7 Naming Customs From Around the World

Immigrant students in the United States  have already suffered the trauma of leaving behind their extended family, friends, teachers, and schools. They enter a U.S. school and can also lose their name. Their name may be deliberately changed by parents or school staff, or an error may be made in the order of the name or its spelling. These mistakes can have lasting effects on students.

A person’s name is part of his or her cultural identity, and it is up to schools to get it right. In order for teachers, administrators, or office staff in your school  to enroll students with the correct the name, they need to understand  the naming conventions of different cultures. Here are seven naming customs from different cultures.

1) Korean names are written with the family name first. If Yeon Suk has the family name “Lee,” his name will be written Lee Yeon Suk. The given name usually has two parts, and it follows the family name. Either part of the given name can be a generation marker: Two- part given names should not be shortened—that is, Lee Yeon Suk should be called Yeon Suk, not Yeon.

3) Russian names have three parts: a given name, a patronymic (a middle name based on the father’s first name), and the father’s surname. If Viktor Aleksandrovich Rakhmaninov has two children, his daughter’s name would be Svetlana Viktorevna Rakhmaninova. (The “a” at the end of all three names shows that she is female.) Her brother would be Mikhail Viktorevich Rakhmaninov.

3) It’s hard to generalize naming conventions for children from Spanish-speaking countries. These students have a given name (often a two-part name) and two surnames: the father’s family name followed by the mother’s. For example, if a child registers as Ana Lorena López Ramírez, the school should retain both López and Ramírez in the child’s records. The child should be called Ana Lorena.  Schools often drop the father’s name, which leads to confusion. Always ask parents if you aren’t sure which names to use.

4) In India, Hindu names are usually based on the child’s  raashis, which is determined by the position of the planets at the date and time of birth. The resulting names are often shortened by family and friends. For example, teachers may call brother and sister Aditya and Aarushi by these formal names, but family and friends may call them Adi and Ashi. Remember that India has many religions and languages, and naming practices will be influenced by them.

5) Chinese names are made up of three characters: a one-character family name followed by a two-character given name. The child’s official name is used for the birth certificate and for school.  Chinese children often have a different name that is used among friends, schoolmates, and colleagues.

6) Afghan names traditionally consist of only a first name. Last names are often chosen, when needed, using tribal affiliation, place of birth, profession, or honorific titles. This may result in people within the same family having different last names. Male given names are compound or double names and often include an Islamic or Arabic component such as Ahmad or Mohammad, and women are generally given Persian or Pashto names.

7) Somali children have three personal names and no family name. In order to identify someone, all three names must be used. Names are a combination of a child’s personal name, the father’s personal name, and the paternal grandfather’s personal name.

Many school districts are faced with immigrant children from a wide variety of countries from all over the world. We should not apply the format of naming conventions from the United States on children from other areas of the world. There is an abundance of information on naming conventions on the Internet. An excellent resource to give teachers a background on naming practices is A Guide to Names and Naming Practices.

U.S. school districts need to strive to show respect for the names of our students and encourage our schools to learn to pronounce names from other cultures. Please share the naming conventions from your culture with us by writing a comment in the box below.

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Teaching Business English and Project Leadership With Shark Tank

Hello, ESPers worldwide!

As we move forward with the ESP project leader profiles, I have become increasingly interested in how ESP project leaders get the “buy in” (i.e., support) of stakeholders for ESP projects. In this connection, I have found the TV program Shark Tank to be relevant. In this TESOL Blog post, I share how I have used specific episodes of Shark Tank to teach my students how to more effectively promote their business ideas in English.

What is Shark Tank? The show is described on its website as follows:

Shark Tank, the critically-acclaimed reality show that has reinvigorated entrepreneurship in America, has also become a culturally defining series. The recipient of the 2014 Emmy Award for Outstanding Structured Reality Program, the business-themed show has returned to the ABC Television Network for its sixth season.

The Sharks — tough, self-made, multi-millionaire and billionaire tycoons — continue their search to invest in the best businesses and products that America has to offer. The Sharks will once again give people from all walks of life the chance to chase the American dream, and potentially secure business deals that could make them millionaires.

For additional details about these tycoons, click on the show’s website link above.

There are three episodes of Shark Tank that I initially discovered on YouTube and shared with my students. Two of the episodes are success stories for the entrepreneurs seeking investments from the Sharks.

I used the three episodes with my classes at Kanda University of International Studies (KUIS) in Chiba, Japan. In one of my KUIS classes, the students are required to work in teams to come up with original business ideas. In this class, I use Kickstarter as a model for a crowdfunding video and presentation. (See an article about the top-10 crowdfunding sites for fundraising here.) The students in the class must also create presentations about business plans, and that is where Shark Tank comes in. In another KUIS class (my leadership seminars), the students must make presentations about their leadership projects (before and after these projects have been done).

By watching the Shark Tank episodes, the students are able to learn valuable lessons for making their presentations above. These lessons include:

  1. Have a strategy. Know what you want from your audience, and go out and get it! (“Grace and Lace”)
  2. Be sure that your plan is: 1) strong enough to overcome any attacks and 2) sufficiently attractive to investors! (“Coffee Meets Bagel” – the first 14 minutes)
  3. If someone tells you that you are going to fail, don’t necessarily believe the person! Get the buy-in of stakeholders by connecting with them on a personal level (“Simple Sugars”)

In addition to providing the lessons above, the three Shark Tank episodes can be taught as business case studies in the following way:

  • Set up a Shark Tank episode as a business scenario that your students must discuss in teams.
  • Then show your students the Shark Tank episode and explain how the Sharks responded.

For example, on the board in the classroom, list information about the entrepreneur in the Shark Tank episode. Such information could include: company, product, price, distribution, promotion, competition, financial data, entrepreneur’s educational background and professional experience, etc. List also the amount of money that an entrepreneur is seeking from the Sharks in exchange for what percentage of the entrepreneur’s company. Then have your students talk in pairs or small groups about the following as if they were the Sharks:

  1. Do you have enough information to know whether you would be interested in investing in the company?
  2. In view of the above, what other information (if any) would you want to have?
  3. What kind of deal would you want to make with the entrepreneur? Why?

After your student teams have answered these questions and shared their answers with the rest of the class, show in class the relevant Shark Tank episode. In this connection, I have found that it is helpful to talk about details of the episode in advance, take notes on the board while the students are watching the episode, and then go over the notes on the board as a class.

If your students are interested in business and/or leadership, check out Shark Tank. In my opinion, it’s educational and a lot of fun!

All the best,


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Connectivity With Google’s Cultural Institute

One of the greatest benefits of being online is the global connectivity it brings—connection to other people, other places, other perspectives, and, of course, other languages. Language teachers have been long aware of the connection between language learning and cultural ties, and are often very creative in bringing culture into the classroom and creating experiences for students outside of it, as well.

A current tool that TESOL educators might find intriguing for these purposes is Google Cultural Institute, which has brought Google’s unique technology to the world’s art galleries and museums. Once you’re on the Institute’s page, you can browse more than 6 million items that range from works of art, photographs, personal items from historical figures, and videos from multiple time periods. It is likely the only site on the Internet where you can be linked to a tour of the Bolshoi Ballet, a photo of Anne Frank’s diary, and graffiti from Buenos Aires street artists from the same home page! It is divided into three main sections: the Art Project, Historic Moments, and World Wonders, but because there is so much information available, I suggest taking the tour or watching the short video that Google provides to get started.

As I happily browsed collections, I brainstormed some ways in which I would use this site with TESOL educators. With an emphasis on bringing teachers’ backgrounds and life experiences into the teacher education classroom, I thought that an interesting project would be for TESOL educators to create their own gallery of images (one of the cool features of the institute) by choosing artifacts that represent their heritage, learning experience, and life experiences, and then sharing with their colleagues. This would give teacher educators great insight into the rich funds of knowledge that their teacher education students bring with them.

A similar activity could be conducted with English learners themselves, particularly at the beginning of a course or semester to help them get to know each other better, and to work on presentation skills as they explain their artifact choices in front of the class or to small groups.

In addition, the artifacts found on Google Cultural Institute would serve as excellent writing prompts for English learners, as teachers could post a photo or video and then ask a related question that students must write about—even something as simple as, “What do you think is happening in this picture?” or “Write five action verbs that are occurring in this video.” English teachers who also teach social studies content or current events will appreciate the primary source material that is available, and if you are using a textbook or reading passage about a historical event or geographic location, you can use the artifacts to build schemata for your students before, during, and after reading.

Just as one can easily get lost in a large museum, it is easy to lose yourself browsing all of the artifacts in the Google Cultural Institute. I’d love to hear additional ideas for using it in your classrooms!

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Learning About U.S. Advocacy From an International Perspective

The TESOL President’s Blog

In 1988, I saw an Eddie Murphy movie called “Coming to America.” At that time, I had not yet made my first trip to the United States, so I was intrigued by how people from other countries would experience America their first time there. Over the last 20 years, I’ve made many trips all over the United States, but as someone who has been based in Canada, in different parts of Asia, in the United Kingdom, and elsewhere for most of my life, I was excited about attending, for the first time, this year’s TESOL Advocacy and Policy Summit, which took place in Washington, DC, on 21–23 June. Approximately 90 TESOL educators attended the summit, which is a reflection of how this event has grown over the years; there were also a few participants from outside the United States, including me.

ACurtis_7-2015_Attendee Check-In

Advocates check-in on the second day of the summit.

The summit included talks and activities related to language education legislation and advocacy in the United States, and culminated in a day of visits to Congressional offices on Capitol Hill, where summit participants and U.S.-based TESOL members visited the offices of more than 100 representatives and senators. For me, one of the highlights of the summit was the keynote presentation by Dr. Libby Gil, who is the assistant deputy secretary and director of the Office of English Language Acquisition at the U.S. Department of Education. It’s important to note that she describes herself as a nonnative speaker of English, for whom English is a third language, so she has a lifetime of personal experience that informs her professional roles and responsibilities.

Libi Gil, Assistant Deputy Secretary and Director, Office of English Language Acquisition, U.S. Dept of Education, delivered the keynote address. Dr. Gil provided recent data that showed how ELLs are faring in the U.S. education system.

Libi Gil, Assistant Deputy Secretary and Director, Office of English Language Acquisition, U.S. Dept of Education, delivered the keynote address. Dr. Gil provided recent data that showed how ELLs are faring in the U.S. education system.

Another highlight for me was the workshop by Dr. Diane Staehr Fenner, who presented details from her book Advocating for English Learners: A Guide for Educators (2014), which has a foreword by John Segota, TESOL’s associate executive director for public policy & professional relations. Each summit attendee received a copy of the book, which is copublished by Corwin Press and TESOL Press. There were also presentations by representatives from the Office for Civil Rights and the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education at the U.S. Department of Education, as well as the Student and Exchange Visitor Program at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

ACurtis_7-2015_Networking Luncheon

Advocates chat with colleagues over lunch.

It says on TESOL’s website: “Affiliates have been part of the organizational structure of TESOL since 1969, when nine associations applied for and were granted affiliate status.” That page also explains that we now have more than 100 affiliates, with a total membership of more than 47,000 TESOL professionals. Of those 100-plus affiliates, most are outside the United States, but around 40 are in the United States, from Alabama, Alaska, and Arizona to Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. So, for me, another major highlight was the fact that most of the US affiliates—around 30 of the 40—were represented not only by TESOL members, but members who are on the boards of those U.S. affiliates, many of whom I got to meet, and who shared with me some of their concerns about TESOL: the field and the association. These kinds of conversations, though they may be brief and in passing, are a unique source of insights and input that I value greatly and for which I am very grateful.

L-R: Rosa Aronson, TESOL Executive Director; Andy Curtis, TESOL President; John Segota, TESOL Associate Executive Director; Libi Gil, Assistant Deputy Secretary and Director, Office of English Language Acquisition, U.S. Dept of Education; Firdavs Navruzov, U.S. Dept of Education Intern

L-R: Rosa Aronson, TESOL Executive Director; Andy Curtis, TESOL President; John Segota, TESOL Associate Executive Director; Libi Gil, Assistant Deputy Secretary and Director, Office of English Language Acquisition, U.S. Dept of Education; Firdavs Navruzov, U.S. Dept of Education Intern

Coming from Canada, I expected to learn a lot about the U.S. education system, and especially where and how language education fits within that, which I did. As part of that learning, I realized how different the U.S. education system is, even from Canada, which is geographically, culturally, linguistically, and in many other ways more like the United States than any other country. However, in spite of those differences, I realized that many other countries, including Canada, could learn much from the way advocacy for—and in some cases by—language learners and teachers is carried out in the United States. For example, in many countries, meeting senior politicians face-to-face, one-to-one, and “in the flesh” in the nation’s capital, would be unheard of. But in America, this kind of access to lawmakers is such an expectation that the fact that these kinds of meetings can happen at all may even be taken for granted by some.

In the 2-minute video clip we recorded during the summit, I emphasize the point that TESOL International Association is committed to advocating for English language teachers and learners worldwide. That is an incredibly ambitious goal—some would say, far too ambitious—given the fact that every country has its own unique educational history, policy, and practices. But having met and listened to some of our few but growing number of non-U.S. summit attendees this year, from Greece, Saudi Arabia, and France, I can see how the association may be able to help with—as well as learn from—advocacy efforts by and for language teachers and learners elsewhere in the world.

Andy Curtis

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Developing Writing Skills Through Personal Journals: Part 2

In today’s blog, I continue describing strategies for keeping a personal journal. In my last blog, I referred to personal journals as a tool for improving writing fluency and overcoming the problem of not knowing what to write about. As I also mentioned, I used this strategy at the suggestion of my writing teacher, and it helped me overcome my writing apprehension.

The issue that some students may face with keeping a personal journal, though, is their lack of experience, or perhaps the mundane character of this practice. So let’s look at some ideas that students can use to find joy in keeping personal journals.

Experimenting With Genres

The beauty of personal journals is that they don’t have a set genre. In other words, journal entries don’t have to and shouldn’t follow a particular model. In fact, I suggest that students aim for creativity in their entries by experimenting with different genres. For example, one day they can write a humorous story, another day a poem, or sometimes they can try writing in an academic style. They can also compose in the form of a letter, a report, or a memoir. Switching genres is a lot of fun, and hopefully it will help students discover new skills and talents they might not be aware of.

Describing Places They Visited

Travel experiences provide lots of opportunities for writing. For example, students can describe the place itself, the people they met there, their impressions about the place, and fun things they did. In addition to describing, they can also try practicing other skills, such as analyzing, comparing, and reflecting.

I personally like to visit national parks here in the United States; every summer, I try to go to a new National Park. There is so much to see there and of course lots to write about. Because I usually take an incredible number of pictures during my trips, I include them in my descriptions, too. They make my entries more interesting and lively and help my trips remain memorable (see the previous blog on incorporating visuals into journal writing). I know that several years later I will have a great time reading those entries!

Sharing Experiences About Food

I have several Facebook friends who post pictures of almost every meal they eat during their travels. What a fun way to share travel experiences with people in your network! Students, too, can make “food entries” in their personal journals by describing food they eat when they go on trips and including pictures of the different meals they try. In addition, it’s another great opportunity for them to learn descriptive vocabulary.

Describing Language Learning Experiences

When students describe their learning experiences, they develop reflective and analytical abilities and get used to noticing their learning styles and strategies. This is important for becoming self-regulated and more successful language learners. Not all students know what kind of learners they are. For example, they might not be aware of the strategies that work best for them to develop their vocabulary knowledge or reading skills. Or they may not be able to identify their strengths and weaknesses in writing. Without reflecting on their learning processes, it may certainly be difficult for students to monitor their language development and set goals for further growth. Personal journals can become an excellent venue for practicing self-evaluation skills. Becoming acquainted with their language learning strategies will help students know how to become more successful users of English. And, of course, when describing their language learning experiences, students should not dismiss the negative ones.

To help students become more reflective, you should encourage them not just to describe, but also analyze their learning practices. For example, let’s say they had a successful experience memorizing an interesting English expression and using it in a conversation with their native-speaking friend. What a wonderful experience to describe and reflect on! Students can ask themselves the following questions:

  • Why do they think they were able to memorize this particular vocabulary item effectively?
  • What or who helped them?
  • What was the context?
  • Do they think they can use the same strategy in the future?

These are all important questions to reflect on and to write down in their journal. If students keep describing such language-learning experiences on a regular basis, soon enough they will be able to make a list of their effective learning strategies and the ones they believe are not efficient for them.

As I mentioned in my previous blog, not knowing what to write about is a common writing challenge, both for native and nonnative speakers. If your students have this problem, they can try keeping a personal journal in English. I hope it will help them become not only better writers, but also more reflective learners.

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