Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Cantonese I Class Summary, Insights, Homework for November 6, 2017

Hi Gang,

A smaller but successful class last night, and I am happy to report that it was our last pronunciation and tones class. We are right on schedule compared to what I envisioned for the amount of time I wanted to spend covering these two most important beginning aspects of Cantonese this year. Thanks to everyone for bearing with this material and for doing your best to pronounce everything accurately and with proper tones. Yay.


We began class last night with a review of the table of initials at the bottom of page 11 in your textbook. Remember that lines 1 and 2 all sound like English language initial consonants. We discussed that the j sound in Yale romanized Cantonese is sort of like a cross between the sound of "jam jelly Jimmy George" and the "dz" or ds" sound at the end of "the creature with 2 heaDS." I mentioned that to be safe and to go for the most accurate pronunciation possible for me as a white outsider second language learner, I split the difference. I mentioned that along the potAYto potAHto tomAYto tomAHto pronunciation continuum for the j sound, one end has it sounding purely like "Jimmy jelly jolly" and the other end like "heaDS."

We saw some other potential accent variations in the next entry on line 3: the ch sound of Yale romanized Cantonese. On one end of the spectrum, we have an almost English language "ch" sound, like "church Charlie Chaplin" but with a slightly wider "smile" to the mouth when pronouncing the sound. On the other end of the pronunciation spectrum, we have the "ts" sound at the end of the word "caTS," as in, "Brendan has 2 caTS." To be safe, again, your white teacher splits the difference. I pointed out that KETCHUP, perhaps the only famous mainstream English language word to come from Cantonese, historically has had 2 different spellings on bottles here in the US, based on 2 different romanization systems' spellings of the ch sound of Yale romanized Cantonese: ketCHup, based on the "ch" spelling of this sound as in Yale; and caTSup, based on an earlier romanization of the same exact Cantonese sound as "ts." Remember that I touched on this last time giving the example of choi3 (vegetable or food/cuisine in Yale) vs. tsoi3, an alternate romanized spelling of the same Cantonese word.

Line 4 presents one issue: the ng initial consonant, which I touched on last time as well, so I will only mention here that all of my students need to choose one of the three possible ways to pronounce this initial consonant and then stick with it and get really confident at saying it so that this sometimes difficult initial sound is not difficult for you. My recommendation is that you simply learn to pronounce ng as "ng" and that you do NOT do one of the other 2 shortcuts that I mentioned. If you can pronounce the initial ng properly when you want to, you can always drop it and say oh5 for I or me if you want to adopt a hip Hong Kong accent.

Line 5 presented no issues to students.

From here, we turned the page and spent a good amount of time reviewing the table of final syllables at the top of page 12. We spent more time on column 1, the "a" related vowel-finals of Cantonese as spelled in Yale romanization. I spent a fair amount of time clarifying the differences between the single a short vowel finals in this column and the double aa long vowel finals. The one exception in the column is actually the first final, the single a by itself without any other final sounds attached. To simplify spelling, though this should be written as "aa" in Yale to preserve consistency, it is shortened to a for appearance purposes on the printed page -- so says our book. Personally, I feel that Yale should have kept this sound as "aa" -- as it is spelled in jyutping, another romanization system that we have used in the past at ALESN.

Thus, "Neih5 hou2 ma3?", where the "ma3" is an aa sound like in the English word fAther, not a single a sound as in the English word "Above."

Please practice and review the sounds of the long versus short aa and a finals in column 1, listening to the mp3 from lesson 1 of your book as many times as necessary until you are clear on the differences between these sounds. Remember: Sesame STREET vs. Sesame CHICKEN...

Column 2, the "e" related vowel finals, did not present any issues for students. Remember that kek features a slightly different e sound than the sound of the e in je, gei, and geng.

The third column, EU is the most challenging set of vowel finals for new students. Because I discussed this last time, I just want to mention 2 key points: First, please remember that eui is NOT the same as oi. If you pay attention to nothing else from this one class I have taught, let it be that eui when pronounced properly DOES NOT SOUND LIKE oi. You must learn to make these 2 vowels sound different -- either now or eventually as the year progresses. You must, so do it.

Secondly, remember that the eung and the euk sounds have a spectrum of accents ranging from the French sounding "eu" vowel that we discussed in class on one end to the "er" sound of the English word "her" on the other end of spectrum. I also discussed this in my last Cantonese I blog post.

The 4th i vowel column basically sounds like the "ee" sound of the English word "free," except for the last example: syllables ending in ik. Example words sik1 (to know a skill or to know a person, place or thing) and sihk6 (to eat) were discussed. Both of these words sound like the English "sick."

Remember for the o vowel column that a single o final vowel by itself in Cantonese sounds like the English "on" or "off. We discussed the various other o finals that can be created by combining with additional final sounds mentioned in column 5.

Column 6, the u vowel final sounds, all sound like "oo" as in "food," except for ut and uk, as in fut and guk, both of which sound like the vowel in the English language word "foot." I pointed out that, counterintuitively, the sound of cheut1, to go out, though it uses the eut vowel, is pronounced by some native speakers in our class on one of of the patAYto potAHto accent continuum to sound almost identical to the ut final in column 6. Don't get hung up on this -- just be aware that some native speakers will pronounce eut and ut as almost identical sounds.

Finally, the yu pucker sound as in jyu, gyun, and kyut, was explained. This is the same sound as the umlaut u of Mandarin and it can be a tough sound for beginner students, so make sure you pay attention to it and get it right if it is hard for you.

From here, we touched on the more salient points of the English language text elaborations on all of the sounds just mentioned. I suggested that any students in class who learn more kinesthetically should pay special attention to the exact alignments and placements of the lips, tongue, and other parts of the vocal apparatus mentioned in these detailed descriptions, because they may help you. For other students who learn by listening and imitating the teacher or mp3s, I recommend that you still read these portions of the text, but maybe skim them and then forget about the text from pages 12 through 22 -- unless you need help making any one particular initial consonant or final sound.

Following our review of these notes as well as a few that we did not cover last time, we moved through some Culture Notes from pages 22 through the top of 24. The book does an excellent job, in English, of explaining some basic Cantonese Chinese cultural considerations that will affect your understanding of the language from the start -- foremost among them word order when giving someone's title and last name in Chinese. Remember that Mr. Jones, Ms. Lee, Doctor Wong in English all translate to the Cantonese word order of Jones Mr., Lee Ms., and Wong Doctor.

We don't really know enough of the language yet to put the [Sentence] Structure Notes into proper perspective yet, which we covered on pages 24 through 26. Instead of me recapping them here, please just reread this material on your own and keep it in the back of your mind as we start to learn the dialogues and move forward with new vocabulary and grammar concepts in future classes.

Finally, we finished last night's class with a quick review of the vocabulary list on page 30 and a repetition of the Recapitulation of Lesson 1's dialogue on page 3. We will repeat Lesson 1's dialogue again at the beginning of next class and then go around the room and have everyone read lines from the dialogue. Because this is a short one, we may or may not break into small groups for you all to practice while I go around and correct folks. We will spend most of next class beginning lesson 2.


In the interest of time, just one insight this week, which is the same one I gave my Mandarin I class last Thursday, as we just finished the pronunciation and tones intro stuff in that class as well:

Each of you needs to do whatever is necessary FOR YOU to learn consistent proper pronunciation and tones of these Cantonese syllables within a window of what is acceptable and understandable when a native speaker is listening to you speak, in order for this person to understand what you are trying to communicate in Cantonese.

For some of you, no further pronunciation work will ever be needed because you have already been speaking and listening to basic Cantonese for your entire life as a result of your family and upbringing. If this is you, great! Now you can focus on learning vocabulary, grammar, sentence patterns, etc. and you will be on your way towards speaking progressively more and more interesting and useful Mandarin.

For others, you will need to put in more time, a lot of time, ALL OF YOUR SPARE TIME, if you really want to be able to communicate with speakers of this language in a way that they will understand you instead of scratching their heads and shrugging their shoulders, or having to revert to English during your conversations.

This is ok, if you fit into the second category.

If you do fit into the second category, don't whine about it. Just make a deal with yourself that you will keep working on your Cantonese pronunciation and tones until you no longer need to work on your Cantonese pronunciation and tones. Pronunciation and tones are the two most important initial aspects of your Chinese studies, and you MUST MUST MUST eventually get them right, at any cost.

It is only after you no longer have to worry about pronunciation and tones that REAL LEARNING can begin. Only then can you confidently begin to acquire vocabulary, sentence patterns, grammar, syntax (word order and related concepts) -- and only then can you begin to speak accurate Cantonese with your friends, relatives, in-laws, etc.


For homework this week, please review all of this pronunciation and tones stuff. We are now officially done with the pronunciation and tones intro part of the class. We will review Lesson 1's dialogue next week and then move on to lesson 2!

If you have not and you need to, please review the tones videos further down in this section of the blog. I have added many additional videos, sent by students days and weeks after the assignment was due. They are all good videos and have something to teach you about the 6 tones of Cantonese Chinese. In addition, I have posted other videos in the previous postings in this category that will help with pronunciation and with providing a general overview/context for your Cantonese studies this year.

Your main homework for next week is to review all of this pronunciation and tones stuff for as long as you need to, and then to preview the vocabulary and dialogue for Lesson 2 on pages 54-55 and pages 32-34. 

See you all next week.

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