It was a busy end of last week and weekend for me. I am limited for time to type this entry, so let me get right to it:
Last Thursday, we first reviewed the simple finals, the bo po mo fo table (focusing on lines 4, 5, and 6) , and then we spend the rest of class covering the rest of the compound final exercises on pages 6 and 7, as well as WITH TONES added in on pages 8 and 9. We covered the table of all possible tone combinations in two syllable combinations on pages 9 and 10 at the very end of class. This table puts everything together for you, because in real spoken Chinese, no one tone exists by itself. All sentences and conversations are made up of multi-syllable words and phrases, combining any number of possible tones in real time, as quickly as you or your conversation partner can speak the words you are trying to communicate.
In order of what we covered, here are some points to keep in mind, starting with our review of the simple finals and bo po mo fo stuff at the beginning of class:
Remember that o always sounds like "on" or "off" and that the u with the umlaut is a specific pinched / puckered sound that MUST sound different from the regular u sound.
BO PO MO FO TABLE:
Remember that you MUST get the correct pronunciations of lines 4, 5, and 6 (with 2 different simple final i vowel sounds), and that your ability to accurately produce the sounds of 5 and 6 as well as to differentiate them from each other will determine how well a Chinese person will understand you when you speak. These sounds (lines 4, 5, and 6) appear in almost every single Chinese sentence in our book and you MUST get their pronunciations correct at any cost -- whatever it takes, however many hours of practice and study and listening to and imitating mp3s it might take you.
Bottom line: if you do not put in the time now to fix any errors you might have in pronouncing lines 4, 5, and 6, you WILL speak shitty sounding Mandarin for the rest of your life. Depending on how bad your mispronunciations of these consonants might be, Mandarin speakers will range from being very tolerant and eager to understand what you are trying to say to cringing, shrugging their shoulders and walking away from you with a perplexed look on their faces. So, fix any issues with these consonants NOW.
PRACTICES B.1.A THROUGH B.3.E., PAGES 2-3:
Our review of these consonant - simple final combination syllables verged on ga ga goo goo baby talk at times, but you all did very well here. Pages 2 and 3 are the easy ones. Make sure to study these if you had any issues during our review. These are the most basic syllable sounds of Mandarin.
PRACTICES B.4.A THROUGH B.6.J., PAGES 4-5:
Ahhhh -- now came the hard stuff: comparing and contrasting the initial consonants in lines 4, 5, and 6 of the bo po mo fo table, but this time with all kinds of various simple final vowel sounds. Make sure that you guys remember that the i vowel after a j, q, or x sounds like "ee" in the English word "see," whereas the i after line 5 consonants (z, c, s) sounds like a grunt/place holder and after line 6 consonants (zh ch sh r) sounds like a variation of the same grunt -- slightly different, but definitely NOT an "ee" sound.
Remember that the z sound in Mandarin is NOT "zoo" but rather the sound of "dz" or "ds" in "the creature with two heaDS." Remember that you need to pretend you are scraping peanut butter or something sticky off the roof of your mouth with your tongue in order to have the correct tongue placement for zh ch sh r, and that the r sound in Mandarin is NOT "red rover" but rather the very beginning of the English word "red" said in super slo-mo and stopping right before the turn-over from the initial "r" sound to the "ed" vowel and final consonant. The Mandarin r is one of the hardest sounds for new learners to make. Please see previous blog entries for elaboration on how to make this sound. You have several choices, which I touched on previously in the Mandarin I section of this blog.
PAGES 6 AND 7: REVIEW OF THE COMPOUND FINALS WITH VARIOUS INITIAL CONSONANTS:
We reviewed all 6 lines of the compound finals, which I discussed in detail during my last Mandarin I blog entry. Remember that line 3 in effect starts with a "y" sound and line 4 in effect starts with a "w" sound. The subtle differences between some of the finals within each line as well as comparing from one line to the next mean that you all need to really study and practice these -- at least those of you who may be having pronunciation issues with any of these sounds. Remember some of the pinyin spelling "conventions" or shortcuts for some of the finals such as iu, ui, and uei. If you are not sure what I am talking about, check out the explanations and footnotes to the table at the top of page 6 in your textbook.
There is no real way for me to type up "how" to pronounce exercises C.1 through C.6 on pages 6-7, so my suggestion to all of you is to go back, practice these until you consistently get them right when you pronounce them aloud AND WHEN YOU HEAR THEM INSIDE YOUR HEAD WHEN READING ALONG WITH THE TEXT.
The second skill is even more important than the first; once you get to the point where you can hear the sounds of the syllables and eventually the tones inside your head before you even speak, THEN you will be able to anticipate the proper pronunciation and tones when your own voice actually makes these sounds, AND THEN you will be speaking accurate Mandarin when you go to have a conversation with a native speaker of the language.
In order to get to this point, you may need a lot of mp3 listening practice, a lot of repetition, a lot of study time, and a lot of practice time with a classmate, friend, family member, or other person familiar with the sounds of Mandarin -- preferably a native speaker.
From here, we quickly reviewed the tones chart on page 8. By this time, you should all be very familiar with the 4 tones of spoken Mandarin as well as the concept of the neutral tone. On pages 8 and 9 (exercises D.1.A through D.1.M), we repeated the same exact consonant + simple final sounds found on pages 4 and 5, but this time with tones. Everyone did well when repeating after me. The question begins to be: how accurate will your tones be when you are not repeating after anyone -- when you must hear the tone in your head and then make the correct sound of the tone on the correct syllable in real time while reading aloud the text from the book? We will begin to explore this during our next class when we begin Lesson 1 Dialogue 1.
At the bottom of page 9 onto page 10, we explored all of the possible 2-tone combinations starting with the possibilities for the 1 tone plus another tone and ending with the possibilities for two syllables where the first is a 4 tone plus a second syllable with the same or a different tone. Everyone did well when repeating after me, but again, we will see how well you all begin to do next week when we break up into small groups and you begin to run the first dialogue of the first lesson with your conversation partners.
We discussed words with the Beijing accent er sound, which I will leave for now until we see them in the text of future lessons. We explored the basics of tone sandhi: when one or more of the tones in a multi-syllable word or phrase change(s) according to common speech practice and usually according to certain patterns or "rules." I will also leave this discussion for a later date, once we begin to see examples in the text.
Finally, we talked about the neutral tone and then repeated some tone combination exercises on various syllables from various real Mandarin Chinese words. Everyone did well repeating these in class.
In the interest of time, just one insight this week:
Each of you needs to do whatever is necessary FOR YOU to learn consistent proper pronunciation and tones of these Mandarin 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 Mandarin Chinese.
For some of you, no further pronunciation work will ever be needed because you have already been speaking and listening to basic Mandarin 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 Mandarin pronunciation and tones until you no longer need to work on your Mandarin 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 Chinese 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 start Lesson 1 Dialogue 1 on Thursday, later this week.
Please preview Lesson 1 Dialogue 1 and its related vocabulary on pages 20-22 of your text.
Even if you can already read Chinese characters in another dialect, you MUST MUST MUST read from the pinyin during class until you no longer have any pronunciation or tones issues. Please don't make me single any of you out in class this year, my returning students -- and you know who you are. If your pronunciation of Mandarin is not completely accurate at this point, save reading the characters for your studies at home. During class, read from the pinyin and fix your pronunciation problems -- period. Thanks in advance to returning students for your cooperation.
Also for homework, and this will be part of the homework from now on -- every week from now on:
Starting now with Lesson 1 Dialogue 1, please start watching the videos from the DVD that I asked you all to download from Rhode Island University's website 3 weeks ago. We will be using the video for each dialogue from now on as an aid to help you all understand, memorize, and learn the proper pronunciation of all of the words and concepts in each dialogue -- starting now and for the rest of the year.
So, watch the video for Lesson 1 Dialogue 1 a few times before next class. It is short -- like 3 minutes long. Watch it 4 or 5 times if you can. Seeing live action actors perform the short dialogues that we are going to start learning will help to reinforce the concepts in a way that everyone will be able to visualize during your home studies between classes.
See you all on Thursday.