Friday, December 1, 2017

Cantonese I Class Summary, Insights, Homework Monday, Nov 27, 2017

Hi Gang,

We had a productive class tonight, focusing on Lesson 2's dialogue. Everyone repeated after Allison multiple times and then we went around the room and everyone had a chance to read aloud solo. Following some observations which I will mention below, we broke up into pairs and small groups and everyone ran the dialogue back and forth, with Allison and I walking around to answer questions and correct folks' pronunciation. 

We started the Structure Notes at the bottom of page 38 at the end of class, which is where we will pick up next Monday.


We covered the following points and observations during class:
  • When everyone was repeating after Allison, we noticed sentence tonal contours. I discussed 3 ways that you guys can practice these sentences, especially the longer sentences:
  1. You can of course practice reading the sentences as stated, with all of the words as well as the correct pronunciation and tones of those words. This method allows you to begin to internalize the overall meaning of the things that you are learning to say in Cantonese and will also help you to build experience speaking brief moments of increasingly authentic or accurate Cantonese language.
  2. You can focus specifically on the pronunciation and tone of each individual syllable, perhaps starting by saying each syllable slowly and clearly. This way, regardless of the meaning of the entire sentence or line of dialogue, you will make sure that you are pronouncing each word slowly and properly.
  3. You can focus on the tones of each syllable over the scope of each sentence, paying attention to the TONAL CONTOUR or flow of the sounds of Cantonese. I recommended voicing the tones of each line on an "aah" syllable. I demonstrated this and the class repeated after me. In my opinion, this is THE BEST WAY to learn and solidify your tones in Cantonese, by divorcing the tonal sounds of the language from the meaning at first (this suggestion is only for those of you having a problem getting the tones, of course) -- so that you can only focus on the "melodic" contour of each line of Cantonese, the ups and downs if you will -- without worrying about listening comprehension of the meaning of the material at hand.
  • We discussed the importance of pronouncing a series of syllables with the same tone robotically. Remember...
  1. Longer sentences = "That's a mouthful..." We then broke these in half and then repeated each longer sentence twice during our third time through: first half, second half, whole sentence.
  2. Shorter sentences and phrases were much easier for all of you, because there were fewer syllables and therefore fewer pronunciation or tones issues to pay attention to as you were reciting the lines.
  3. The fact that there is a difference between being able to accurately parrot the sounds of Cantonese after a teacher speaks them first, and the student's ability to produce accurate sounds of Cantonese from scratch without repeating after a teacher -- producing these sounds from inside your mind, to your mouth, to the ears of your Cantonese conversation partner.
  4. Ngoh5 dou1 haih6 or Ngoh5 dou1 [insert verb here] as a useful sentence for everyone to memorize and begin to recognize when you hear it in common everyday speech. This is what you would say if you agree with your conversation partner because you are the same way or you think or feel the same way about the same issue or concern, or you are also from the same place, going to the same destination, you like the same food, etc. [depending on the verb or verb phrase that follows Ngoh5 dou1...].
  • Everyone then had a chance to say one or more lines at a time by themselves in front of the class. Observations.
  • From here, we broke into groups. The first group I helped had some really great observations and questions, so Allison pretty much single handedly helped everyone else. Thanks, Allison!!!
  • Question / observations about comparing Cantonese and Mandarin tones. Thought beyond the scope of most of you, one person asked me to compare and contrast the Mandarin 4 high falling tone with the Cantonese 4 tone, as well as to discuss the similarity or difference between the Mandarin 3 tone and the Cantonese 5 tone. I am happy to discuss further in person or via email with any specific students who are interested in this, but this question was too advanced or esoteric for most of the class.
  • The "Talking Dog" phenomenon and using mh4 goi1 to reset the native speaker's ear and expectations. Examples were provided of my friend's sister and her husband speaking Mandarin in Xian and Tony Parisi's suggestion to always start a new Cantonese language encounter with a Chinese person with "mh4 goi1" (please or excuse me). 
Remember that for those of us who do not look Chinese or Asian, there may be a huge disconnect in the mind of a native speaker when he sees and hears even the most accurately pronounced Cantonese coming from a face that in the mind of some "less worldly" native speakers should not or cannot possibly produce those sounds. Even if you speak perfect, flawless Cantonese with more accurate or "standard" pronunciation and tones than the native speaker Chinese person you are attempting to communicate with, the Chinese native speaker might see you as a "talking dog."

 By this, we mean that if any of us saw a dog on the street speaking perfect English, we might not even realize that it was attempting to communicate with us because of a very strong preconceived notion or prejudice in our minds telling us that dogs are only capable of barking. So even if this hypothetical dog started to recite the works of Shakespeare in a perfect standard "broadcast" British accent, all we might hear would be some kind of different sounding or interesting BARK.

I can provide a further example of this phenomenon, something that happened to me right after class this past Monday evening at Deluxe Supermarket on Elizabeth Street between Grand and Hester Streets in Manhattan's Chinatown.

There was one prepackaged cold sesame noodles lunchbox left on the counter (it was 7:45 pm and the supermarket was getting ready to close). A Chinese man was standing in front of the noodles box, ordering food from the person behind the counter in Cantonese. I asked this gentleman in perfectly pronounced Cantonese if the box was his. He looked at me like I had 3 heads, gave me a brief almost dirty look, looked away, and then ignored me as I grabbed the noodles box and took it to the register to pay. This kind of thing happens to me ALL THE TIME to me as a pale white Jewish guy when I speak accurate Cantonese to native Chinese speakers who are not prepared to see and hear those words coming from my pale white American face.

  • We had a special request to skip the pronunciation notes after the dialogue and jump right into some grammar. Please remember to review the pronunciation and tones notes on pages 34-36 and come to class next time with any questions or observations. I recognize the keen desire of some of you to jump right into grammar, and you are to be commended for your enthusiasm. Please remember, though that with only 3 or 4 exceptions, people in class are still producing MAJOR pronunciation and tones errors in every line of the dialogue, so the pronunciation and tones notes, however tedious they might seem, are definitely not something to skip or take lightly.
I apologize that we only covered grammar concepts for 5 minutes.
  • We covered the idea of a basic Chinese sentence structure:
(When) + Who + (When) + Where + What Happens/Verb Phrase
I will explain more about this in future lessons, such as next week, so let me leave this for now.
  • The textbook begins its Structure Notes for Lesson 2 by saying, "Some say Cantonese has no grammar..." I explained that this is definitely NOT the case, and we will pick up here next time, up at the bottom of page 38 of our book.


For homework, please read the pronunciation and tones review that I skipped from page 34 to page 37. I will briefly cover this material next time because, looking at it as I type this, it is important stuff and should not be skipped.

Please also read the Culture Notes on pages 37-38, clarifying sin1 saang1, siu2 je2, and sing3. Remember that in English, we say Mr. Jones and Ms. Lee, but in Chinese, we say Jones Mr. And Lee Ms.

Finally, for homework, please preview the Structure Notes on pages 38-44. THIS is what we will cover during most of next week's class. In other words, next week will mostly cover our introduction to basic Cantonese grammar. 

I will also review basic Cantonese syntax (word order, or what goes where):

(When) + Who + (When) + Where + What Happens/Verb Phrase

See you all next class.

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