Going forward, I will be organizing your weekly class blog entries into 3 main sections:
- Class Summary of what we covered in the most recent session at ALESN
- Insights into what we covered or regarding learning Cantonese at this particular level in general
- Homework, TO BE COMPLETED PRIOR TO THE NEXT CLASS (!)
Later on, this blog will contain various audio and video clips, Youtube links, etc. and it will become an excellent study resource and learning portal for you as more and more entries are added over the coming months. Beginning students have tended to all have the same concerns and difficulties, the same successes and roadblocks during their learning processes, regardless of the specific year that I have taught in this program. I look forward to sharing all kinds of insights from past years with you all as the months progress.
WHICH BRINGS ME TO A VERY IMPORTANT POINT:
At the beginning of this past Monday's class, I asked the 24 students present how many had attended the previous week's class (our first lesson of the year). 22 people raised their hands. That was excellent and nice to see. Thank you all for your continued attendance!
What was NOT excellent or nice to see was the fact that I then asked these 22 returning students how many had downloaded the FREE textbook and FREE mp3 audio files THAT THIS COURSE WILL BE TAUGHT FROM (!) and just under 1/2 of the class raised their hands.
What was NOT excellent or nice was the fact that I then asked how many students had listened to the mp3s designed to go with lesson 1 of the textbook, WHICH WAS THE HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT DISCUSSED IN LAST WEEK'S BLOG ENTRY WHICH YOU WERE ALL TOLD TO READ, which would help you all to lay the groundwork for this class regarding correct pronunciation and tones of Cantonese Chinese -- WHICH YOU ALL ALREADY KNOW WILL BE THE MAIN FOCUS OF THIS CLASS FOR THE ENTIRE ACADEMIC YEAR. Maybe 1/3, possibly fewer, raised their hands.
What was NOT excellent or nice was the fact that I then asked how many students read my blog, WHICH I HAVE ALREADY TOLD YOU WILL BE THE SOLE WAY THAT I COMMUNICATE WITH MY STUDENTS EACH WEEK TO SUMMARIZE WHAT WE COVERED, RAISE IMPORTANT POINTS FOR YOU ALL TO CONSIDER, AND PROVIDE THE HOMEWORK. Maybe 1/3, possibly fewer, raised their hands.
ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?!?!?!
You have all signed up to learn Cantonese Chinese, universally recognized as one of the top 5 MOST DIFFICULT mainstream World languages taught in the US today ( I believe that Chinese languages as a family, either closely followed by or tied with Arabic dialects, are universally considered the most difficult languages for native English speakers to learn, demanding the most class time AND THE MOST AT HOME STUDY AND PRACTICE TIME in order to learn the language properly).
Am I a babysitter, that I have to chastise and remind adults in THE ONLY free Chinese language continuing education program in all of New York City to simply do the bare minimum of what they would need to do in order to even have a chance of functioning in this language?
IF THIS BLOG ENTRY OFFENDS YOU BECAUSE YOU ARE ONE OF THE PEOPLE WHO DIDN'T BOTHER TO READ MY BLOG OR DOWNLOAD THE BOOK OR DO THE HOMEWORK LAST WEEK, THEN YOU HAVE 2 CHOICES:
- Stop goofing around and set aside time in your schedule to read my blog and do the homework every week from now on, PERIOD; or
- Quit my class and stop wasting your time and mine.
EITHER DO THE WORK EVERY WEEK FROM NOW ON, OR PLEASE QUIT MY CLASS.
Now, for the 1/3 of you all who actually did download the textbook, listened to the mp3s and read the various entries in the Cantonese I section of this blog going back to the welcome email to my class that I sent 2 weeks ago, THANK YOU.
I AM SORRY FOR THE 1/3 OF YOU WHO HAD TO SIT THROUGH APPROXIMATELY 17-20 MINUTES OF CLASS THIS PAST MONDAY WHILE I REVIEWED INFORMATION FROM MY BLOG THAT I WOULD NOT HAVE HAD TO MENTION AT ALL IF THE OTHER 2/3 OF THE CLASS HAD PAID ATTENTION, READ MY BLOG, AND DONE THEIR HOMEWORK.
To the one young lady who almost literally told me that I had wasted her time this past Monday because the class had moved much too slowly for her and she felt that she really only needed to be there for the last 10 minutes:
I really AM sorry; maybe you can help me to babysit your classmates from now on so that everyone does what they are supposed to do each week homework-wise, and then I won't need to repeat myself in class going forward.
This brings me to another point:
If you feel that the class is moving too slowly for you, you have 4 options:
- Stick with it until the lazy or "too busy" people drop this class and the remaining students begin to actually do their homework in between classes -- and then I assure you that the class will move at a very nice, productive clip;
- Become discouraged because you feel that I am wasting your time and quit my class. If this is you, GOOD -- you are obviously looking for an excuse to quit and please, by all means, let me be a jerk to you right now so I can give you that excuse;
- Switch to Tony Parisi's ABSOLUTE BEGINNER Cantonese Workshop at 12:15 on Saturdays, which will involve more opportunities for students to speak and less linguistic theory and language learning insights, but will use a different textbook that will not cover nearly the same amount of practical conversational Cantonese that I hope to cover in FSI Volume 1 by the end of this academic year. Tony Parisi is an excellent teacher -- in my opinion the best teacher in our program, in addition to being our school's co-founder and my own personal Cantonese Chinese mentor. I am certain that he would welcome any of you to his Saturday class.
- Switch to Hung's "Cantonese 1.5" class at 1:30 on Saturdays, which is comprised mostly of ethnically Chinese students who have been studying with Hung for years, already speak Cantonese with their families, and who don't care about or need the additional linguistic theory information that I provide. I can promise you that Hung, while a truly excellent teacher and a lovely human being as well as a good friend of mine, will NOT cover ANY pronunciation, tones, grammar, sentence structures, or ANY of the background explanations in the textbook that he uses. He will jump right in without mentioning tones for even 1 minute, and will skip 5, 10, 15 pages at a time in his textbook (basically anything or everything that might cover pronunciation, tones or grammar), in favor of ONLY reading the dialogues. This is his personal teaching approach and it is an excellent teaching approach for the right student. This might be the right learning approach for you. If it is, by all means, please take his class instead of mine.
One last thing about this, and then I will conclude my diatribe:
You do NOT need a high IQ to learn to speak Cantonese. There are many mentally handicapped individuals who cannot tie their own shoes, who can communicate with their caregivers in Cantonese. They are understood. You just need the right motivation to succeed in learning this language -- if you find yourself challenged or freaked out by the 6 tones that I am going to teach, for example.
We discussed many of these basic motivations at length during the past 2 classes: wanting to speak with your spouse or partner, your in laws or relatives here in NYC or abroad; wanting to speak Cantonese in a business situation in Hong Kong; wanting to learn Cantonese for personal enrichment and to open up opportunities for new kinds of social interactions with groups, romantic interests, restaurant meals, watching films...The list goes on. Each of you needs to figure out your own personal motivation to succeed in learning to speak Cantonese.
This past Monday, we did not cover nearly what I had intended to cover, because I needed to waste 17-20 minutes of the class reviewing crucial information that was contained in my blog entry from the previous week, which by a show of hands only 7 or 8 out of 22 returning students actually read. Sorry, but this is what happened.
If you want more progress and more opportunities to learn new Cantonese material in class, DO YOUR HOMEWORK. Then all I will need to do going forward is begin the new lesson each week.
After reviewing this important introductory material, I presented 3 excellent options for phrasebooks, which I recommended that each of you purchase to assist you during your personal journeys towards learning to speak Cantonese. I discussed the Berlitz phrasebook in Yale romanization; the Periplus phrasebook in Yale romanization; and The Right Word in Cantonese wordbook, also in Yale. I discussed advantages and disadvantages of each and I gave examples of why and when a phrasebook might be very helpful to each of you while learning to speak Cantonese.
Following my discussion of phrasebooks, I had intended to cover some basic phrases first and then begin explaining tones, but one of the students asked a very pointed question about the tones handout that I distributed. Because she was the only student to ask a specific question when I asked if anyone had any questions, I decided to begin with the tones sheet. This unfortunately meant that we didn't get to cover the basic phrases sheet, which is what we will begin with next class -- 2 weeks from now because the school is closed next Monday for Columbus Day.
I know that the tones sheet blew the minds of maybe 1/3 to 1/2 of the students in class this past Monday.
Alas, THIS exact sheet of paper, as well as the several pages on tones that we will cover in Lesson 1 of your textbook once we begin using the book 1-2 classes from now, will be the first hurdle or stumbling block that will cause a certain (hopefully small) percentage of students to quit this class.
That is fine. It is up to you whether you will allow yourself to be scared away. If you choose to be brave and stay, I will do my best to teach you tones. Tony Parisi does a very good job of teaching tones at a basic level in his Saturday workshop, if you wind up feeling that tones are too hard for you. I learned my tones from Tony and I never have a problem saying the wrong tone -- once I memorize a new word correctly. Hung does not cover tones at all, not even for 2 minutes, in his Saturday "beginner" class -- so that is something to consider if you feel that you do not need to spend any time learning tones.
For those of you for whom the tones introduction blew your mind, YOU are the students I was referring to this past Monday who will need to listen to the textbook mp3s and watch Youtube videos EVEN MORE TIMES EACH WEEK than everyone else.
YOU are the students who will need to focus on tones and do whatever you can to get them in your ear -- HOWEVER MANY HOURS OF LISTENING TO MP3S AND WATCHING YOUTUBE VIDEOS OUTSIDE OF CLASS THAT YOU NEED TO DO -- or you will get discouraged and quit.
Sorry, not sorry.
This is a fundamental truth about learning Cantonese Chinese as an adult. It is not a hobby for everyone. If you find yourself struggling in class over the next 1-2 months, you need to ask yourself how much time you have to devote to learning to pronounce the syllables and tones of this language CORRECTLY. It will do you no good to go through classes this year always pronouncing SHEET as SHIT.
Again, I apologize for not getting to the phrases handout. Because only one student had a specific question and it happened to be about the tones handout, that was our concentration for the remainder of class this past Monday.
I want to finish this section by stressing that each of you is in control of your learning process. If you want me to focus on something different from what another student asks a question about, for example, then YOU need to ask me another question and try to steer the class in the direction that YOU would like.
This also goes for the young lady who came up to me at the end of class to complain that I had wasted her time and she would need to decide whether to come back: If you want me to be able to cover the intended material each week, then help me to set a good example for your classmates so that going forward, we might find that 2/3 or 3/4 of the students have done the homework and have read my blog before each class.
Thanks in advance for everyone's understanding of this very crucial classroom dynamic -- which is a fundamental dynamic of a free, once a week, 1 hour per class, adult education program in Manhattan catering to individuals from many fields and walks of life with many different academic backgrounds and many different study and work ethics.
I only have one insight for you guys this week:
I shared with the class THE FUNDAMENTAL IMPORTANCE of each student recording the class from your own desk so that your own voice is most prominent in the recording, from now until such time as pronunciation and tones are no longer issues for you.
I have mentioned this concept for the past several years to all of my Cantonese and Mandarin students, and yet without fail, only 2 or 3 students ever do this. Surprise, surprise: these 2 or 3 individuals have consistently made the most progress in class with their pronunciation, tones, and basic conversational ability in the language.
I can only tell you guys what you should do. If you want to be as successful as possible as quickly as possible in a new endeavor, you should read and listen and learn as much as possible from other people who have already succeeded in this same exact endeavor.
I tell all of my classes each year that it has been proven time and again that one of the best, quickest ways to succeed at learning to speak any new language is to record your lessons and to record your own voice attempting to speak the language -- and to then spend some focused and meaningful time each week listening to and analyzing those recordings so that you can make constant and consistent micro-adjustments -- eventually allowing the learner to have accurate pronunciation that any native speaker would understand.
For some reason, only 2 or 3 students ever do this.
I can only tell you guys this; let's see how many people show up to class in 2 weeks with a recorder or with a smartphone set up to record the lessons.
Your homework TO COMPLETE BEFORE NEXT CLASS is the following:
- For God's sake, download the book and mp3s. Order a hard copy from Amazon in addition to the download if you so choose.
- Listen to the mp3s designed to go with lesson 1 of the textbook. In advance of me covering the material. So you will know in advance what we will be covering. So you can set yourself up to succeed over the next few weeks of class.
- Download the handouts from this past Monday here. Please pack the 2 handouts and remember to bring them to class 2 Mondays from now, because I will not have extras to distribute to people who were in class this past Monday.
- Review whatever you remember from the tones handout that was covered during our most recent class. ON YOUR OWN, research "Cantonese tones" on Youtube and browse around; listen to various explanations from different videos uploaded by various native speakers and teachers; and find one or more videos that explains the 6 tones in a way that YOU PERSONALLY understand, according to your own personal learning style and communication style.
The sooner students email me your links, the sooner I can add a blog entry update sharing the tones links with you all, so that each of you can benefit additionally from your classmates' research attempts.
Thanks for reading and good luck with your studies.
PLEASE DO NOT MAKE ME FEEL LIKE I AM BABYSITTING YOU GUYS THIS YEAR. EITHER DOWNLOAD THE BOOK, READ THE BLOG, DO THE HOMEWORK, AND RAISE YOUR HAND IN CLASS FROM NOW ON TO TELL ME THAT YOU ALL DID THESE THINGS WHEN I ASK, OR PLEASE QUIT MY CLASS OR TRANSFER TO A DIFFERENT SECTION AT ALESN.