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.

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