Saturday, November 18, 2017

Cantonese I Class Summary, Insights, Homework Monday, November 13, 2017

Hi Gang,

Sorry for my delay in typing this past Monday night's class's blog entry. I performed in public for the first time in 8 or 10 years during a 2 minute gospel vocal section of a larger 35 minute long piece of new (classical) music last night, and I was a bit preoccupied with rehearsing for that last week during my free time that I might have otherwise spent typing this blog entry. Thanks for everyone's patience.

Let's review what we covered during our last class:


After reviewing the Vocabulary for lesson 1 on page 30 of your textbook, followed by lesson 1's dialogue's Recapitulation on page 3, I gave you guys a chance to break up into small groups and practice the very simple dialogue with  each other as a review of the material that we covered during our previous class.

A few students, including Joseph, had some very good questions related to pronunciation and tones, and we spent a bit of time clarifying certain syllables and discussing several hints / methods for practicing tones, including "singing" the tones on an "ah" syllable of phone numbers that you might see on subway billboards, etc. (at least the numbers 1-6 within whatever phone number you might be looking at, skipping 0 and 7-9). I also mentioned memorizing certain example vocabulary words that highlight the contrasting sounds between pairs or series of tones, such as words that have both a 2 and a 5 in them, so you can learn to distinguish the subtle difference between the "feel" of a mid rising tone and a low rising tone. Other example words we discussed contrasted the 1 tone vs. the 4 or 6 tone, to help cement the sound and "feel" of a high level tone with a low level or low falling tone, to help you get comfortable with the "feel" of the top part of your vocal register that you will be using to speak the 1 tone in Cantonese vs. the "feel" of the lower part of your vocal register that you will use for 4 and 6 tones.

I hope that everyone found these hints helpful. I explained how I came to my Cantonese studies during/right after several years of intensive sightsinging classes here in NYC, so I learned the 6 tones of Cantonese that we are teaching at ALESN (minus the high falling tone, which I added later on) with a musician's ear towards the subtleties between pitch levels and level vs. rising or falling intonations. Most people are NOT coming from this approach, but I explained how this helped me to cement the sound AND FEEL of my tones for my own voice and my own "inner ear."

This allowed me to get past the initial, perhaps boring, "bullshit" phase of learning Chinese rather quickly (the very first "from scratch" phase where I was obsessively concerned simply with "whether I got that right," or "whether I pronounced that right" in the first place) -- so I could turn my attention to grammar and sentence structures and learning lots of vocabulary. My hope for all of you is that you can each figure out what works best for your own learning approach, so that you can also quickly get past obsessing over pronunciation and move on to the much more interesting (and rewarding) secondary initial phase of beginning to learn vocabulary, grammar, and word order.

After reviewing lesson 1's dialogue and discussing strategies for improving pronunciation and tones, we turned  to lesson 2's vocabulary on pages 54 and 55. Even though there appear to be 31 new words to memorize, I broke them down for everyone and showed that there are really only maybe 23 new concepts to learn, with some repeating word endings, etc., making a total of 31 new vocabulary items. This will make these new words easier to learn for those of you who followed my explanation in class.

We will review this idea during our next class as well -- how to streamline your learning process for new vocabulary words by breaking them down and recognizing patterns, such as the pattern that we saw with the use of the word YAHN4 for person when describing someone's nationality. In English, we say "AmericAN" or "BritISH" or SenegalESE," but in Chinese (regardless of the dialect), you just give the name of the country and then add YAHN4 afterwards: "America PERSON" or "England PERSON" or "Senegal PERSON."

We then turned to the dialogue. We approached the Build-Up on page 32 and I don't recall finishing this (I haven't had time to listen to the recording I made of class, so I apologize if I am not remembering this properly -- busy week for me last week). I feel like we left off without properly finishing this dialogue's Build-Up, so this is where we will start next time.


In the interest of time, because I also have to type a Mandarin I blog entry today, I don't really have many insights today. Just that it is so, so, SO important to remember the subtle pronunciation and tones issues that we have been covering and reviewing over and over again. There is a reason I have been reviewing this stuff and really beating these concerns into the ground this year. Of course, for those of you actually reading this blog on a weekly basis, I am going to assume that you realize based on the subtitle of this blog as well as some of my early diatribes in both the Cantonese I and Mandarin I sections that my entire focus this year will be on the correct PRONUNCIATION of Cantonese and Mandarin at the most basic level for our beginner students.

You must must MUST do whatever you need to do to get past "the hump" in your learning process as quickly as possible where you are worried "whether you are saying that right," so you can move on and begin memorizing lots of vocabulary with some sense of confidence that you can pronounce that vocabulary in a way that a real native Cantonese speaker will understand what the hell you are trying to say.

You MUST get past this hump, no matter what it takes, so that you can turn your attention and any emotional energy you are investing in your new hobby or interest of learning Cantonese Chinese from the most basic worry about pronunciation and tones to the next step, which is simply learning as many vocabulary words as possible from our lessons and on your own, so that along with the basic sentence structures you are beginning to learn in class, you can start to substitute new words in and out of the sentences you are learning to express new thoughts, concepts, questions and answers.

THIS is the basis of the initial acquisition of a BASIC CONVERSATIONAL ABILITY in Cantonese.

We will talk more about this is class next time, and going forward whenever the mood strikes...


Your homework for next Monday is to LISTEN TO THE MP3 that accompanies Lesson 2, focusing on the Build-Up and Recapitulation of the dialogue at the beginning of the mp3, as well as the correct pronunciation of the vocabulary words at the end of the mp3 (I believe; it has been a long time since I have listened to the mp3s for this book -- someone please let me know if the vocabulary words are read aloud earlier during the recording instead of at the very end, following the chronological order of the text in the book).

In addition to paying attention to the pronunciation and tones of individual syllables, please also begin to pay attention to the interplay of tones as they function in real time, from syllable to syllable within any one sentence, creating a PITCH CONTOUR as the tones "bounce" from one to the next, on and on from the beginning to the end of each phrase or sentence.

We will talk more about observing and studying THIS in future classes.

Every sentence that you are learning in Cantonese can be approached 2 ways when you are studying and memorizing vocabulary and grammar:
  1. You can study and learn to read aloud the actual words, with each syllable's actual pronunciation and tone, over the duration of any one sentence; OR
  2. You can substitute an "aah" syllable or any other basic vowel syllable of your choice (perhaps even one you are having trouble with, such as the famous EUI), and you can "sing" each sentence on a vowel, simply focusing on getting the TONAL CONTOUR correct from start to finish.
I highly, highly recommend that ALL of you try the second method of study and practice in reading aloud from the book, which will significantly refine your accuracy in reading and pronouncing Yale romanized Cantonese while getting your tones right. Once you "get" the tones (once you "own" them and understand them at a DEEPER level than simply some abstract system numbered from 1 to 6), you will have an INTERNAL MEMORY of the sound and "vibe" of each tone for your personal speaking voice for the rest of your life -- or at least for the rest of the time that you decide to study Cantonese.

As a fun addition to your Cantonese studies from now on , I am going to start assigning weekly or every-so-often videos by my Hong Kong friend Cecilie Gamst Berg from her Cantocourse Youtube channel.

Here is your first viewing assignment, an absolute beginner video teaching the vocabulary words YAUH5 and MOUH5 (to have and to not have):

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