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.
HOW THE HELL ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO FIX YOUR PRONUNCIATION ERRORS IF YOU CAN'T REMEMBER OR DON'T KNOW WHAT THE PROBLEM SYLLABLES ARE IN THE FIRST PLACE -- AND IF YOU DON'T HAVE ACCURATE AUDIO OF YOU MISPRONOUNCING THE SYLLABLES FOLLOWED BY A TEACHER PRONOUNCING THEM CORRECTLY?
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.
BUT WHY AREN'T YOU GUYS HELPING YOURSELVES BY RECORDING THESE FREE LESSONS ON YOUR OWN RECORDER FROM YOUR OWN DESK SO THAT YOU CAN HEAR YOUR OWN VOICE MAKING MISTAKES -- AND THEN YOU CAN HEAR ESTHER AND I PRONOUNCING THE SAME THINGS CORRECTLY?!
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 don't know why I even need to type this. I have already said, twice now, that EVERY YEAR WITHOUT FAIL, THE STUDENTS WHO MAKE THE MOST PROGRESS WITH THEIR PRONUNCIATION AND TONES RECORD THEIR LESSONS AND THEN STUDY THESE RECORDINGS IN BETWEEN CLASSES.
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.
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