Friday, September 29, 2017

Recap of our first Cantonese I class of the year at ALESN this past Monday, September 25, 2017

Hi Everyone!

Welcome to ALESN's Monday night Cantonese I class for the 2017-2018 academic year. I know that there was some confusion due to a snafu with the initial registration process this year. Some people did not receive an official confirmation email from Tsz Fong, our Assistant Director and the person in charge of the registration process, BUT you may have received a Google Forms confirmation saying that you were accepted to the class. From what I understand, THIS was the symptom of a registration malfunction last week that necessitated a completely separate, second round of registration. Luckily for most of you, this did not impact your ability to be in my Cantonese class, because most newcomers to ALESN want to study Mandarin with us.

Anyway, all of this aside, welcome!

This past Monday, I introduced myself and a bit about my background and my own reasons for studying Cantonese. I want to stress to all of you that so far, the ONLY place that I have personally ever studied Cantonese has been at ALESN or with ALESN teachers. I will be studying in Hong Kong next year, hopefully, but so far, I have only studied with ALESN teachers in ALESN classes.: 2 years with our co-founder Tony Parisi; 1 year with our other co-founder Kam Yau; 2 years with former teacher Ana Chiu; 2 years with former Cantonese III teacher Daniel (a high school student at the time that he taught for our program); and.3 years with current ALESN teacher Hung Choi (at Saturday ALESN classes and over past summers at his church with a small group of ALESN students).

All of the classes just mentioned overlapped and made up the first 3 years of my Cantonese studies from 2009-2012 -- with the sole exception of my studies with Hung, which occurred between 2013 and 2016.

I supplemented these classes with intensive self-study of at least 5 hours per week on average, and over 10 hours per week many weeks, if I include time spent watching and rewatching Cantonese language DVDs -- among my favorites the Harry Potter films, as I mentioned. We discussed a DVD store close to the school where you can purchase Chinese language dubs of many famous American and other Western pop culture films, and I also suggested getting any of the classic Disney animated movies or the more recent Disney Pixar films. I mentioned Frozen in particular as truly excellent in Cantonese with English subtitles. I think I got my copy for $5.99 or $6.99 from the store that I mentioned near the school.

In addition to self-study of my ALESN textbooks and handouts at the time plus my time spent watching DVDs over and over again, I spent A LOT of time attempting to speak broken Cantonese with anyone and everyone who looked even remotely Chinese. We will discuss THIS approach or strategy many times throughout the year as one of your best benchmarks during your learning process to gauge how well you are doing, what you ARE doing well, and most importantly WHAT YOU IN PARTICULAR NEED TO WORK ON. This last one will be different for each of you -- which is why is it so important that you really pay attention during your learning process.

I can show you what you need to learn, but only YOU can actually learn it!

I spent a lot of time this last Monday stressing to the class that this year's primary focus will be on accurate pronunciation and tones, and that it would be far better for any of you to learn 100 or fewer vocabulary words with acceptable, comprehensible pronunciation rather than the entire book and have no native speaker know what the hell you are talking about when you speak.

To illustrate this concept, I told the basics of a dirty joke that I learned as a 9 or 10 year-old at summer camp. The crux of the joke was the different meanings of similar sounding pairs of words: sheet vs. shit, piece vs. piss, and fork vs. fuck. To read a version of this joke, please refer to the Mispronouncing Cantonese section of this blog.

I mentioned how I plan to split up the class into 2 sections for the first half hour so that I can work with those students with pronunciation issues while my teaching assistant works with those students who are making steady progress in a way that their Cantonese is understandable when they speak. For more information on my plan for how I mean to divide class time going forward, please find the older blog entry below in this category specifically discussing how I plan to organize your classes each week.

I mentioned various ground rules, such as the official school rule about no eating or drinking in class, but our recognition that all of you might need to eat a snack or have a bottle of water or soda during class, since class is held around dinner time. If you do decide to eat or drink while in class, you must be tidy, and you must take your food trash with you when you leave.

After many minutes discussing my expectations for my students this year, we finally spent the last 12 minutes of class going over the sounds involved in the words used in lesson 1's dialogue in your textbook. For textbook information, please see the previous blog entry below in this category, which will give you all of the details about our book, where to get it, etc.

Though we didn't have much time to begin making these sounds in Cantonese, we discussed them briefly, and it is here that we will pick up next time. So...

YOUR HOMEWORK FOR THIS WEEKEND is to download the textbook and audio, skim through the introduction of the book as well as the first lesson up to page 12. AND, listen to the entire mp3 audio designed to go with lesson 1. Listen at least once, preferably multiple times.

You MUST listen to this first mp3 at least 3-4 times during the next several weeks as we cover the first lesson in class. It will set the groundwork in your brain to start recognizing the sounds and tones of Cantonese when you are not in class with a teacher in front of you to guide you -- and it will help you to create a good beginning study habit for yourself with this language.

You must do this -- and if you wind up having crappy pronunciation in class over the first few months, you must make even more time each week to listen to these mp3s EVEN MORE OFTEN!!!

If you cannot do this, you will need to quit my class. I am telling you this now so that there are no surprises for any of my students this year. If you make time EACH WEEK to listen to recordings and to watch videos over and over again of real native speakers pronouncing accurate beginner level Cantonese, you will set yourself up to succeed in this class and with any future Cantonese (or Mandarin) studies that you might want to pursue. If you don't set aside this time in your schedule right now, you are fooling yourself and you might as well not return to class next week.

We will begin to cover the lesson 1 material next Monday, starting with a recap of the dialogue and vocabulary involved, focusing specifically on the sounds of the syllables -- followed by an introduction to TONES.

Ah, yes -- TONES.

Well, the bad news is that tones can be very challenging for brand new learners of Cantonese; they will most likely be the hardest single factor that you will encounter as you figure out over a period of time whether you are willing to stick with this language and put in the amount of effort necessary over a period or months or years to be able to understand and speak it at the most basic level of effectiveness.

The good news is that I am here to help you, AND I WILL HELP YOU -- if you are willing to put in the time and effort.

See you all next Monday night.

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