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Multicultural Experiences and Creativity

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On Twitter, I followed a link to a blog post provocatively titled Are Expats More Creative? This post mentioned some research suggesting that people with deep experience abroad came back as more creative people–in a way measurable on tests of creativity–but it didn’t cite or link to the actual research. I was able to find a couple of papers by the researcher mentioned in the article, as well as a Youtube interview with him. It’s very interesting stuff, and while the studies are somewhat artificial, they’re very thought-provoking. It may be a good argument for teaching abroad and studying abroad, but the research team found that you can’t just travel abroad or live in an expat enclave/not get out into the culture or learn the language. You really need to have that integrative motivation to benefit.

To my surprise, a recent paper was downloadable for free, although it looked as though it would be behind a journal’s paywall. I don’t know if it’ll work outside of the US, but check the righthand column to see if you can download it.

“When in Rome . . . Learn Why the Romans Do What They Do: How Multicultural Learning Experiences Facilitate Creativity” (Maddux, Adam, and Galinsky)

Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 36(6) 731–741 © 2010 by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, Inc
Reprints and permission: DOI: 10.1177/0146167210367786
Research suggests that living in and adapting to foreign cultures facilitates creativity. The current research investigated whether one aspect of the adaptation process—multicultural learning—is a critical component of increased creativity. Experiments 1-3 found that recalling a multicultural learning experience: (a) facilitates idea flexibility (e.g., the ability to solve problems in multiple ways), (b) increases awareness of underlying connections and associations, and (c) helps overcome functional fixedness. Importantly, Experiments 2 and 3 specifically demonstrated that functional learning in a multicultural context (i.e., learning about the underlying meaning or function of behaviors in that context) is particularly important for facilitating creativity. Results showed that creativity was enhanced only when participants recalled a functional multicultural learning experience and only when participants had previously lived abroad. Overall, multicultural learning appears to be an important mechanism by which foreign living experiences lead to creative enhancement.

If you can’t access it, there is an earlier article hosted at Northwestern University (PDF): Multicultural Experience Enhances Creativity: The When and How” (Leung, Maddux, Galinsky, and Chiu).

My big question is whether I should (because I already know that I want to), and whether it is worth being away from my partner for a year or more.

What do you think? If you’ve taught or lived overseas, did it make you more creative in small or large ways? Did you “think differently” when you came back?

Staying Safe on Other People’s Computers


If you’re traveling and using internet cafes, using library or school computer labs, using a computer in an adjunct office in a classroom, etc., you may be exposing your personal information to hackers or risking the chance of getting a virus on your USB stick.

Here are a few articles I’ve found that may be helpful. You don’t have to drive yourself crazy with these precautions, but follow as many as you reasonably can. I’ve found that most people don’t realize either how easy it is for even casual miscreants to swipe passwords from wifi networks (in certain situations), or that things such as keyloggers (which record everything you type–like your usernames and passwords) even exist.

To these suggestions I would add just a few more:

– Given a choice, if a machine is running any browser other than IE, use the other browser (e.g. Firefox, Chrome, or Safari). For one thing, Internet Explorer tends to have the most security flaws at any given time, and Firefox, Chrome, and Safari tend to have fewer (see this page for a comparison of the up-to-date versions only. Never use a really old version of IE or any other browser, which is likely to have a variety of well-known security flaws. Another reason is that IE tends to be a popular target for people who want to exploit security weaknesses.

– Given a choice, if a computer lab or library lets you choose between Mac and Windows machines, and you can get your browsing or other work done on a Mac, choose the Macs. This is not necessarily because of any inherent properties of the Macs, but because the Windows machines (being more common) are more likely targets for casual hackers. (The only drawback is that in a few school and library labs, the Macs are poorly maintained because the lab staff doesn’t understand them, but you’ll soon realize if that’s the case.)

– If there’s a website that does not use https:// or SSL to log you in with your password, just don’t use it on a public machine or public wifi. If you really must use it–like a WordPress-based blog that you want to update from the road–look for solutions. (For example, you can add the Semisecure Login plugin to your WordPress installation, which adds some level of security.)

– If you use public computers frequently, consider keeping a USB drive that only has your own copy of Firefox and other Portable Apps on it (no personal information). (Or you may wish to consider a “secure USB drive” that is meant to resist having its data altered, to keep personal information safe and to avoid introducing malware back onto your own system.)

– Keep these suggestions in mind when borrowing friends’ computers, as well. Many people are surprisingly lax about updating their browsers, running and updating antivirus and antispyware, etc.

If you have other suggestions or further reading, please leave a comment!

Google Voice Now Open

Update 8/26: You can now make calls from your Gmail interface even without a Google Voice account, but the two services play well together (North America only for free calls; international calls originating from the US are cheaper than the very cheap service I currently use). Here are some useful and less-useful tips and tricks from Lifehacker.

If you live in the US, Google Voice is now open to everyone. I wrote about it before, but now you don’t need an invitation to use it. By the way, if you’re US-based but working overseas, it might still be worth getting if you have a friend in the US who could activate it for you–it’ll give you a US number you can use for web-based texting (you can get the texts in e-mail) and voice mail, so friends and family can call you and leave messages on their own schedule. You’d get an e-mail with a link to the recording and a transcription (when it works). It might be great in an emergency, for people with totally incompatible schedules, and for relatives who don’t do e-mail. As I mentioned before, it’s really an amazing thing for private tutors and “freeway flyers” with 3 different work numbers, too.

Anyway, Lifehacker has done a good job writing about it in the past as well as now that it’s open:

Now, I haven’t really noticed the lag that they mention, but I have had 1 call out of the calls that a client has made to me not go through, and 1 other call was garbled so badly that I couldn’t hear him. That was during the beta test, though, so I’m hoping that things are better now. It really has made life easier, and my husband uses it all the time so that his students can call him (he’s a part-time community college teacher) and text him (they mostly prefer texting to e-mail). It lets him communicate with them on both their terms and his terms (he hates texting, but typing on a keyboard is fine). He turns the number’s setting to ring when he’s on campus, but it’s generally on Do Not Disturb (straight to voice mail) when he’s at home, unless something special is going on.

Anyway, if you’re already interested and you want to give it a try, go to

“News of the Weird” Phenomenon

News of the Weird phenomenon is when we easily dismiss bizarre incidents from our own society, because we know they originated in a minor subculture, were committed by people with some kind of problem, were done by a marginalized group such as “rednecks” or criminals or fringe political elements, etc. However, we don’t have the same insider knowledge about “weird news” from most other cultures. As a result, when we read something sensational or peculiar, our attempts to practice cultural relativism kick into overdrive and we may accept the item as representative rather than anomalous.

I think of this as “News of the Weird phenomenon” because when we read the “News of the Weird,” “Weird,” “Odd News,” or “Auch das noch” section of our own newspaper, we don’t take it seriously. Yet when we–or our students–hear shocking things about the cultures in which we travel or study or work–there’s a greater tendency to place some kind of importance on the strange news. (At least, in my experience.) We and they lack context and have difficulty judging the representativeness or even the veracity of such news items.

Japan is particularly plagued by this, as countless American and British news outlets thrive on repeating stories about strange things that just appall my Japanese friends, who usually identify the reported incident as some kind of fringe activity (if they’ve even heard of it). This is almost never indicated in the reports. (Sometimes news items about Japan are outright false, like the one that circulates periodically about the see-through clothing. Trained on a diet of bizarre news about Japan, readers of English news will apparently swallow anything, no matter how outrageous.)

It’s important to think about whether news items that we hear contradict other knowledge we may have about a culture, and to check with a member of that society if we’re not sure. In general, I don’t think it’s constructive to pass on news articles that just highlight sensational or “weird” events, and I think it contributes to “bitter expat” syndrome when people living outside their home countries spend a lot of time focusing on this kind of thing. (I’m not sure how examining/unpacking weird news reports from the students’ countries/the teaching context/English-speaking countries could be turned into useful activities, but I imagine that has some potential!)

There’s probably a related phenomenon rarely experienced by American readers, but which affects us: Police Blotter Phenomenon. The police blotter is the section that some newspapers still have, in which crimes are briefly reported. Non-Americans aren’t generally literally reading a police blotter, but many of my Japanese clients have heard about crimes in the US on the news and in newspapers. Not having the local knowledge to understand whether those crimes are ones that could possibly affect them if they were living here, they often build up an unrealistic idea of widespread violent crime in the US.

Anyway, I don’t know if you’ve experienced either of these phenomena in yourself or your students, but it’s just something I was thinking about today.

(As far as I know, I came up with this particular term, but I’m sure I didn’t come up with the idea–there’s probably some better, more scholarly way to say it.)

By the way, I’ve added a new tag: lesson seeds. Lesson seeds are for posts that have just the tiniest seed of a lesson idea in them (as opposed to the lesson plan tag, and the lesson idea tag that I haven’t implemented yet). Sometimes a lesson seed is that’s all that’s needed!

P. S. Thanks to @olafelch and @lynneguist (of separated by a common language) for telling me what some “News of the Weird” sections are called in Germany and the UK!)


Sorry for the long radio silence here and on Twitter, etc.! I went to a convention over Memorial Day weekend, and when I came back, my place had been broken into. My beloved MacBook Pro was stolen, among other things. I hadn’t backed up as often as I should have, because too much other stuff has been going on recently.

Odds are, if you’re a teacher–and particularly if you’re an edtech fan or writer-type or grad student–you also have valuable information and technology in your place. Here are the lessons that I learned from this experience:

  • If you rent your home and own expensive laptops, TVs, jewelry, or other stuff that would cost a lot to replace if damaged or stolen, consider renter’s insurance. It doesn’t cost a lot per year, and it’s made a huge difference for us–replacing two Mac laptops would be an issue for two teachers, otherwise! (Traveller’s has been pretty good, by the way.)
  • Get an external hard drive and, if you are not a conscientious frequent updater of it, find an automatic backup solution. I think newer versions of the Mac OS have options for this built in…I didn’t have that and wish I had.
  • Anything that’s automatically stored in more than one place is a good thing, so anything that’s automatically synced is a good thing. My address book from my laptop was synced to my iPod Touch, so I didn’t lose friends’ phone numbers and addresses (I just wish I’d filled it out more instead of relying on a file!). My calendar with appointments was, too, and so on. If you don’t have a Touch/iPhone/Blackberry, etc., there are some free online services that do similar things. My bookmarks, which include things that are very important like research articles, teaching activity sites, etc., are intact because I use rather than just saving them in my browser.
  • Use an e-mail service that stores your sent mail forever and doesn’t delete it (and can be searched easily, like Gmail). Someday, those sent attachments may be your only record of things like, oh, your most recent CV. (Ack.)

Anyway, without getting into the security side of things, those are just some ideas to keep you rolling/help you bounce back in this situation. I’m sure there’s a lot more out there I could have done.

Ultimately, nobody was hurt, I’m getting a new MacBook Pro, and things could have been a lot worse.

Meebo and Other IM Programs


If you are stuck desk-warming* or just have a little time to kill at your computer, but your network doesn’t support IM programs or won’t let you install them, Meebo is a nice web-based alternative alternative. You can log in to any or all of your instant messenger accounts–AIM, MSN/Live, Google Talk, Facebook chat, etc., at once. (It’s also very useful in internet cafes.) This doesn’t mean that I can use my Yahoo account to talk to someone on AIM, though–you still have to be on the same system to talk to each other. It just puts everyone in the same window.

I suspect the website is blocked by many net-nanny programs simply because it means you can get around restrictions on IM services, but perhaps you’ll get lucky if you need it.

Meebo also has an iPhone app, although it’s a bit annoying because you have to log out and press the home button every time you’re done with it, or you’ll get logged back in.

If you can use IM software on your network, check into Pidgin (Windows/Linux[?]) and Pidgin Portable (if you can use IM software but can’t install anything on your work computer) or Adium (Mac OS X). Both handle multiple accounts, letting you stay in touch with friends, family, and students across the world who are on different systems, and letting you keep various groups separate–for example, when I use Adium I can have two Yahoo! IM accounts logged on at the same time, such as “teacherclarissa” and “ffordefangirlccs”, for different purposes. (Not my real account names!) Just as with Meebo, you still have to have an account on that system to talk to someone using that system. (But at least you don’t have to have 2 or 3 different programs running and using up system resources.)

These “client” programs, as they’re called, are also not prone to the ads and other annoyances that the proprietary programs produced by the companies themselves are. The drawback is that there are occasionally glitches when trying to transfer files, if you often use your IM program to do that.

All of the above programs and services are currently free to use.

*This doesn’t happen as much to teachers in the US (I don’t know about other places), but in K-12-equivalent schools in Japan and Korea, at least, foreign teachers are often required to stay on campus when they don’t have class and are done with lesson-planning. It’s not easy to spend time in the teachers’ room if you’re not fluent in the local language yet, so they often remain at their own desks or in their classrooms (some teachers don’t have another desk or office). It doesn’t seem like the most efficient use of teachers’ time, but I can’t comment on it in detail because I haven’t experienced it firsthand.

Twitter for English Language Learners (and Teachers)

At CATESOL this past weekend, @blythe_musteric gave a great presentation about how teachers could use Twitter. Later, there was the very first CATESOL tweetup (a meeting of Twitter-users, often at an event), featuring @blythe_musteric, @pearsonlongman, @rogerdupuy, @joemcveigh, @leejeylee, @compellingtalks, @ohsanderella, @talkclouds (me), and possibly other people I’m forgetting.

During @blythe_musteric’s session and later during the tweetup, I mentioned that, particularly in Japan and Korea, English-language learners are using Twitter as a self-study tool. I have another Twitter account, @readable, which is for ELLs. I use it to post relatively simple tweets on topics of interest to English learners, links to news posts, and links to self-study tools. Eventually, I started seeing posts from my readers using the hashtags #twinglish (Twitter+English), #eigodewa (“as for English…?”), #engtwit (English+Twitter), and #kor_eng (Korean+English). Putting a hashmark (#) in front of a word makes it clickable; when you click on it you see everyone’s tweets using that hashtag, I was impressed by how many users there were experimenting with English and chatting with each other in a second language.

Some of my followers’ (connected users) responses about why they are using Twitter in English (minor mistakes corrected for one user by request; others exactly as written):

@[anonymous]: 1) Expect to meet people from all over the world and share ideas or talk with freely 2) Need to practice English regularly
@oxwinter: That’s because… I learned English at school, but few opportunities to use it here, Japan. Twitter gives us that opportunity.
@akaSEANJUNG: in ma case.. it’s just 4 fun. tryin to not to forget how 2 use…too.
@noelsora: It’s a good tool for driving me to to think in English.

As I mentioned at the conference, I also discovered some Japanese ELT professionals, including teachers and publishers. In particular, @MakotoIshiwata and @mayumi_ishihara do a good job using Twitter with ELLs. @Makoto_Ishiwata is actually Mr. Makoto Ishiwata, the president of Kaplan Japan. He’s written a great short post about how Japanese learners of English can benefit from using Twitter: “Suggestion: three easy steps for the Japanese to start tweeting in English.” He writes about the difference it made for him years ago when he began to think in English, and feels that Twitter can help Japanese English learners, who study English at school in an artificial way, start really thinking and communicating in English. He says that “Twitter is easy to use. The limit of 140 words is a great plus for English learners too because they don’t have to think too seriously before typing. Above all, we can share what we tweet. We can start communicating with each other. We can make new friends, including people from abroad, when we tweet in English.” (Actually, a lot of that goes for teachers, too…) Check out his post.

@mayumi_ishihara is Ms. Mayumi Ishihara, an English teacher and author. I’ve seen one of her previous books, 『英語で日記を書いてみる』Try Writing a Diary in English!, at my local Kinokuniya. She has a new book coming out in May, 『Twitterで英語をつぶやいてみる』Try Tweeting in English on Twitter! (Oh, Japanese book prices…it’s only ¥735–about $7.80 US–and it’s 200 pages!).

Both of them regularly interact with their followers in English, and their/our followers interact with each other, too. I don’t think Twitter is perfect for learning English–for one thing, there are certain grammatical structures that I just don’t even use because they take up too much room. I’m not sure if @mayumi_ishihara will address this in her book, but I hope so. [EDIT: Another drawback is that many of the English-teaching accounts that post vocabulary and so on are regularly sharing information that is archaic, useless, or downright incorrect or ungrammatical.] You also have to deal with learning abbreviations such as w/o, b/c, wknd, and so on. There are also some differences in Twitter culture between most of the fluent English-using Twittersphere and the English-learning Twittersphere: #twinglish users usually use RT in replies, not just retweets (like forwards), leaving a truncated piece of the original tweet at the end of their reply; they’re generally not familiar with things like Follow Friday/#FF; they often send a reply to thank people not just for following them but even for responding to them; and so on.

I don’t think the differences between other modes or registers of English and Twitter constitute a deal-breaker. Every mode and medium is different, and I’ve noticed that many ELL twitterers use it to share other recommendations for input, such as TV shows, books, and websites. No one is trying to learn English solely from Twitter that I’ve heard of. [EDIT: And the problem with the useless, archaic, and ungrammatical/incorrect teaching accounts is also quite true for many textbooks and commercial texts sold overseas and in the US, as well. It’s not just an online problem.] Learners in countries such as Korea often feel starved for spontaneous, unstructured English input, and Twitter provides that, even if it’s not perfect. It may require access to a phone or computer, which is a time-and-money barrier that makes it somewhat less useful for the average ELL in the USA, but for East Asian learners with extensive access to sophisticated cell phones, it’s a cheaper and more flexible alternative or supplement to expensive English lessons.

I’ve had some great conversations with my followers. We’ve discovered cultural misconceptions about beer and weather, made jokes with each other, commiserated about everything from procrastination to language study, and helped each other with grammar and vocabulary (since I’m studying Japanese myself).

[EDIT: Overall, I think Twitter is a useful additional tool for English learners, particularly EFL learners and others with limited access to spontaneous English interaction, authentic English input, and an English-understanding audience. It contributes to learner autonomy, lowers the affective barrier, and promotes the idea of English as a tool for communication rather than an abstract object of study–goals that many teachers struggle with even partially achieving.]

What do you think?

CATESOL Handouts; Conference Survey

My handouts from CATESOL 2010 and one prior conference are now available under the Resources tab at the top of each page. If you spot any problems or broken links, please let me know!

Don’t forget to fill out the conference evaluation form if you went. As far as I know, there were no paper evaluation forms, or if there were, they weren’t widely available. I’ll be writing more about my thoughts on the conference later. The major upside was that every concurrent session I went to was extremely valuable except one, and that was a session I wasn’t too sure about–and it was probably very valuable if you were the target audience. No fault of the presenter’s. I think that’s the best track record out of any conference I’ve been to, including TESOL. (Usually, it’s a mixed bag.) There were definitely some downsides, though.

By the way, I’m working on an informal study about conferences (questions about costs, travel, speakers, inclusion of “NNESTs,” integration of technology, and so on. If you have any suggestions about what I should ask, let me know! I hope you’ll fill it out (it’ll be a Google form) once it’s done.

Hi, CATESOL visitors!

If you came to my segment of the Internet Fair and are looking for an online version of the handout, I’ll upload that and any further thoughts on Sunday, if I can. For now, the basic links I used are here: A Visual Feast

A previous post on the subject is Free Illustrations.

The blog for learners that I mentioned is Readable Blog.

Thank you for coming to my session and checking out my blog!

CATESOL 2010 Sessions

Here are some sessions at the 2010 CATESOL conference in Santa Clara, starting tomorrow (well, the general conference starts Friday), that are being presented by “friends and family” of Talk to the Clouds (and got in touch with me via Twitter):


Effective Methods for Error Correction and Offering Feedback
C. Chang, University of Iowa
8:00-8:45 a.m. Great America Ballroom K
This paper will discuss error correction and offering feedback to students in ESL/EFL classrooms. The speakers will first review research on error correction and feedback. Then they will suggest several strategies based on their learning experience to help both teachers and students communicate their needs in the ESL/EFL classroom.

Rapport, Resourcing and Real-time: Social Network Applications for Success
R. Dupuy, UC Irvine
8:00-8:45 a.m. Great America Meeting Room 3
Learn how certain digital social networking tools 1) encourage rapport in English, 2) aid teachers in the resourcing of digital content for the development of curricula and 3) enable teachers to deliver this valuable and relevant curricula in real-time classroom contexts.

Electronic Village Internet Fair
10:00 – 11:30 am
Great American Ballroom J
10:00 – 10:15 C. Bauler – Using online forums to increase interaction in the ESL classroom
10:20 – 10:35 M. Azimi – Vocabulary “Stuck” on the Web
10:40– 10:55 J. Wu – From YouTube to YouThink
11:00– 11:15 K. Johnson – Animate Your Class With Animoto
11:20 – 11:30 C. Ryan – A Visual Feast: Tips & Tricks with Image Sites (that’s me!)

Tweet and Retweet: Using Twitter for Professional Teacher Development
B. Musteric, Ovient International
3:00-4:30 p.m. Great America Ballroom K
Grow your professional network with Twitter. In this workshop, participants will learn how to connect, engage, and collaborate with other teachers from around the world using Twitter. The presenter will demonstrate how to create an account, grow a network of teachers, and use best practices for engaging with others.
(I’m planning to go to this to support the speaker, but if I can’t, I hope to at least come in at the end! Please go if you are curious about Twitter and why it’s so popular with British and EFL teachers!)

Passion and Persistence: Self-Published ESL Authors Tell Their Stories
E. Weal, Sequoia Adult School; E. Roth, American Language Institute, USC; D. Asitimbay, ELI, UC San Diego
10:00-11:30 a.m. Convention Center 209
What motivates ESL teachers to become authors? Why do many of these authors self-publish? What’s their likelihood of success? In this panel discussion, three authors of ESL books will share the pleasures and perils of self-publishing as well as offer tips for those contemplating writing and publishing an ESL text.
(I’d love to go to this, but of course, it’s during my session!)


Informational Interviews: A Practical, Illuminating Speaking Assignment
E. Roth, University of Southern California
8:00-8:45 a.m. Hyatt Mendocino
Informational interviews allow university ESL students to develop their oral skills, expand a vocational vocabulary, and share interview experiences. ESL teachers can provide practical assistance by adding this complicated oral skills assignment, but instructors must carefully scaffold the assignment for maximum effectiveness.

Create Dynamic and Interactive Lessons Using a Smart Board
F. Wentworth, Jefferson Adult Division; J. Wu, San Mateo Adult School
8:00-9:30 a.m. Great America Ballroom J
Many schools have Smart Boards but teachers have not received proper training in how to use them effectively. In this workshop, participants will see how to create lessons from materials they already have.

Principles to Practice in Teaching Reading
Jennifer Bixby, Freelance Writer and Editor; J. McVeigh, Independent Consultant
8:00-8:45 a.m. Hyatt Stevens Creek
How can current principles in reading instruction be applied to activities in the ESL classroom? The presenters will give an overview of current reading theory and demonstrate practical classroom application. Participants will look at sample activities and evaluate their effectiveness in teaching reading strategies.

Critical Pedagogy in TESOL: Rising Perspectives in Global Context
W. Campbell, University of Southern California
4:15-5:00 Hyatt Napa I
Review of articles to explore Critical Pedagogy (CP) and its perspectives as they are manifesting in TESOL. Demographic data of contributing voices is considered while exploring what it means to be a TESOL educator in light of the political dimension of ELT in context of global power relations.

The complete program is available at the CATESOL 2010 site as PDFs. Don’t forget to check the file with the changes and cancellations if you’re planning in advance.

Take a look at my CATESOL Food and Shopping Suggestions post too, if you like!

If you’re going, I hope you have a great time! Hope to see you there. If you’d like to come to my session and can’t, I’ll be adding a new section here for conference handouts and content. However, you’ve actually already seen some of the suggestions here before, if you’re a loyal reader.