Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Cantonese II Class Summary, Insights, Homework for Saturday, October 28, 2017

Hi Everyone (all 4 of you who attended class this past Saturday 😐),

Alas, I don't think this is going to become a permanent class. Based on our 4 student attendance last Saturday, most likely our next class will be our last.




This past weekend, we finished reviewing the grammar points for lesson 16, the first lesson in our book, and then we spent most of the class doing the drills beginning on page 12. After trying several repetition methods, we settled on each student reading both the left and right examples for each item, one at a time, going around the room for each drill exercise. We covered a fair amount of material, each student having a chance to read and then read/respond to several examples of each of the grammar points discussed in the drills.

We saw that some students were better than others at reading the Yale romanization. It takes a bit of time to learn, but once you learn it, you will have it going forward, to be used with whatever book Hung decides to teach from for the rest of the year, as well as in any other class at ALESN going forward that might use Yale romanization to teach Cantonese.


Not many this week.

Just that certain students are able to pronounce the Yale syllables and tones with relative ease while others are getting really stuck, in spite of the fact that their Cantonese is actually much better than mine. My suggestion to any student struggling with Yale pronunciation and tones would be to go to the same website link that I provided earlier in this section of the blog and download BOOK 1 and its mp3s from this same FSI Cantonese Basic Course textbook series. 

Once you have downloaded the PDF and audio files for book one, read the entire introduction and lesson 1 to that book AND LISTEN TO THE MP3 FOR LESSON 1 WHILE READING ALONG IN THE BOOK. This will teach you everything you could possibly need to know about how to read and pronounce Yale romanization, as long as you pay attention and listen critically as you read along in the text while the speakers on the mp3 read from the book. This should fix anyone's inability to read and pronounce Yale romanized Chinese -- especially for words that you guys already know!

In addition to this, I would go on Youtube and search for tutorial videos teaching how to pronounce Yale romanized Cantonese. They must be out there. If you find any good ones, please email me the links.


Since this is most likely going to be a 4-week workshop instead of a year-long course, I am not going to assign anymore homework, other than this:


You will need to be able to read and pronounce Yale romanized Cantonese in Hung's Saturday class as well -- especially if you want to learn at home on your own between classes by reading all of the many, many pages that Hung skips when teaching from the book that he uses!

If a miracle happens and we suddenly have 15 students in our Cantonese 2 class on November 11, you will definitely need to be able to read Yale going forward if this class continues for the rest of the year -- though as I mentioned above, that seems unlikely at this point.

Many thanks to everyone who has been taking this new class, and see you all in 2 weeks on November 11.

Cantonese I Monday, Oct 30, 2017 Class Summary, Insights, Homework

Hi Everyone,

Thanks to the miracle of technology and my fairly limited tome this week, I am typing most of this entry in the Blogger app on my phone while sitting in Li's Monday night Mandarin I class. Yay for technology...

Today was a tedious, but important class, in which we covered the material on pages 11 through 18 of our book. Fortunately, pages 19 through 22 (the remaining pronunciation material that we need to cover) is simply a reiteration of and elaboration on the initial sounds and finals on pages 11 and 12, which we spent most of tonight covering.


I began class with a brief review of the 6 tones of Cantonese, reminding everyone that we are combining the high falling and high level tones into one high level tone for simplicity's sake; better 6 rather than 7 tones to start, right? I again drew the tones diagram on the board and this time wrote out the 6 tones in Yale romanization on the syllable BO. The class repeated after me and I made sure that everyone voiced a solid 1 tone on bo (high level tone) before turning to the table of initial consonant sounds on page 11.

We noticed that everything in the first 2 lines sounds exactly like English. Line 3 presented some consonants that are similar to English but which, when pronounced properly in Cantonese, in effect sound like they are halfway between 2 different English language consonant sounds.

We saw (heard) that the J intial consonant in Cantonese, which we voiced with the sample syllable JA (pronounced like the English syllable "jah") is pronounced halfway between the sound of an English language "Jolly Jimmy Jelly George" and the final "ds" (dz) sound in "The Creature with Two HEADS." So, somewhere between a "j" sound and a "dz" sound. I explained that there will be some accent variation of poTAYto poTAHto going on with different speakers and that we will see this play out better once we start learning vocabulary.

Similarly, the CH sound in Cantonese is sort of halfway between an English language "ch" and the sound of the end of the word "caTS" -- as in "Brendan has two cats," which i do. Perhaps even more than with the J sound, the accent variations at either end of the TS vs. CH spectrum may be noticeable to students; in fact, many older Cantonese textbooks spell Yale's CH sound as "ts." This same variation in pronunciation is also reflected in different spellings of common food items on (Cantonese) Chinese restaurant menus, and may be seen in the choy / choi / tsoy / tsoi spelling variations of the Cantonese word for vegetable or dish/cuisine (as in "bok choy").

The rest of line 3 as well as most of line 4 is also pronounced just like the corresponding English language consonants. The exception, we saw, is NG, which does not appear in English as an initial consonant. It does, however, appear in between the words "sittiNG_On the desk" and "gettiNG_Off the desk." 

I pointed out that you have 3 choices for pronouncing the initial ng sound in Cantonese:
  1. (The choice I recommend) Learn to pronounce this initial consonant properly from the start. It's not that hard -- particularly since EVERYONE in the class was able to say "sittiNG_On the desk" / "gettiNG_Off the desk." There really is no need to cut a corner with this one. You can all say it already by slurring these English language words together, so why make excuses? Don't be lazy; just learn it!
  2. Your second option is to pronounce the NG as a regular N initial consonant in English, but hold it out slightly too long and really "dig into it," so to speak. In this way, I showed how my former student Francis was able to get away with saying in effect, "NNNNNoh5" for "I" or "me" in Cantonese. His use of this trick was subtle and eventually unnoticeable.
  3. I mentioned that most younger generation Hong Kong accent Cantonese speakers drop the NG entirely on many or even most words with an ng initial consonant, for example saying "oh5" for "I" or "me" instead of ngoh5. Our Saturday Cantonese teacher Hung is from Hong Kong and he (almost) never says the initial NG sound on any Cantonese words featuring this consonant. This is a 100% viable option for those of you struggling to make the NG initial consonant sound.
We saw that GW sounds like the beginning of the word "guava" (the fruit) and KW sounds like the beginning of the English word "quiver" (to shake, or a holder for archery arrows). And, finally, W sounds just like an English w.

From here, we moved to the table of finals on page 12, tackling them one column at a time. We began with variations of A vowels in Cantonese.

I explained that a single A not followed by any other vowel or consonant should be spelled "aa" in order to be consistent with the rest of Yale romanization. As a convention of the Yale system (so just accept it and move on), single A final sound in a Cantonese syllable is written with one "a" but pronounced like the English word "fAther." This same sound when combined with other vowels or consonants is spelled in Yale with two As (AA). So, GA is pronounced like in the English word "God." It should be written as "gaa" if Yale were 100% consistent with itself, but it is instead written "ga." Get over it.

The next 8 pairs of LONG and SHORT A-BASED VOWEL FINALS in Cantonese compare and contrast the differences in pronunciation of syllables involving one or two As:
  • AAI vs. AI
  • AAU vs AU
  • AAM vs. AM
  • AAN vs. AN
  • AANG vs. ANG
  • AAP vs. AP
  • AAT vs. AT
  • AAK vs. AK
In the first 2 cases, these A-based final vowel sounds are diphthongs. For the AA versions, you pronounce the first half of the diphthong as AA (like the English word "fAther"), in effect holding it out slightly longer before moving to the second sound in the dyphthong (either I or U). In the single A versions, the first half is pronounced as "uh" as in the English word "above," which in effect makes the first half of the diphthong go by faster and the second half appear to sound as if it lasts slightly longer.

As a example of why it is so important to be aware of and to pronounce the long AA vs. short A final forms correctly, I gave ji1 maah4 GAAI1 (Sesame Street) vs. ji1 maah4 GAI1 (Sesame Chicken). We will review these finals in column A again at the beginning of our next class.

 The second column of our finals table includes variations of vowel sounds based on E. We saw that a single E in Yale sounds like the English word "yeah." EI sounds like the vowel in the English word "gay." ENG sounds like somewhere halfway between "ang" in the English word "sang" and "eng" in "Englewoood, NJ." It is probably closer to "ang" in English, depending on the accent of the Cantonese speaker EK is like the end of the word "check" in English.

The third column involves a sounds foreign to English, EU -- which, depending on the accent of the Cantonese speaker, either sounds like a "French" "eu" sound (how I originally learned it from my first Cantonese teacher), OR sounds like "er" in the English word "her." I explained that while Tony Parisi, one of the two founders of ALESN, learned this as a French "eu" vowel from his teacher, Kam Yau, our other co-founder and an ABC (American Born Chinese) Cantonese speaker with her family in Brooklyn, pronounces this syllable as well as the variations in column 3 of this table as "er" like the English word "her."

EUI is the one Cantonese vowel that absolutely does not exist in English, no matter how hard I look for an example. It is NOT the sound of "boy toy joy Roy," even though most beginning students make this error and pronounce this vowel that way. "Boy toy joy Roy" is actually a separate Cantonese vowel sound, spelled OI and shown in the O finals column of our chart. 

EUI is formed by starting with the "French" sounding "eu" pronunciation of EU and at the end of the syllable,you shape your mouth like you are about to whistle. I asked the students to repeat after me and then we got some of the native speakers in the class to also say this vowel, and the students repeated after them as well. Though there were some subtle variations in pronunciation, it is important to note that neither I nor the Cantonese speakers in class sounded like "boy toy joy Roy" when saying this vowel.

EUN, EUT, and EUK were repeated by the class, and I explained the differences, while pointing out that EUN and EUK can show either the "French" "eu" sound or the "er" sound from the English word "her." EUT kind of sounds like the English word "foot." Not exactly the same, but close.

The book does a good job of explaining all of the EU based final vowel sounds of Cantonese in the long English language text portion on pages 19-21, which we will review during our next class. For now, please listen to the accompanying mp3 for lesson 1 and practice making these particular vowel sounds. Make sure that you do NOT sound like "boy toy joy Roy" when making the EUI sound!!! THIS IS SUPER DUPER IMPORTANT!!!

Column 4 features the I vowel finals: I by itself sounds like the English words "he" or "she." IU sounds like the English word "few." IM sounds like the English word "seem." IN sounds like "lean." IP sounds like a cross between "hip" and "heap" in English, closer to "heap" IT sounds like a cross between "hit" and "heat," closer to"heat." IK sounds like "sick" in English. This last one is subtly different than IP and IT.

Column 5 involves the O based vowel finals. Remember that O by itself in Yale romanized Cantonese sounds like "on" or "off" in English. OI sounds like "boy toy joy Roy." OU sounds like the English words "no" or "go." ON sounds like the English "on." ONG sounds like the English words "song" or "long." OT sounds like the English word "thought." OK sounds like English word "hawk."

The U column starts with the U sound, like the English words "food" or "mood." UI is oo-ee, like "chewy" chocolate chip cookies in English. UN is "oon" in English, like the sound of the word "rune." UNG is not the sound of "hunger" in English, but is rather like the sound of the vowel in the English words "could should would" with an "ng" at the end of the syllable. UT is kind of like a cross between the English words "foot," and "flute." I will help clarify the difference between the EUT and the UT sounds during our next class. UK is very close to the sound of the English words "look" and "book." Not quite, but almost.

Finally, the YU column in the table, similar / almost identical to the "German" umlaut U sound in Mandarin. This is a "pucker face" or "kissy face" "y" sound that follows certain initial consonants in Cantonese. This sound will make much more sense once we see actual words involving this pronunciation, and then we will have something to practice and learn. I will review this sound next time instead of describing it here. Please read the English language explanation of how to produce this sound in your book on page 19.

Following our discussion and repetition of the sounds of the Cantonese finals table, we reviewed the book's explanations of these various consonants, vowels, and vowel combinations from pages 12 through 18. Remember that pages 12 through 22 simply elaborate on the final vowel sounds presented in the table on page 12. We will cover the summaries of sounds on pages 19 through 22 next time, then review all of the Cantonese vowel sounds, and then move on to some drills at the end of our next class.


There are many insights that I could give at this point, but I will only give you one this week:

You MUST (whatever it takes -- and that will be very different for each student in the class) take the time to accurately learn all of the basic initial consonant and final vowel sounds of spoken Cantonese NOW -- starting this week and continuing for the next however many days or weeks until you simply get them. If you get them right away, then good for you and you won't need to spend much time on this phase of your learning. If any of these sounds are difficult for you, you must FOCUS ON THOSE SPECIFIC SOUNDS -- the sounds that you are the worst at pronouncing. 

Whatever you are the worst at right now, THAT is absolutely what you need to study and work on. THAT is THE ONLY THING that you need to study and work on right now.

I was mentioning to the Mandarin 1 workshop that I taught last Saturday that my main observation about our beginning Cantonese and Mandarin students at ALESN is that most of them never solidify their pronunciation and tones early on, so most of them have some degree of uncertainty every single time they speak, even when advancing to our higher level Cantonese and Mandarin classes. 

You MUST solidify the accuracy of your syllables and tones NOW, at this early stage, so that you won't be distracted for the rest of your time that you try to speak Cantonese with some kind of doubt, wondering "if you said that right." 

The successful students in our program get to a point fairly early on during their learning process where pronunciation and tones are NO LONGER AN ISSUE. Some sense of confidence is achieved where the learner knows that if he or she reads from the romanized Cantonese on paper or on a computer screen in front of them, a real native speaker Chinese person will absolutely understand what was said by the student, because the student will have pronounced every syllable and tone accurately. Eventually this happens during real-time conversations between the student and native speakers, but it must first happen when the student reads romanized Cantonese aloud or to him- or herself. 

There MUST be some sense of certainty and confidence that the rules of pronunciation and tones for this language have been learned and internalized, OWNED by the student before any real learning can take place.

Once the student has internalized and OWNED the pronunciation and tones, THEN he or she can begin to learn grammar and sentence structures and word order and vocabulary -- and THEN real communication can begin to take place. This is true when learning any new language.


Your homework for this week is to review the pronunciation of the initial consonants and final vowel-based sounds of Cantonese as described in the 2 tables on pages 11 and 12 of your book. Spend a good amount of time with this until you feel like you are making progress and beginning to understand how each consonant or vowel sound is produced, AND HOW IT IS SIMILAR TO OR DIFFERENT FROM ENGLISH (or from your first language if not English). 

Once you have spent some time with these 2 tables, please read or reread the English language elaborations on pages 12 through 22. We will finish covering this material next time.

The nerdier among you are also encouraged to preview pages 22 through 26 for some background and cultural information that we will mention, but gloss over, next time in class.

Finally, please take a look at the drills on pages 26 through the top of page 30, which we will hopefully spend a bit of time exploring towards the end of next Monday's class.

Thanks for reading and good luck with your studies this week!

Friday, October 27, 2017

ALESN Mandarin I Class Summary, Insights, Homework for October 26, 2017

Hi Everyone,

We had a very productive class last night. In fact, I think it was the most productive, jammed full of information, Mandarin class I have ever taught at ALESN. Thanks to everyone for paying attention and for doing your best with the syllables and tones during yet again another tedious (but important) pronunciation lesson!


After reviewing the top of page 4, we continued with new material from the bottom half of page 4 through the bottom of page 7. Remember that I explained that while ji qi xi demands a wide smile to voice the consonants properly, the addition of the umlaut u vowel (spelled without an umlaut as a convention of pinyin -- sorry, guys!) transforms the smile into a sort of tightly pursed-lips kiss. I asked you all to imitate me and then to watch our assistant teacher Esther voice the ju qu xu syllables at the top of page 4. We discussed the importance of proper lip / mouth / tongue alignment/placement when producing the different sounds that we are learning, and especially when DISTINGUISHING BETWEEN the different consonant sounds when you are producing them yourselves -- eventually within the context of words, within the context of "real Chinese."

The practice exercises at the bottom of page 4 compared and contrasted the vowels a, e, i, and u with the z, c, and s initial consonants. This mix and match approach, continued with different consonant and vowel combinations in the other sections on pages 5, 6, and 7, kept us all on our toes and forced everyone to listen and pay close attention as we moved from one sound to another, from one lip alignment to another, from one tongue placement to another.

Very tedious but very important, as I pointed out.

Page 5 compared and contrasted zh, ch,. sh, and r with vowels a, e, i, and u (but the regular u, not the umlaut one). We discussed how important mouth and tongue placement/alignment is when distinguishing between j and zh, q and ch, x and sh.

I showed everyone how one consonant sound can become the other and vice versa simply by changing the mouth and tongue alignment. I demonstrated morphing j to zh back to j; q to ch back to q; and x to sh back to x. Mandarin Chinese speakers really DO distinguish between these sounds. YOU NEED TO AS WELL, STARTING NOW AND CONTINUING UNTIL YOU STOP TRYING TO LEARN MANDARIN.

Even if you have not taken the time to accurately AND CRISPLY distinguish these sounds in your own pronunciation up to this point (I am talking to you, many of my former students and other students who have taken our ALESN Mandarin classes before), you NEED to learn to make very clear distinctions in your own voice, each of you from now on, when pronouncing these consonant and vowel combinations. Otherwise, to quote my dirty joke that I told during our first or second class, you will go through your Mandarin learning process pronouncing SHEET as SHIT. If you don't know what I am talking about, (re)read the earlier blog entries for your class, as well as the section of this blog entitled, "Mispronouncing Mandarin."

On page 6, we reviewed the chart of COMPOUND FINALS. First I pronounced each line and then I had everyone repeat each final in each line several times, one line at a time. We had Esther then say the same lines and you all repeated each final in each line after her as well. When  Esther's pronunciation varied from my "white person" pronunciation, I explained the differences either as my own foreign accent speaking Mandarin, or as a potential regional variation or accent within Mandarin Chinese itself.

For example, I cited the two different pronunciations of IU that I am aware of: Some Mandarin speakers with standard north/central China pronunciation voice this final as "IOU," much like in slangy English if I were to say, "YO, what's up?" However, my Fuzhounese Chinese Mandarin 2 teacher at ALESN several years ago, who spoke Mandarin as a second language with his Fuzhou regional accent from that specific region of China, pronounced this syllable as "IU," similar to vowel sound in the English word "few," if you were to exaggerate a bit.

We finished class by speeding through the combined mix and match consonant and compound final pronunciation exercises on pages 6 and 7. Please review these exercises over the coming week and come to class next Thursday prepared with any questions you might have. If you ask questions, Esther and I will take however much time is needed to help any or all of you to fix or fine tune any of these pronunciation combinations. If you don't come to class with any questions, I will assume that you have studied and practiced these on your own as much or as little as necessary so that next week when we repeat the pronunciations on page 7, everyone will get them all correct.



Please make sure to read any of the English language pronunciation explanations in the textbook that I may have skipped during class. These may prove helpful, especially with any problematic sounds that some of you might be struggling with. Remember that no two students are the same and that you may be having difficulty with a consonant or vowel that the person next to you finds easy -- or vice versa. 

The trick to navigating this introductory phase to our course involves each of you honestly assessing what you are good at and what you suck at -- if there is something you are unable to do as we go along with this pronunciation and tone stuff -- and then without attitude, without emotional considerations, and with as little frustration as possible, you just need to make a deal with yourself that you will simply shut up and take the time to fix these issues (any and all issues) so that pronunciation and tones concerns go away and you can focus on vocabulary and grammar for the rest of your time learning this language.

This is actually the main problem for most of our beginner Chinese students in both Cantonese and Mandarin at ALESN: they simply don't take the time to fix ALL pronunciation and tones errors or issues early on, right away -- no matter what it takes, no matter how many hours of independent study and Youtube video watching and mp3 listening and asking friends, neighbors, relatives to correct them over and over again -- and because of this, they are distracted by fundamental pronunciation errors for the entire duration of their Chinese studies (whether lasting months or years). 

Do yourself a favor: be ruthless with yourself RIGHT NOW. Honestly assess what you are currently good at and what sounds like crap, and just fix it. Just shut up and fix it. No matter what it takes, no matter how many hours it takes of mp3 listening and repeating Mandarin syllables or tones to yourself at home or on the subway or wherever. Just do it, so you can all learn this stuff NOW -- and then all you will need to do once we progress through the lessons and dialogues in our book will be to learn new vocabulary and grammar, without worrying about whether you are pronouncing it correctly. You will thank me and you will thank yourselves later on -- I promise you.

Also, at this point, I want to express that I am not surprised but nevertheless am incredibly disappointed that few to none of you are recording my classes.


I mean, come on, people -- I heard for myself in class this past Thursday that not everyone has perfect pronunciation, and to be honest, some of your pronunciations are pretty atrocious. It's ok -- I am not making a value judgment here; I am just being honest. Some of you have really crappy pronunciation at this point early on during the semester. That is ok -- OF COURSE IT IS OK! No problem. You have to start somewhere and this is a learning process.


Why aren't you making your lives easier by allowing yourselves to listen back to your own mistakes at home with no pressure from a teacher or from your classmates, with no issues of embarrassment in front of other people, so you can learn from your mistakes and fix them?!


I can only tell you guys what works. If no one wants to follow my advice, fine, no problem. But 6 months from now when your Mandarin sounds like shit, don't get upset with me. Get upset with yourself for wasting your own time. Given the choice, I personally would rather MAXIMIZE my study time with this language -- not MINIMIZE it. By recording and then really listening back to your lessons each week, you will be able to isolate AND REMEMBER exactly what you personally need to work on -- and then you can work on these specific things. No textbook or downloaded mp3s or videos can give you this.

So, I have again told you all this. And next week, we will see that 1 or 2 or perhaps none of the 10 or more students in class with pronunciation issues will have made any effort to record their lessons.

Oh well. Your loss. Doesn't matter to me; my pronunciation when reading pinyin aloud is frighteningly accurate -- because I have spent hundreds of hours working on it...


For homework, please download the mp3s and videos for our book from the links previously given in this section of the blog if you haven't already done so. When I start assigning the videos for homework, everyone needs to have them, so do this now if you haven't already.

Also, for homework, please review all pronunciation examples and exercises from pages 2 through 7. You MUST study this stuff on your own. It is non-negotiable. We have hundreds of people on the waitlist for our Mandarin classes. Please make time to study this stuff as much or as little as is necessary for each of you to come to class having absorbed the previous week's lesson and ready to begin the new material each week. If you cannot commit to yourself and to our class to study and practice making these sounds over the next few weeks in between classes, PLEASE QUIT NOW, so I can invite someone else from the waitlist to take your place. Thanks in advance!

Finally, for homework, I want each of you to make a list of the pronunciation and tone aspects or issues that you personally have trouble with or need to work on. Assuming I remember, I am going to ask for a show of hands next week as to who will have written down a list of the aspects of Mandarin that they currently suck at.

This is very important.

You can't go through your language learning journey like a zombie with drool dripping from the corner of your mouth as we repeat bo po mo fo syllables for these first however many weeks of classes. You need to honestly AND EMOTIONLESSLY assess what you are good at so far AND WHAT YOU SUCK AT SO FAR -- and just accept it and make a pact with yourself that you will do whatever it takes over the coming weeks or months to fix these issues so that the syllables coming out of your mouths sound like Mandarin Chinese and not some made up language that only you will understand.



See you all next week.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Cantonese I Class Summary, Insights, and Homework for ALESN Monday, October 23

Hey Guys and Gals,

This past Monday was a productive class -- focused again on tones, with a bit of syllable pronunciation thrown in.

Before I get started, here is an excellent Youtube video emailed by one of our students. It is an overview about learning Cantonese: why, what, and how. Please note that this video uses the jyut6 ping3 romanization system. We used to teach this system in our program and may one day go back to it. I recommend that all of my students eventually learn jyutping, BUT we will be using Yale romanization for the duration of our current Cantonese 1 course.

Below is another video sent by our assistant teacher Allison regarding the n-l pronunciation phenomenon in spoken Cantonese. This video is entirely in Cantonese, and I only watched it once so I got maybe 65-75% or so of what he was saying. The interesting thing for me when I watch videos like this in Cantonese, when they are about topics that interest me that I already know something about, is that I am able to fill in a lot of the gaps in my own vocabulary via context -- even if I don't understand every word that the speaker is saying. In this case, though I understood most of the language that this gentleman used to discuss the n-l phenomenon itself, I experienced many gaps in my knowledge pertaining to the specific words and phrases he used as examples of n vs l at the beginning of certain Cantonese words. This video also made me realize that I have gaps in my knowledge pertaining to vocabulary that is used to describe the structure of Chinese language and grammar -- language about language, so to speak. I look forward to watching this video several more times over the next week or two, to see (and hear) how much more I might be able to understand upon subsequent viewings...

Everyone is welcome to watch this video for one of two reasons:
  1.  If you do already speak Cantonese with your family like Amy Lam and some others in the class, please watch this video and listen to the examples that this guy provides of ng variations and the n-l phenomenon and when pronunciation variations are appropriate and when not;
  2. If you are an absolute beginner, just listen to the sounds of this video to hear a very educated, academic rendition of spoken Cantonese in the context of an academic discussion, most likely at a college or university in Hong Kong. This is SOPHISTICATED Cantonese, the kind of pronunciation you want to aspire to -- as opposed to some of the rougher versions of Cantonese that we might hear gangster characters speak in various Hong Kong movies.
He begins by discussing the ng phenomenon that we have already mentioned in class, whereby many Hong Kong accented native speakers will drop the ng sound from the beginning of certain qualifying words such as ngoh5 (I or me), making it oh5. As an example of this pronunciation phenomenon, I suggested to those of you who attend our Saturday classes that you pay attention to our teacher Hung and the way that he pronounces many common Cantonese words, eliminating the ng sound at the beginning of various syllables. Two other common words that Hung pronounces this way are touh5 ngoh6, hungry, which Hung pronounces as touh5 oh6; and ngauh4 yuhk6, beef, which Hung pronounces as auh4 yuhk6.

From here, the speaker discusses the n-l phenomenon, which I am happy to clarify to the best of my ability in class, if anyone is curious. I won't bring it up unless it will help to clarify a vocabulary item in one of our lessons, but I love this stuff, so if anyone is interested, please ask my in class.

Now back to English language supplemental learning materials:

If that last video wasn't enough to whet your collective appetites for one of the two reasons suggested above, here is a really cool "newish" website that I just discovered that must be under 1 year-old, because I don't recall seeing this or having any students bring this to my attention during last year's ALESN Cantonese 1 class (i.e. during  the 2016-2017 academic year). This appears to be a really cool website with a potential wealth of information. All you need to do is give them your email address and you will be sent a link for a free 127 page PDF textbook.

I have not yet had a chance to do anything other than download my free textbook, but the PDF looks amazing, with a huge number of links to other online resources, videos, etc. Like the first video link that I gave above, this resource is also in jyutping, but it appears to be excellent and I recommend it to everyone -- with the caveat that I will update this blog entry once I have had a chance to go through the entire website and read the entire ebook myself over the next few weeks.

At first glance, this appears to be an excellent additional free online resource for you all as absolute beginner Cantonese students:



This past Monday night, we began with the vocabulary on page 30 of your textbook. If you don't have the textbook by now, you need to get it immediately or you won't be able to participate in my class going forward. 

As I mentioned, though all of these are excellent beginner level Cantonese words, I only used the vocabulary and dialogue of Lesson 1 this past week to illustrate tones, tonal contours from one syllable to another and from one word to another, and syllable pronunciations. I was not so concerned with breaking down any grammar or sentence structures at this point. I am mainly interested in having my students participate in critical listening of the sounds of spoken Cantonese, as we begin to develop our most basic level 1 listening comprehension skills.

Following a preview of the vocabulary and some brief explanations of certain key words, I read the Recapitulation of Lesson 1's dialogue aloud to the class and asked you all just to listen to the sounds. I also had Allison read this aloud to everyone one time.

From here, everyone repeated after me beginning with the Basic Conversation Build Up on page 2. This will be our basic method going forward when we start a new lesson: a preview of vocabulary followed by a preview of the Recapitulation of the dialogue, followed by a breakdown of the words and phrases in the dialogue -- and then eventually followed by the class breaking up into small groups and Allison and I walking around and listening / correcting each of you as you practice the dialogues with your group partners. We did not break into small groups this past Monday. Instead, we went right into --

Our textbook's explanation of the 7 tones of spoken Cantonese, which I then distilled and simplified for everyone into a more manageable 6 tone system.

I spent maybe 10 minutes explaining and showing on the board via our tones chart how I will be combining the 7th or high falling tone with the 1 tone or high level tone. I explained, as the book does, that the high falling tone is slowly disappearing from the language and that for new learners during the initial stages of their journey towards conversational Cantonese, it is best to combine the high falling tone with the high level tone and learn to say both of these as simply the high level tone.

Some students asked excellent questions regarding the distinctions in meaning or intelligibility between the high falling and high level tones, and we finished the discussion with a general "blanket" suggestion that for now, everyone should combine your pronunciation of both tones into one accurately pronounced high level tone, per the suggestion of the book. I am fascinated by the evolutionary changes that Cantonese is currently undergoing such as the disappearance of the high falling tone, the ng phenomenon, the n-l initial consonant phenomenon, etc., so I am happy to discuss this at greater length in class if it will help students with their reading of the romanized text and with their pronunciation of the 1 tone going forward. Just let me know...

Following the examples on pages 4, 5, and 6, we practiced saying various tones on the same syllables, mainly si/sih and fan/fahn. We saw on pages 6 and 7 that the H in Yale is used to separate the tones of syllables into the upper register and the lower register of the speaker's voice. Remember that I pointed out (and the book explains) that if there is NO H at or near the end of the Yale romanized Cantonese syllable, the tone can ONLY be 1, 2, or 3. If there IS AN H at or near the end of the romanized syllable, then the tone can ONLY be a 4, 5, or 6. And once you notice whether there is an H at or towards the end of each syllable, the diacritic or accent above the syllable will tell you definitively whether it is a level tone, a rising tone, or a falling tone within the higher or lower register of the speaker's voice.

Don't worry; we will go over this again and again as the semester progresses. If this is confusing right now, don't worry; as long as you pay attention in class and listen carefully while you repeat the class material, this will all eventually make sense to you. I promise.

As a reminder, I asked everyone to please read the copious paragraphs of English language explanatory text in between the examples that I cited from the book. Class time did not permit me to teach some of this material, but it is in the book AND IT IS IMPORTANT, so you all will be responsible for reading this text and for asking me any questions about it during our next class. This goes for any English language grammar or vocabulary explanations in any subsequent lessons as well, if time does not allow me to teach bits of the material during our once a week lessons.

After reading the examples of various intonations when speaking the same sentence in English on page 9, as well as a slight variation at the end making it a question, I asked you all to read on your own the English language explanatory text on the rest of pages 9, 10, and at the top of 11. We will pick up next time on page 11 with "C. Consonants and Vowels."


In the interest of time, let me keep this brief, because I have some other work to do as soon as I finish typing this entry.

My main insight for you all is that this learning process is a marathon -- not a sprint. Or, more accurately, it will probably happen for each of you as a series of brief sprints with some longer stretches of marathon-style, long distance mentality studying and review of the material in between.

You may have some quick breakthroughs here and there, or you may feel like you are beating your head against a wall for days or weeks and then all of a sudden, the differences in pitch AND FEEL of the 1, 3, and 6 level tones might become very clear to you in a way that you can't believe you didn't see or hear before -- and which you will never forget once you understand the way that these 3 level tones function in relation to each other with your own voice and in the voices of people around you or with actors on tv or in films that you may watch.

I like to tell my students to expect this: the journey towards conversational ability in any new language seems to progress like a steady uphill slow climb for a while; followed by some kind of short, steep hill; followed by a comfortable downhill trot for a short time as a new concept is assimilated into your knowledge; followed by more slow but steady uphill climbing. Occasionally, you will find a level spot where you can appreciate the progress you have made and actually even FEEL your progress unfolding in your ability to understand a scene of a film that you couldn't comprehend before -- or perhaps in your ability to seemingly suddenly talk about a new topic with a native speaker in a way that was not possible just a day or two earlier.

The more each of you becomes aware of your own personal language learning odyssey, the better each of you can then tweak or "hack" your specific learning process to speed things up for yourself going forward. THIS is one of my favorite aspects of a well-conceived language learning process where the student really pays attention to the workings of his or her own mind during the various learning phases.


Your homework, as mentioned at the end of class, is to reread lesson 1 up to page 11, and then to preview the material from pages 11 through 22 -- which we will cover next week (to the best of our ability).

Remember: I said that, due to time constraints, I will be discussing examples from the pronunciation section spanning pages 11 to 22, but that I won't have time to cover all of the English language phonetic theory behind some of the sounds -- so it will be up to each of you to read and internalize this information on your own. It is valuable information and will definitely help some of you to make these sounds, but time will not allow me to discuss all of the material in these pages next week.

Finally, please reread 2 blog entries ago -- the one where students submitted Youtube videos. I have added at least 3 new videos, possibly 4 since some of you last read that entry. All of these videos are excellent aids to proper pronunciation of the 6 tones that we are teaching you at ALESN.

Thanks for reading and see everyone next Monday.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Cantonese II Class Summary, Insights, Homework for Saturday, October 21

Hi Everyone,

We had another small but successful class this past Saturday. After a slightly late start of 8-10 minutes, we jumped right in.

We reviewed the vocabulary for Lesson 16 (the first lesson in our FSI Cantonese Basic Course Volume 2 textbook) and then reviewed the dialogue in the Recapitulation section at the beginning of the chapter. First I read the dialogue out loud and then we had everyone repeat after me, making sure that we all understood the vocabulary and sentence structures.

Following my review of the dialogue, we covered the grammar notes for this chapter from pages 4 through the bottom of page 10. This took a while and before we knew it, class was over and it was time to go home.

Grammar points that we covered included:
  1. Past and "non-past" [present and future] verb forms, comparing things that we did or didn't do YESTERDAY (or we asked about whether these things were done yesterday) vs. things that we will or won't do TOMORROW (or we asked whether we would do these things tomorrow). Please refer to the charts on pages 4 and 5 for the distinctions that we drew between certain types of verbs such as sihk6 (to eat) and yauh5 (to have). Time does not permit me to repeat the lesson material here, but we covered multiple examples and everyone seemed to understand what the book was going for in its various explanations of these distinctions. Please review this material if it presented any challenges for you during class.
  2. Next we covered page 6, "past reference with uninflected verb to express general activity." We saw in the examples at the top of the page that if preceded by a time phrase that occurred in the past (yesterday or "formerly," for example), we did not need to use jo2, the standard past tense marker for Cantonese verbs.
  3. Continuing from page 2 to the top of page 3, we saw a distinction between verb + jo2 and verb + gwo3 for actions that occured in the past; the jo2 application in this case was the equivalent of our "-ed" at the end of a verb in English; whereas the use of gwo3 in this case implied whether someone had or had not experienced doing this verb before, at some time in the past. An additional example of this use of gwo3 occurs all the time in Cantonese textbooks from the 60s and 70s, where the authors seem to think that most Westerners or Americans had never tasted Chinese food before. Of course, this is an absurd concept for us today in Chinatown in NYC, but apparently this was a real thing in 1968 or 1970, when a Chinese teacher could ask a non-Chinese person with a straight face and complete innocence whether that non-Chinese person had ever tasted Chinese food before.
  4. I asked you all to read the rest of the English language text section on pages 6 and 7 yourselves, because we did not have time to cover this material in class. Since the book does a good job of explaining the language theory here, there is no reason for me to cover this stuff when time does not permit.
  5. On page 8, we covered the 2 different-meaning but similar-appearing usages of the verb phrase + laih4 construction used in this lesson: the first expressing the idea that someone has gone away, done something and returned, and then we are asking where they have been (with the understanding that they were gone but have returned prior to our questioning). The second usage was in situations where a response to a question contradicts the expectations of the person asking the question, such as: "Did you go to the movies yesterday?" "No -- I stayed at home all day and played Mahjong laih4."
  6. We briefly covered the vocabulary item daih6 di1 yeh5 (short for daih6 yi1 di1 yeh5) -- another of such and such noun, or the concept of "other things" or "something else."
  7. Finally, we went over the appropriate responses to a "You didn't do such and such, did you?" rhetorical question (or question asking about not doing something), most often using the aah4 sentence final particle. We saw that if someone asks in Chinese, "Your house doesn't have a phone, does it?", the correct response in Cantonese would be in effect, "Yes, it doesn't." This is different from English, where we are taught to say, "No, it doesn't." Conversely, if our house did have a phone, we would reply, "No, it does," which may be closer to how we might respond in English, depending on the speaker.
We will review this last grammar point at the beginning of next week's class and then finish the final Lesson 16 grammar point regarding the auxiliary or helping verb seung2, meaning to want to, or to wish to do another verb (pages 10-11). This is contrasted with the original meaning of the character when not followed by another verb: to think of something, i.e. "It occurred to me that..." 

Following this, we will spend the rest of class next week doing a selection of the substitution drills from pages 12 through 19. It is my hope that we will finish lesson 16 (the first lesson in our book) next Saturday and be ready to begin lesson 17 during the following class.

Please remember that I will not be able to teach on November 4, so our 4th class will be held the following Saturday, November 11. 

It is possible or perhaps even likely, depending on continued enrollment and whether Hung decides to switch to this same textbook for his 2:30 pm Saturday Cantonese 2 class, that November 11 may be our last class -- which means that this will have been a 4-week workshop instead of a year-long course. Let's see what happens...


Everyone did well with the material. My one insight is just that our class seemed to fly by this past Saturday. Part of it might be that I had been at the school sinne 12:15 pm and by 5:30 or 6, I was a bit burnt out; but part of it might also simply have been that there was a lot of material to cover here and we only had 50-55 minutes to go over everything.


For homework this week, please preview pages 12 - 19 in your textbook, which we will cover parts of next week. This will help us to speed through the material next Saturday, only stopping when students have specific questions about any of the grammar concepts.

Please also look at the "Say it in Cantonese" section on pages 20-21, where you are asked to translate from English into Cantonese based on the vocabulary and grammar of the lesson that we have been covering. I want to try to go over this as well next week, because these exercises are always helpful to all levels of speakers.

Thanks again and see everyone next Saturday.

Mandarin Class Summary, Insights and Homework for October 19, 2017

I am limited for time as I type this today. I just listened back to our class from this past Thursday and it was basically flawless; everyone did an excellent job of repeating the various tones, initials, finals, and the general material that was covered, with few if any glitches or pronunciation issues in the big picture of things -- over the scope of how everyone sounded with this material as a whole.

I was very happy with everyone's performance and progress in class this past Thursday and all I can say is: KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK!


We began class with a revision the 4 tones of spoken Mandarin Chinese, using the chart at the bottom of Tony Parisi's Mandarin 1 Handout 1 (see previous entry below for links to download both Mandarin handouts that we covered during class last Thursday). I also drew this same tone chart on the board. We reviewed the 6 basic phrases at the top of this handout and used them to illustrate some basic tone combinations. It is important to remember that though we learn the tones at first as isolated sounds, they actually function in rapid-fire combinations in real, everyday speech. I explained the tone contours of the 6 basic phrases and the class repeated after me and after our assistant teacher Esther.

Next, we reviewed the 6 simple finals. Because this was the third time we covered these sounds, I am not going to mention them again here now, but you are welcome to reread the previous 2 entries in this Mandarin 1 section of my blog for clarification on the 6 simple finals of spoken Mandarin as well as for hints on how to pronounce all 6 simple finals.

From here, we reviewed the bo po mo fo table of the 23 possible initials for any Mandarin syllable. Remember that we added Y and W to the table, which basically function as vowels but which nevertheless need to be included in the overall table of INITIAL CONSONANT SOUNDS for Mandarin.

I reiterated the importance of understanding and being able to replicate the subtle differences between lines 4, 5, and 6 of the bo po mo fo table. As I mentioned, this is an example of attention to detail that each of you will need to develop and continuously refine if you really want to learn to speak Mandarin Chinese accurately. You MUST learn to create separate, correct pronunciations for each consonant in each of the three lines 4, 5, and 6 of this table, and your pronunciation of each consonant must be accurate AND DIFFERENT ENOUGH FROM your pronunciation of the neighboring consonants on the same line of the table, as well as compared to other lines among 4. 5. and 6.

There is no getting around this. You MUST learn to make these sounds accurately and you must do whatever it takes to learn to do this -- or you will not be able to speak Mandarin Chinese with Chinese people. I want all of my students to rise to this challenge, embrace the need to work on this, and not shy away or accept "good enough" [CRAPPY] pronunciation whenever you encounter words containing these sounds in our lessons.

From here, we turned to Mandarin 1 Handout 2. First I read the 6 lines of dialogue at the top of this handout and the class repeated after me. Then Esther did the same thing and you all repeated after her. Remember that my sole purpose in reviewing these lines of basic Mandarin with you was to reinforce the tones in  the various real-time combinations that occurred when these lines were read aloud and spoken at a slow but steady pace. We were not so concerned with any of you necessarily remembering the vocabulary of these phrases at this time, though I can assure you all that these 6 lines of dialogue contain some of the most basic Mandarin that you will learn all year -- so my humble suggestion is that you DO memorize the lines and their meanings. We will see these phrases again and again -- even in our first lesson once we turn to the book.

We reviewed the 4 tones and neutral tone on the syllable MA -- first me saying these, then Esther, and then all of you repeating after each of us. I was very encouraged to hear everyone do a fine job of distinguishing between the 4 tones. Everything sounded good at this beginning stage of your learning process.

We then reviewed the tone chart at the bottom of handout 2, which is a slight variation of the one on the previous handout. From here, we began to cover the COMPOUND FINALS of Mandarin Chinese -- the 6 lines at the bottom of handout 2.

We covered all 6 lines, repeating each line 4 or 8 times: once or twice on each of the 4 tones. You will remember that some of the pronunciation differences were very subtle, particularly between AN and ANG; between EN and ENG, and certainly between all of the compound finals on line 4 of this table (beginning with UA).

Both I and Esther repeated each line several times and then we turned our attention to doing each line once or twice on each tone. I was again encouraged by everyone's ability to repeat each line accurately with accurate tones. Of course, you all made these sounds immediately following my or Esther's voicings of the correct pronunciation of each group of finals, but we have to start somewhere. The challenge will occur for each of you as we begin to ask students to read syllables and tones from scratch by yourselves, without repeating after a teacher. But, first things first -- baby steps...

From here, we turned to the book, covering pages 2, 3, and half of 4 -- various combinations of  consonants and simple finals all voiced on a 1 tone. Remember: though these syllables all literally sounded like baby talk (ga ga goo goo stuff), we discussed that practicing these exercises really WILL set you all up to succeed in your pronunciation of the words in the dialogues beginning with lesson 1. Once we get creative during our next class by adding compound finals AND TONES, we will have most or all of the BUILDING BLOCKS in place to begin Lesson 1 Dialogue 1.


I have already typed a lot for this entry and I am running out of time. My main insight here would be to remind you all of the importance of listening to the mp3s and of beginning to watch the videos that I asked you all to download for the book 2 weeks ago. I am going to assume going forward that the students who need the most help and support with their pronunciation and tones will also be the same students who will download the mp3s and videos designed to go with our book, and that you will also all take the time to listen to these materials, to watch these materials REPEATEDLY between classes as part of your study process that you are creating for yourselves to help you learn this language.

You all should know by this point what I have suggested that you do to do to maximize your chances of learning to communicate with Chinese people in accurately pronounced Mandarin.

So do it!

We will pick up next class on page 4 of the textbook and will move forward with the rest of the pronunciation exercises, hopefully finishing with pronunciation two classes from now. I am excited by the prospect of finishing these foundation exercises and moving on the some basic Mandarin Chinese in the form of Lesson 1 Dialogue 1, which I also hope to preview 2 weeks from now.


Your homework this week is very simple:
  1. Download the mp3 audio and the videos from the links that I provided 2 weeks ago, if you haven't already done so. This is important. Especially the videos, which I will begin assigning as homework once we are ready to begin Lesson 1 Dialogue 1.
  2. Review the 2 handouts that we covered during our last 2 classes and underline or highlight any problematic initial consonants, finals or tones. This will be different for each of you. Some of you might have no problem with the left side of the bo po mo fo table but a lot of issues with lines 4, 5, and 6. Others of you will have few or no issues with the bo po mo fo table but will have problems pronouncing the U with the umlaut. Still others, many of you, will have some confusion regarding your tones. I am certain that some of you will have problems pronouncing lines 3 and 4 of the compound finals table at the bottom of handout 2. Whatever your issues might be, underline or highlight them, make notes, and come to next class prepared to ask me and Esther to clarify the pronunciation of ANYTHING that you might be struggling with. This will be the first step for each of you in isolating what you personally and specifically need to work on at this stage of your Mandarin learning process.
  3. Continue to go on Youtube and search for "Mandarin Chinese pronunciation" or "Compound Finals Mandarin Chinese," or whatever you personally need help with. Find one helpful video and watch it 3-4 times. If you find a truly helpful video that clarified something you were really struggling with, please email me the link so I can share your discovery with the rest of class.
See you all on Thursday.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Cantonese I class summary, insights and homework for 10/16/17

UPDATE 10/23: I have removed the rant portion of this entry that was live on this blog for almost 1 week. I am no longer upset about the incident, which involved a conflict with a student regarding the distinction between "DIALECT" and "LANGUAGE." If you saw this entry prior to today, you would have read either the draft or the revised version of my diatribe, which has been removed because it did not serve the greater good of this blog.

Hi Gang,

Last night was an interesting class on multiple levels.

After a brief introduction, I reconsidered my assertion in my last blog entry for your class that I would tell everyone who did not hand in the homework that you would not be allowed to return until you had. The vibe for our class was different last night: more positive, and I felt that the remaining students were taking the class seriously, which was a pleasant change. Thank you all for that!

I was happy that I appear to have scared away several of the "lazy complainers" that I mentioned in my last 2 blog entries. This is a free program. I am not getting paid for what I do, and I don't need to put up with that kind of crap at the beginning of a new academic year. I appreciate that those of you who attended my class last night had a more serious, studious vibe, and that several people asked excellent questions and raised excellent points. Again, thank you all!


During last night's class, we again covered the 2 handouts created by our Co-Founder, Tony Parisi. If you need them, the handouts are  HERE.

We began with a review of the tones handout, this time voicing the tones on the syllable SI, just as on the sheet. I drew the 6 tones chart on the board and demonstrated the tones to the class via call and response. We will be doing a lot of this repetition of syllables and tones over the coming weeks.

One student asked about the HIGH FALLING TONE (the mystical "seventh tone" of spoken Cantonese"). I demonstrated the tone and went on to show the difference between the sounds of a high level and a high falling tone. I further explained that, while many educated native speakers of Cantonese speak with 7 or 8 tones (Hung, our Saturday Cantonese teacher, regularly speaks with 8 tones, adding a mid falling tone at times -- a falling intonation on syllables that are marked in Cantonese as tone 3, which we will learn as a mid level tone), we at ALESN want to make your lives easier, so we will be teaching 6 tones of spoken Cantonese in our program, which is plenty for any of you to express any thoughts you might have in Cantonese from the most basic words to the most sophisticated concepts that you might one day want or need to learn.

Following this, I pointed out ONE of the "secrets" to being able to read the Yale romanization system quickly, which is based on the student's observation of whether any one Cantonese syllable has an "h" at or near the end of the syllable. Using the chart on the board, I pointed out that tones 1, 2, and 3 will NEVER have an "h" at or near the end of the syllable, but tones 4, 5, and 6 WILL. Rather than elaborate on this concept, I merely asked you all to remember that I told you this -- so that when we do cover this concept in the book during our next class, you will be able to internalize it better as a guideline for you to learn proper Cantonese pronunciation and tones via our Yale romanization system.

From here, we turned to the phrases handout, which I wanted to use to demonstrate the sounds of the 6 tones and of various tone combinations in real Cantonese words, sentences and questions.

We saw that there were 2 typos on the phrases handout, so let me remind you of them before I summarize the rest of the lesson:
  • tone 3 at the top right of the page should be described as "mid level" -- NOT "low rising."
  • I was correct in class that "Jung1 mahn5" IS actually a typo and should be spelled "JUNG1 MAN2" with a 2 tone, or mid rising tone for the second syllable -- not a low rising tone as specified on the handout. The second character (mahn4) starts its life as a 4 tone (when the character stands alone) and changes to a 2 TONE, not a 5 tone, due to the phenomenon called TONE SANDHI, which I briefly touched on in class. One student corrected me on this as I was pointing to the tones on the board, and you caught me when I was unsure of myself due to a previous misunderstanding of the word "DIALECT" -- which I will explain below. I was in fact correct that this should be a 2 tone, not a 5 tone. Thanks to the student who pointed out the error, which was a typo.
I went through all of the words and phrases on the sheet one by one, demonstrating each line and having the class repeat after me several times for each new item. I showed you the contours of the tones inherent in the syllables of each word or phrase on the board. Again, there is a typo on the sheet for the very first vocabulary item at the top, Zung1 man2 (NOT mahn5), the word in Cantonese for the Chinese language (which, if said in Cantonese would be referring to Cantonese -- not to Mandarin or some other form of spoken Chinese).

From here, I explained the difference between DIALECTS and LANGUAGES, regarding the many forms of spoken Chinese that exist throughout China, which all share the same written character set (for the most part). I explained that while Western scholars have traditionally referred to these different spoken forms of Chinese as "dialects," they are in fact NOT mutually intelligible, and are therefore technically separate languages, as different or more different from each other as French is to Italian or Spanish.

As an illustration of the distinction between dialect and language, I mentioned that Scottish, Jamaican, standard British, and standard mid-western American all represent different dialects (different spoken forms or variations) of the English language. We recognize the variety of pronunciation among typical versions of each of these dialects as "accents" of spoken English, which we might hear on the street or in a cab in NYC -- or on TV, etc.

Each DIALECT is a collection of multiple related but different sounding REGIONAL VARIATIONS of the same spoken LANGUAGE. For the most part, DIALECTS are at least somewhat mutually intelligible. Because the different spoken forms of Chinese in many if not most cases are not mutually intelligible, they would be more accurately classified linguistically as separate spoken LANGUAGES.

Following a brief difference of opinion with a student regarding the distinction between dialect and language, I continued with the rest of Cantonese Handout # 1, focusing on the tonal contours of the words and phrases, which I showed on the diagram on the board while the class repeated each word or phrase.

After answering a few questions, we finished class, in a good position to begin lesson 1 of the textbook next week.


I felt encouraged by the class's ability to pronounce and distinguish between the 6 tones during the first part of class, and I felt further encouraged by everyone's pronunciation and tones during our repetition of the phrases handout. If any of you are finding this material difficult, please JUST DO THE HOMEWORK, because it will help you.

For example, I know that most of the people in class last night (at least 13 of you) did NOT do last week's homework. I know this because only 7 people emailed me their homework assignments last week and 1 lady did the homework but forgot to email it to me.

If any of the 13 of you who didn't do last week's homework is having a tough time with the tones, you are pretty much setting yourself up to fail and should question why you are taking this class in the first place. Had you simply done the 15 minute homework assignment, you would have had fun watching some videos on Youtube and you would have, through the process of doing the simple homework assignment due last night, gotten some extra practice with your tones and gained some extra insights into how the tones work when you step back and look at the "bigger picture" of learning to speak Cantonese.

My humble suggestion to any of you who did NOT do the homework last week would be for you to take 15 minutes out of your life, go on Youtube, watch a few videos on the 6 tones of Cantonese, choose your favorite(s) and email me link(s). This will only help you -- and as I mentioned in class last night, it will help your classmates as well, because I want to post everyone's links so that you can all watch all of the videos and learn even more about the 6 tones of Cantonese.


Your homework for next class will be:
  1. Please reread the last blog entry, watch the other students' tones video submissions that I have uploaded, and if you have not already, please go on Youtube, find a different tones video and email me the link so I can add your video(s) to the last entry below. This will only help you. I don't need these videos; they are for you guys!
  2. Please read or reread the intro to our textbook up to page 9. We will start covering this material during our next class.
  3. If you haven't done so already, get yourself a Cantonese language kid's DVD (or perhaps a Kung Fu DVD, as one student expressed interest in while chatting with me after class last night). In lieu of a physical DVD, you may also find Cantonese language material on Youtube with English subtitles. I want you all to make promises to yourselves to watch scenes from your DVD or Youtube video at least 50 times this year between now and June, for as long as you take this class. It is good to hear simple Cantonese language and sounds over and over again -- even starting now when you won't recognize any words yet. Beginner language is beginner language, and you will be amazed and encouraged at how many words, phrases and sentence structures you will begin to recognize in Disney's Frozen or while watching one of the Harry Potter movies, or especially during an episode of Sesame Street in Cantonese. Again, an excellent source of these DVDs for between $5 and $10 each is the combination DVD and shoe store on Eldridge between Hester and Grand on the west side of Eldridge -- less than 1 block from the school.
See you all next Monday.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Welcome to all new Cantonese II Saturday Workshop/Class Students: Summary and Homework for our first class

Hi Gang,

Welcome and thanks for signing up for my brand new Cantonese II workshop or class -- whichever it winds up becoming, in which we will have some fun learning the vocabulary, dialogues and grammar materials of FSI Cantonese Basic Course Volume 2, beginning with Lesson 16.


This past Saturday was our first class, and indeed the first time that I have ever taught this class. As I mentioned to the 6 of you in attendance, if I am able to gather 7 or 8 (or more) TOTAL students by week 4 of this class, we will continue every week from 5:30-6:30 pm for the rest of the academic year as a regular ALESN class. If not, I will probably make a decision to end after 4 sessions and we can consider this some kind of intermediate-level conversation workshop.

After a brief introduction, I jumped right into Lesson 16, beginning with the Vocabulary on page 16. If you have not already, please scan below in this same blog category, click on the link and download your FREE textbook and mp3s. I was encouraged that 50% of the class already had the book this past Saturday. Everyone else, please download and bring or print the PDF of the book (or at least Lesson 16) next Saturday.

Because this is the first lesson and I don't really know what people will struggle with or perhaps need to work on (and maybe there won't really be anything too hard in this lesson, since most of the students are ethnically Chinese and already speak Cantonese to varying degrees with family and friends), I won't spend much time this week pointing out any specific vocabulary items -- other than to suggest that you should all memorize the vocabulary for Lesson 16. These are good words, even if you don't have any interest in playing Mahjong or going swimming.

Following a review of vocabulary, I read the Recapitulation of the dialogue and asked you all to listen. Everyone pretty much seemed to understand the gist of what I read and most people also picked up on the specifics of the conversation as well. This was an excellent sign. Yay.

From here, we went through the Build Up section, where I read phrases and sentences at a time rather than entire lines of dialogue at a time. With one exception, everyone was able to repeat everything I said without issue, which was very encouraging.

This means that you are all at the right level in our ALESN curriculum, and that you might want to also consider taking Hung's Cantonese 2 class earlier on Saturdays, if you have time. He uses a different, in some ways more advanced, textbook with very interesting dialogues and vocabulary. This past Saturday, for example, he covered a conversation about fashion, specifically about purchasing a hat in a women's clothing store.

Topics of interest in our own Lesson 16 Dialogue 1 will be covered below in the INSIGHTS section of this blog entry.


In order of their appearance in the dialogue, let me point out some items of interest that you should all pay attention to, some of which we will cover as specific grammar items next week:
  • GWO3 HOI2 = "cross the sea" = traveling from Hong Kong Island to Kowloon or vice versa via Star Ferry, etc.
  • HAAHNG4 GUNG1 SI1 = "walk store or shopping mall" = window shopping
  • DA2 FO2 GEI1 = "hit fire machine" = old style Zippo lighter for smoking. Don't you love how Chinese words are put together? As an outsider learning this language at ALESN and on my own, I am always fascinated by the words that Chinese people have created to explain Western concepts and items. Another great one is the word for roller coaster (not covered in this lesson), which translates to "across or through the mountain car" -- which is exactly what a roller coaster does, if you think about it...
  • Mouh5 maaih5 dou3 daih6 yi6 di1 yeh5 aah4? The use of AAH4 as a sentence final question particle expressing a rhetorical or "you didn, did you?" or "that's right, isn't it?" meaning.
  • The use of LAIH4 as a verb particle to express 2 possible sentiments, the first being that someone did something different than the other person expected when he or she asked a question about it. We will explain this more during our next class. At least one student had a question about this at the end of class this past Saturday, so let me leave this one until we officially cover the grammar point in the text next week. To be honest, though I was familiar with this use of LAIH4 (or LEIH4), I don't know that I officially learned it as a grammar point during my own Cantonese studies (which continue to this day, of course). I am looking forward to teaching this point next week so that I myself can be very clear about it going forward -- both when using it in my own speech and when explaining it to students.
  • In case it is new for you, remember that CHEUT1 is one of several possible measure words for a movie or film.
  • We kind of glossed over the rest of the conversation because we ran out of class time, so let me leave off here until the next blog entry.

 Since this was our first class, your homework is simple:
  1. Download the free textbook and the accompanying 20 or so hours of mp3s from the link below in this same blog category, from the previous entry for your class.
  2. IF YOU NEED TO, please listen to the mp3 for Lesson 16, so you can practice your listening comprehension for this dialogue. Even if you feel that you don't necessarily need the practice, I still recommend that everyone listen to this 30 minute long mp3 because it will give you a chance to preview the substitution and other drills that we will begin next week to support the vocabulary and grammar points of this lesson.
  3. Everyone in class should get yourself ONE Cantonese movie with English (or Chinese if you can read AND UNDERSTAND THEM) subtitles that you will enjoy watching over and over AND OVER again for the rest of the time that I teach this class, to assist with your listening comprehension process for the vocabulary and phrases that we will be learning. You would be surprised how much of this lesson material appears in your average Jackie Chan movie or in Disney's Frozen in Cantonese or whatever DVD or Youtube video you might choose. Intermediate level language is intermediate level language, and the odds are very high, for example, once you internalize the usage of LAIH4 as a verb particle in either of the 2 applications that we will learn next week, that you begin hearing this in a Harry Potter movie in Cantonese -- or certainly while eavesdropping on various random conversations in and around Chinatown.
Thanks and see everyone next week!

Friday, October 13, 2017

Mandarin I Class Summary, Insights and Homework 10/12/17

Hi Everyone,

We had a very successful class last night. Though I was disappointed in the percentage of students who read the blog last week (I am typing this stuff FOR YOU -- not for my own health), I was encouraged with how many students came to class prepared with the book and ready to resume our study of tones and the basic syllables and sounds of Mandarin.

Please make sure you check this blog once or twice a week every week from now on. (Of course, I realize that only the people reading this blog will know to check this blog -- what a conundrum...)


We began by reviewing the 4 tones of Mandarin Chinese. I drew the same table on the board that appears in the first handout from 2 weeks ago (available for download in my previous blog entry in this section below). We covered the sounds of the tones on an "aah" syllable (the first of the simple finals, which were the next thing that we reviewed last night).

Following everyone vocalizing the 4 tones as well as the NEUTRAL TONE on an "aah" vowel, we chose the "bo" syllable from the first line of the bo po mo fo table of Mandarin initial consonants and did the same tones on this syllable. I explained the concept of the neutral tone a bit deeper last night than the previous week (don't worry; we will cover the neutral tone many more times in future classes). From here, we had our assistant teacher Esther read the 5 syllables of "ma" on all 4 of the tones as well as the neutral tone and you all repeated after her. I pointed out the nuances of what we heard, and at this point, we reviewed the 6 simple finals of Mandarin Chinese.

Again, for review, the 6 simple finals are:

a, e, i, o, u, and ü.

We spent a good amount of time on each of these sounds, focusing on the e, the 2 possible sounds of the i, and the problematic ü, for which I again shared the secret pronunciation hint mentioned during our previous class (see below in this blog category for that explanation).

From here, we moved on to the bo po mo fo table, and this time were able to cover all but the 5th line in some depth. As I mentioned, each student's ability to discern the subtle differences between line 4, 5, and 6 of the bo po mo fo table, and your relative abilities to reproduce these sounds accurately will determine each of your potential speeds with which you will either learn this language or quit out of frustration.

This is a simple fact of learning Mandarin: You MUST be able to get these initial consonant sounds correct (lines 4 through 6) and be able to flow seamlessly from one to another back and forth between syllables beginning with these consonants if you ever want to even hope for some ability to communicate with Chinese people in Mandarin.

I want all of my students to know this before they get any deeper into this learning process.


Please take this VERY seriously and focus on learning to say these specific sounds NOW before you move forward with learning anything else that I will teach in future classes. You will thank me later.

Next week, we will review all 6 lines, focus again on the subtle differences between lines 4, 5, and 6, and then finally move to the textbook for basic bo po mo fo syllable practice WITH TONES added in!



I don't really have much to type here today, because I basically just expressed my insights about the material from last night's class above.

If I were to share any additional insight right now, it would simply be this:

Please be ruthless with yourself when learning to pronounce Mandarin Chinese.

I want each of you to behave like the crazy tennis player who curses himself and hits himself with his own racket every time he misses a shot. Think John McEnroe, for anyone who remembers his antics from the 80s. Be very, VERY hard on yourself and complain (TO YOURSELF) every single time you screw up your pronunciation or tone.

Every time any of you mispronounces anything in this class or with a native speaker of Chinese going forward (once you start trying to speak with people in Mandarin), I want each of you to say to yourself under your breath, "I suck," and I want each of you to commit to fixing any errors you may have made with your pronunciation and/or tones, so that the next time, or the next time, OR THE NEXT TIME, you will do better and eventually pronounce that syllable or word within the threshold window of intelligibility that I mentioned during our first class. 

It is imperative that you are somewhat BRUTAL with yourself and that you FEEL EMBARRASSED as much as possible each time you make a mistake early on during your Mandarin language learning process for 2 reasons:
  1. You will develop the thick skin necessary to let all mistakes roll off your back without allowing any one mistake in class or out in the real world to discourage you enough to make you quit learning Mandarin. You MUST develop this thick skin, or you will go through the entire time that you spend studying this language MUMBLING in Mandarin because you will not be confident enough to just "put it all out there" and have genuine, from scratch, interactions in Chinese with real Chinese people. You will always second-guess yourself, and that will not help you enjoy this learning process.
  2. By being very hard on yourself from the start, you will take this process seriously and you will simply and quickly fix your errors, ALL OF YOUR ERRORS, instead of making excuses as to why you can't pronounce such and such syllable properly.
I have seen #2 in action time and time again, AND IT IS BULLSHIT. I have heard all of the bullshit student excuses before, and I have made most of them myself at some point...

Usually the one that goes like this:

"Oh, well, you know -- It's GOOD ENOUGH for me to just say it that way. I know it isn't "right," but [I am not Chinese or whatever other bullshit excuse you want to insert here] and it's good enough for now."


Be hard on yourself. I certainly will be hard on you in class, as you all know by this point if you have paid attention and read my blog.

I want people to quit this class because learning Chinese is not for everyone. 

Each new learner who is not ethnically Chinese and who didn't grow up speaking Mandarin with their grandma as a child MUST make a firm decision TO PERSEVERE while negotiating all of these weirdnesses of Mandarin Chinese early on -- like the 4 tones, and the ü, and lines 4, 5, and 6, of the bo po mo fo table, and eventually such mundane stumbling blocks as the correct pronunciation of the Mandarin Chinese word for "New York," which we will learn in Lesson 1 Dialogue 2.

Those who don't make this decision early on -- those students who don't get just a little bit PISSED OFF and who don't say to themselves, you know what, I AM going to succeed at learning this language even though I am having a hard time pronouncing it -- those are the students who will either quit my class or who will stay in class for the "hang out" factor while wasting their time, mine, and the collective time of all of their classmates, who will be burdened with listening to an unnecessary extra amount of really crappy Mandarin pronunciation for the rest of the year.

There is no shortage in this world, or at ALESN, of really badly pronounced beginner-level Mandarin Chinese. Make a commitment to yourself now, each of you, that YOU will not be one of the people who goes through an entire academic year in our program and yet can't even tell me what your name is in Mandarin by next June.


Your homework for next week is to get and bring the textbook with you.

To download the mp3 audio files for at least the pronunciation and tones intro section of your textbook, sent to you last week and the week before in this blog column.

To download the videos from the link sent last week, also below in this blog column.

AND FINALLY, to go on Youtube and spend 15-30 minutes watching "bo po mo fo" and "Mandarin Chinese tones" videos, which will help you begin to iron out any kinks in the way your particular ears process these sounds that are very different from English, or from whatever your native language might be.


See you all next week.