Monday, October 2, 2017

BRENDAN TO THE RESCUE: I substituted for ALESN Mandarin I, Mandarin II, and a 2-hour impromptu Absolute Beginner Mandarin Workshop this past Saturday

Hi Gang,

There was some confusion at the end of last week due to an email miscommunication, and we almost cancelled all Saturday Mandarin classes for the very first day of the 2017-2018 academic year. Since I was free and I was really looking forward to classes starting on time this year, I volunteered to substitute teach / facilitate the first classes of the year for Mandarin I (regular teacher Evan); Mandarin II (regular teacher Arieh); and I also taught a 2 hour absolute beginner Mandarin workshop from 4-6 pm this past Saturday, which Tony Parisi (our Program Director and co-founder of the school) added at the last minute to help make up for our registration snafu 2 weeks ago. In other words, I taught 4 1/2 hours straight of Mandarin classes this past weekend. Yay.

I wanted to take a few minutes to summarize what I covered for Evan and Arieh, and for their students, to whom I gave this blog address so all attendees can review what we covered as well...

MANDARIN I: 1:30-2:45 pm:

After sitting in on Tony's absolute beginner Cantonese workshop at 12:15 pm, as well as helping new students find the correct classrooms for Cantonese or Korean 1, another Saturday ALESN class that started at 12:30 pm this past weekend, I taught week 1 of ALESN Mandarin I for Evan.

I handed out YMCA registration forms, answered a lot of questions about our program, and gave an introductory talk about learning Mandarin Chinese in general -- similar to but shorter than the same shpiel that I had given my own Thursday night Mandarin I class last week on their first night of the academic year.

Like with my own Mandarin I class, I stressed the importance of focusing on correct pronunciation and tones from the very beginning of each student's learning process. There was a young child attending this particular section of Mandarin I this past Saturday, so I could not tell my English language dirty joke that I have used for my Chinese classes this year to illustrate the importance of correct pronunciation for beginning language learners when communicating (or trying to communicate with) native speakers of the foreign language.

Instead, I read 5 or 6 G-rated examples of humorous mispronunciations of similar sounding pairs of words to the class from my own Mandarin Chinese textbook that I will be studying from at CUHK in Hong Kong next year. Some of the mispronunciation examples involved similar sounding syllables with the same tone combinations and others involved the same syllable combinations with different tones.

I stressed to the new and returning Mandarin I students in class how important it is TO BE AWARE OF THE POTENTIAL TO MISPRONOUNCE EACH NEW VOCABULARY WORD THEY WILL LEARN THIS YEAR, and I expressed my wish for each Mandarin I student in Evan's class that they will be aware of and care enough about these issues this year.

Following this, I spent a while discussing the textbook and explaining the difference between the Simplified and Traditional Character versions. I explained why any one student might want to purchase one or the other, for those of our students who intend to purchase the book, or why other students would want to download one version or the other for those who intend to find the book online. I did not know if Evan prefers one version over the other, or whether he will again teach characters this year, so I was very careful to ask all of Evan's students to NOT purchase the book until they ask Evan if he wants them to use one or the other version.

Saturday Mandarin I students are welcome to scan below in this same blog category for the long post that I typed last week for my own students explaining Simplified vs. Traditional and helping students to choose which version is right for them.

Next, we went over the SIMPLE FINALS:

a, e, i, o, u, and ü.

We went over these sounds and spent a few extra minutes discussing the last one, which does not exist in English. Again, I shared the "triple secret handshake hint" that I gave my Thursday night class last week, which is this: the ü sound of Mandarin Chinese is easily achieved with perfect pronunciation by saying "ee" as in the English word "me" but making your lips round as you would to make the "u" vowel sound, as in the English word "food." I am not sure if Evan will teach this vowel this way, but I am repeating the hint here for any of his students who decide to check out my blog.

From here, I briefly explained the 4 tones and the neutral tone, glossing over specifics, but letting Evan's class know how important it is to learn to properly place all 4 tones comfortably within each student's vocal range -- specifically within the range that each person uses for regular, everyday speech. I gave examples of different vocal registers saying all 4 tones: a squeaky female soprano type voice, my own baritone/tenor register voice, and a male bass voice. I explained that James Earl Jones (the voice of Darth Vader), were he to speak Mandarin Chinese, would say all 4 of his tones significantly lower in pitch than most other men, and much lower than any women, even those with low voices.

Following this, I wrote the bo po mo fo table on the board in the same arrangement that our textbook uses on page 2. We finished Saturday Mandarin I class by going over the first couple of lines from the left hand column of the bo po mo fo table, and I believe I answered some final questions about ALESN and about the textbook as students were leaving.

EVAN, please email me with any questions about what I did or did not cover. I recommend you just start over from scratch  as if next week were the first class of the year.

MANDARIN II: 2:45-4 pm:

Once the Mandarin I students filed out and the Mandarin II students took their seats, I handed out YMCA registration forms as needed and gave a brief summary of ALESN and our program. I explained to the class that I was not their regular teacher and I gave a brief summary of what I know of Arieh and his teaching style. I also suggested that his students check out Arieh's many excellent Youtube videos on learning and speaking Mandarin Chinese.

I explained to the students, many of whom I knew either from my own classes that I have taught in the past, or as classmates from Mandarin classes I myself have taken as a student at ALESN in past years, that my own current level of spoken Mandarin Chinese is somewhere between levels 2 and 3 of our ALESN program. I stressed to everyone present that while I feel very confident to speak for hours at a time in Cantonese when I visit Hong Kong, I am definitely NOT at the same level in Mandarin -- so I wanted everyone new to the class who didn't know me to understand that I was filling in as a favor, and that I would be more of a facilitator rather than a teacher for this first Mandarin II class of the year.

I answered some general questions about ALESN. I spoke at length about the textbook, explaining the difference between the Simplified and Traditional character versions of the book. Once repeat student, a Chinese lady with flawless standard pronunciation when we went around the class reading from the dialogue, said that Arieh may have mentioned in an email to his students that he doesn't mind which edition they purchase or download -- either is fine. I stressed that I do not know for sure that this is the case, and it might be best to wait and ask Arieh in person next week before actually purchasing a copy of the textbook.

Because this was Mandarin II, I assumed that everyone could already pronounce Chinese within an acceptable window of comprehensibility, so we simply jumped right into the first dialogue and vocabulary for lesson 11 on weather. 

I read all of the vocabulary words and had students repeat after me. I asked if there were any questions and I think 1 or 2 students wanted me to repeat 1 or 2 words to get the pronunciation and tones right.

From here, I read the dialogue out loud at a moderate pace from the pinyin, making sure to be as accurate as possible with syllables and tones, and then we went around the room and each student had a chance to read one line from the dialogue. We just repeated the short dialogue over and over until all 25 or so students had a chance to go. I made students read multiple lines if their first line was short.

I answered some questions about the dialogue and was about to start the first grammar point when time was up. 

ARIEH, if you have any questions about what I did or did not cover, feel free to email. Because this was a Mando II class and your students seemed really on top of their pronunciation as well as the vocabulary and dialogue, I recommend that you maybe go over the dialogue and vocabulary super briefly for 5-10 minutes and then jump right in to Lesson 11 Dialogue 1 Grammar Point 1 next week.


This was a 2-hour bonus Mandarin I-level workshop, the second of two for this past weekend, that Tony Parisi added last minute to the schedule as a sort of apology / bonus / peace offering for any disgruntled waitlisted Mandarin I students who may have been screwed over by the Google forms issue that happened 2 weeks ago.

I was happy to help out and teach this workshop. Because only 3 students showed up to the earlier workshop that Tony was going to teach, he cancelled the first workshop and asked those 3 students to hang out and join mine from 4-6 pm.

Basically, this was a 2 hour version of the Mandarin I class just mentioned above in this same blog entry. It was also almost identical to my first Thursday night class of the year, detailed at length in another entry below in this same section of this blog.

I am not going to spend much time retyping what I covered, because I literally covered the exact same material in this Saturday workshop as my class last Thursday evening -- WITH THE ADDITION OF extra time spent on simple finals, bo po mo fo, and tones. 

[I was also able to review for one, more advanced, beginner student Jeffrey the subtle pronunciation differences between the lines in the right side of the bo po mo fo table (ji qi xi, zi ci si, zhi chi shi ri). This is one of, if not the hardest single pronunciation stumbling block that our beginning students must get past on their journey to conversational ability in Mandarin Chinese.]

Because there were no young children in the 2 hour Mandarin Workshop, I was asked to tell my English language dirty joke previously mentioned, which I have been using so far this year to explain the importance of recognizing and correcting subtle pronunciation errors for beginning Mandarin learners. Everyone seemed to appreciate the SHEET VS. SHIT CONCEPT of correct foreign language pronunciation, as I will refer to it from now on. I was glad to share the joke. Hopefully it will help people to remember in a humorous and outrageous way how important it is to focus on correct pronunciation (and tones) from the very start of one's Mandarin Chinese studies.

I also shared many suggestions for audio and video learning materials that beginning Mandarin students MUST use to accompany their book studies and the classes that they attend.

We discussed:
  1. Pimsleur Chinese
  2. Disney and other children's DVDs dubbed into Mandarin with English language subtitles. I gave my own personal recommendations, focusing on the Harry Potter films (all of which come with 2 Mandarin audio tracks: Beijing and Taiwanese accented Mandarin!), as well as certain key Disney/Pixar titles such as Frozen and The Incredibles.
  3. Researching and finding one or more fun Youtube videos specifically on the bo po mo fo table as well as additional compound final sounds in standard spoken Mandarin Chinese.
I explained that I am going to require all of my own students this year to EITHER download or purchase the audio designed to go with the Level 1 Part 1 textbook that we use; OR to research, download AND STUDY MANY TIMES EACH WEEK FOR THE FIRST 1-2 MONTHS(!!!) one or more Youtube "bo po mo fo" pronunciation videos.

As mentioned above, we finished the 2 hour workshop by going over simple finals, basic tones, and the first column of the bo po mo fo table. I invited students to check out my blog as well as for more info about learning basic Mandarin Chinese and about our program in general.

I welcome any serious students from this workshop who think that they have time in their schedules this year to really (REALLY) study Chinese on their own each week, multiple times a week, to sign up for the waitlists to any of our Mandarin I sections, or to attend and excel at whatever section they have already been accepted to if that is the case.


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