Monday, October 23, 2017

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.

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