Welcome to ALESN's Thursday night Mandarin 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. Other people showed up from the waitlist even though they have not officially been accepted into this section of Mandarin I. Still others were walk-ins, not having registered yet.
Everyone was welcome, and I was happy to have everyone there. Thanks for attending. Very sorry for the wacky miscommunication whereby the YMCA folks didn't realize that there were parent-teacher conferences in our regular room, which led to a 20 minute delay while I wandered the building with the janitor looking for an empty classroom. Thanks for everyone's patience while we figured that out!
Now, for a recap of last night's first class of the year:
I introduced myself and a bit about my background and my
own reasons for studying Mandarin. I want to stress to all of you that
so far, the ONLY place that I have personally ever studied Mandarin Chinese has
been at ALESN. I will be studying both Cantonese and Mandarin in Hong Kong
next year, but so far, I have only studied Chinese with ALESN at MS 131: 7 years of various level Cantonese classes, plus 4 years of various Mandarin classes. This will be the fifth year that I have taught beginning Cantonese for ALESN and the third year that I have taught beginning Mandarin.
As a Mandarin student at ALESN, I
supplemented my classes with intensive self-study of at least several hours per week and sometimes many more hours during certain weeks, if I
include time spent watching and rewatching Mandarin language DVDs --
among my favorites the Harry Potter films, as I mentioned. I believe that 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. If I did not mention this in class, please remind me next week and we will go over this.
In addition to self-study of my ALESN
textbooks and handouts plus my time spent watching DVDs over
and over again, I spent a fair amount of time attempting to speak broken
Mandarin with various Chinese people around town. 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!
spent a lot of time last night 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 may have told the basics of a dirty joke that I learned as a 9 or 10
year-old at summer camp. I cannot remember if I told you all this joke, but I know that I shared it with my Monday night Cantonese class. If I did not share this joke, someone please ask about it at the beginning of class next week and we will start with it before jumping into the intro pronunciation stuff.
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 Mnndarin section of this blog.
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 Mandarin 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.
many minutes discussing my expectations for my students this year, we
finally spent the last 25 minutes of class going over some very basic sounds of Mandarin Chinese.
We covered the most basic vowel sounds: a, e, i, o, u, and ü.
We went over these sounds and spent a few extra minutes discussing the last one, which does not exist in English. Remember the "triple secret handshake hint" that I gave you all, which is this: the ü sound of Mandarin Chinese is easily achieved with perfect pronunciation by saying "ee" as in the English word "me" but making your lips round as you would to make the "u" vowel sound, as in the English word "food." Don't worry -- we will go over this again, as many times as it takes for the rest of the year until you either get this sound or you quit my class out of frustration.
Though we didn't have much time to
begin making these sounds in class, we discussed them briefly. We also discussed the 4 tones of Mandarin Chinese for the final 5 minutes of class, which is where we will pick up next time, before returning to syllable pronunciation.
YOUR HOMEWORK FOR THIS WEEK
is to get a copy of the textbook (see my previous post in below under the Mandarin I category) and to read from the very beginning of the book (including all of the preface and intro pages explaining the layout of the book) up to page 8.
Now, obviously, you will have absolutely no idea what any of the stuff from pages 2-8 mean, but that is ok; I just want everyone to see what we will be covering beginning next Thursday, and I want you to be prepared in your mind to come to class and give your best effort to begin to learn to pronounce the sounds of Mandarin Chinese.
IN ADDITION TO GETTING A COPY OF THE TEXTBOOK (either purchasing a copy or finding one online...), YOU MUST EITHER GET A COPY OF THE MP3S OR CDS DESIGNED TO GO WITH YOUR TEXTBOOK (see below in my previous blog post about your textbook for info on the CDs/mp3s) OR YOU MUST RESEARCH ON YOUTUBE AND FIND AT LEAST 1 ABSOLUTE BEGINNER MANDARIN PRONUNCIATION VIDEO THAT TEACHES WHAT IS CALLED "BO PO MO FO."
You can actually type this into the search bar in Youtube and hundreds of videos should come up. I recommend the most juvenile, babyish, pink colored, Strawberry Shortcake cartoon-looking video you can find with annoying kids' voices pronouncing all of the basic syllables of Mandarin Chinese using the "bo po mo fo" pronunciation method.
YOU MUST EITHER LISTEN TO THE PRONUNCIATION PORTION OF THE TEXTBOOK CDS OR MP3S OR WATCH THIS YOUTUBE VIDEO AT LEAST 5-10 TIMES A WEEK FOR THE NEXT 1-2 MONTHS UNTIL YOU CAN ACCURATELY PRODUCE THE BASIC SOUNDS OF SPOKEN MANDARIN CHINESE.
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 or to watch this video EVEN MORE OFTEN!!!
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 Mandarin, you will set yourself up to succeed in this
class and with any future Mandarin Chinese 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
We will review the 6 basic vowels and begin to
cover this "bo po mo fo" stuff next week, focusing specifically on the sounds of the syllables. We will also again discuss the basics of TONES as a concept -- though most likely, the "meat" of that topic will be left for the third week of classes.
The bad news about tones is that they be very challenging for brand new
learners of Mandarin; 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. In fact, because I have been studying Cantonese for twice as long as I have studied Mandarin, I still make errors with my Mandarin tones every single time I speak. That is ok, though, because I am a work in progress and I am comfortable making mistakes on a regular basis as I work to improve my Chinese.
The good news is that I am here to help you, AND I WILL HELP YOU ALL YEAR -- if you are willing to put in the time and effort to help yourselves.
See you all next week.
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