
You better learn inglés [English]!ABUELA CLAUDIA
Paciencia y fe . . .EMPLOYERS
You better not be late!—
You better pull your weight!—
Are you better off than you were with the birds of La Vibora?
Let me get an amaretto sour for this ghetto flower!
How are you so pretty?
You complete me
You had me at “hello,” you know you need me
Truly, madly, deeply, let’s get freaky
Oh I get it you’re the strong and silent type
Well, I’m the Caribbean island type
And I can drive you wild all night!
But I digress!
Say something so I don’t stress!
No hablo inglés [I don’t speak English.]USNAVI
Uh . . . My mom is Dominican-Cuban
My dad is from Chile and P.R. which means:
I’m Chile-Domini-Curican . . .
But I always say I’m from Queens!
There’s a breeze off the Hudson
And just when
You think you’re sick of living here the memory floods in
The morning light, off the fire escapes
The nights in Bennett Park blasting Big Pun tapes
I’m ‘a miss this place, to tell you the truth:
Kevin dispensin’ wisdom from his dispatch booth
And at dawn, Vanessa at the salon, we gotta move on
But who’s gonna notice we’re gone?
When our job’s done, as the evening winds
Down to a crawl, son, can I ease my mind
When we’re all done? When we’ve resigned
In the long run, what do we leave behind?
[. . .]
In five years, when this whole city’s rich folks and hipsters
Who’s gonna miss this raggedy little business?
Although you’ll come across unfamiliar words in them, the English used in Disney movies is generally easy.
Some of you discussed Tangled with me last semester, and we’re reading an article on androgynous male later this semester. These are relevant to this assignment: it’s about gender roles and gender performativity. Moana, our eponymous heroine, embarks on a true “hero’s journey”, but it does not culminate in “living happily ever after” with her love interest. She also looks like an actual 16-year-old girl (recall how Elsa from Frozen looks like). Apart from breaking conventions, Moana is a magnificent production, and for all its visual extravaganza, teaches us a lesson which is truly relevant: the importance of knowing who you truly are, and the hardship it entails.
I am not a princess.Maui
If you wear a dress and have an animal sidekick, you're a princess.
No star for Potter fans though.
You read about Potter-fatigue for our final exam last semester. Let’s dig deeper into that and see if it’s fair. J.K. Rowling, who wrote the screenplay of the film, said that this movie was her response to current events, including xenophobia, homophobia, and the rise of populism. In this light, this film can resonate everyone. You don’t have to be familiar with the Potter universe before watching this film.
Did you say school? Is there a school? A wizardry school here? In America?Queenie
Of course—Ilvermorny! It's only the best wizard school in the whole world!Newt Scamander
I think you'll find the best wizarding school in the world is Hogwarts!Queenie
(Incredulous and semi-insulted) Hogwash!
A law that has us scuttling like rats in the gutter! A law that demands that we conceal our true nature! A law that directs those under its dominion to cower in fear lest we risk discovery! I ask you, Madam President—
(eyes flashing to all present)
—I ask all of you—who does this law protect? Us?
(gesturing vaguely to the No-Majs above)
I refuse to bow down any longer.
Last semester we talked about the importance of opening up your ears as you learn a language, and how hard it actually is to use your ears well. To illustrate this, I told you that Taiwanese actually often say ㄐㄧㄠˇ ㄚˋ ㄔㄜ (jiǎo à chē) when they think they say 腳踏車.
Such is an example of language observation. It doesn’t have to be English; better yet, you can point out the difference between Chinese and English. You can post your language observations on Facebook.
Why this assignment: It’s always good to be more aware of how language is actually used. You probably have never thought about how you say 腳踏車 before I told you that particular linguistic phenomenon, and Chinese is your native tongue! Being observant about how you speak your language helps learning foreign languages. If you are able to tell how you and English native speakers speak English differently, for example, you can start consciously correct your English and speak the kind of English that people can understand easily.
For some longer assignments, you can see a list of “additional homework options”. You can read/watch/listen to stuff in such lists and let me know you do—through, say, also writing brief reflections, or bringing them up during longer assignment discussion sessions.
Why this assignment: Most videos listed below should actually be required, but I understand this will make longer assignments too intimidating. And I want to avoid that because in my honest opinion, longer assignments are much more exciting than the short ones!
However, please remember that if you don’t get to watch any of these by the end of the semester, you still can do so after this course!