Last night was our second class of the year. When I asked for a show of hands regarding who had obtained a copy of the textbook, I was encouraged that most of you have -- either a physical book that you have purchased or perhaps a downloaded version of the book obtained however you chose to procure it.
Excellent. Thank you all (most of you) for actually doing your homework. As I mentioned, I had to get a bit "uppity" with my Monday night Cantonese I class earlier this week because 2/3 of that class did not download their free textbook or do their homework prior to their second class. Thank you all so much for NOT making this an issue with your class as well. I am encouraged...I don't like being nasty to my students. Thanks for helping me to be nice to you all!
Going forward, your weekly update emails will be divided into 3 basic sections:
- Class summary
Last night, after going over some basic ALESN logistics for some new students, I distributed the first of 3 handouts created by our school's co-founder Tony. You may download the handout that we covered here and the follow-up handout that we will cover in next class here. The first handout (already covered in class) began with 5 basic phrases, which we used to illustrate several points:
- The concept that every Mandarin Chinese syllable consists of 3 components: an INITIAL, a FINAL, and a TONE. I explained that the initial is simply the consonant that begins the syllable. The final is the vowel sound that makes up the rest of the syllable. Some of these are called "SIMPLE FINALS" (which we covered in class last night) and others are called COMPOUND FINALS, which we will learn in future classes. The last remaining component of each Mandarin Chinese syllable is a TONE.
- I then explained the 4 tones of Mandarin Chinese, as well as the "neutral tone," which happens at the end of a multi-syllable Chinese word pronounced in Standard North-Central China Mandarin, whereby the final syllable's original tone is "dropped" and that particular syllable is deemphasized and pronounced with no tone. We spent some time making the 4 tones of Mandarin Chinese on an "aah" syllable, like in the English word "father."
- I used representative words from Tony's handout to illustrate the sounds of each of the 4 tones of Mandarin: jia1 (house or family, with a 1 tone, or a high, level tone); shen2 from shen2 me (what, with a 2 tone or a rising tone); ni3 (you, with a 3 tone, or a falling rising tone); and da4 (big, with a 4 tone or a falling tone). [Those of you who have already started to study the handout will recognize that I used numbers following the syllables just now instead of the little "accent marks" above each syllable on your handout, which are actually referred to as diacritical marks by linguists. Eventually, I will download a pinyin font set for this blog, but for the moment, for this blog entry at least, it is easier for me to just use numbers after each syllable to denote the tone.]
We covered the most basic vowel sounds: 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. Remember the "triple secret handshake hint" that I gave you all, 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." Don't worry -- we will go over this again, as many times as it takes for the rest of the year until you either get this sound or you quit my class out of frustration.
Finally, we spent the last part of class going over the first 4 lines of the "bo po mo fo" Mandarin pronunciation table. Somewhere around this point in class, I shared a dirty joke emphasizing the need for learners of a foreign language to pronounce each syllable correctly. Please remember THE SHEET/SHIT PRONUNCIATION PARADIGM going forward. We will refer back to it many times during the coming academic year.
Once we finish learning the "bo po mo fo" pronunciation table during next week's class, you will be familiar with all of the possible INITIAL consonants of any Mandarin syllable.
We will continue with bo po mo fo next class, reviewing lines 1-4 and then finishing with lines 5 and 6. I had mentioned that proper pronunciation of lines 4 to 6 of this INITIAL consonants table will determine the accuracy of your Mandarin pronunciation for the rest of your life (or the rest of your time speaking Chinese on this planet) -- so it is very important to spend as much time as you need to learn this RIGHT NOW (at the beginning of your journey to learn Mandarin Chinese) -- AND TO GET IT RIGHT FROM THE START!!!
I only have one insight for you guys this week, which I discussed in my Cantonese I class this past Monday, but which I forgot to mention in your class last night:
That is the concept of each student recording the class on a pocket dictation recorder of some kind, or on your phone, and then going back and listening to the recordings each week to help improve your Chinese pronunciation and tones.
In this past week's Cantonese I class, I then went on to discuss 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.
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 promise all of you that if you do this, especially if you are having problems with the accuracy of your pronunciation and/or tones, you will see significantly more progress than you will if you do not record your lessons and if you do not study them between classes.
Your homework for next week's class is as follows:
- Get the textbook if you have not done so already. Please scan below in this same blog category for your class to find detailed information on the textbook. There is no need to ask me about the textbook during class; everything you could possibly need to know is right here, below, in this blog.
- Please read the previous entry for your class's section of this blog (right below this one) and download the intro pronunciation and tones audio AS WELL AS ALL OF THE VIDEO FILES designed to accompany your textbook. As I mentioned, I will be assigning these videos as homework for the rest of this academic year, once we begin the dialogues a few weeks from now.
- Please go on Youtube and spend 10-15 minutes finding and watching at least one Mandarin Chinese pronunciation video teaching the "bo po mo fo" initial consonants table mentioned above. As I suggested, the more juvenile and "froofy" the video, the easier it will be for you to remember the proper pronunciation of the 6 lines of initial consonants in this pronunciation table. Just do a search on Youtube for "bo po mo fo" and find a video that you like, that resonates with you and your own personal learning style.