Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Cantonese I ALESN Monday, January 29, 2017 Class Summary, Insights, Homework

Hi Gang,

For those of you who don't know, or who weren't in class this past Monday, I am taking a break from teaching Chinese for the rest of the academic year in favor of working more hours on my online stores and some other business pursuits; applying to full and part time positions in the music industry (my former career field); and singing as much as possible, which some of you know is the reason that I moved to New York in the first place, back in 1998.

I have sincerely enjoyed teaching you all this year, and teaching for ALESN in general, both Cantonese and Mandarin, for at least the past 5 years. Thank you all for the many wonderful opportunities you have given me to help everyone, including myself, become better speakers of Cantonese and Mandarin Chinese.

This will be my final SayItRightChinese blog entry for a while -- for the time being. I will be starting a new blog in the next few weeks called MySingingTeachers at, in which I will discuss my vocal journey as I get ready to present various musical and spoken word projects to a larger audience later this year. I am excited to share this with people, and welcome my students and readers of this blog to check that out, if you might be interested.


This past Monday night, we had a very special guest: Kam, the Co-Founder of ALESN and one of my first Cantonese teachers here in NYC. My students are very fortunate that Kam will be taking over my weekly Cantonese I class starting next week and continuing until June. Alas, Kam will NOT be maintaining a weekly blog, so make sure that you all attend her class on a regular basis, pay attention and take copious notes.

Some of the many lessons I learned from Kam still form the foundation of my own ability to carry on random Cantonese conversations with random Chinese people here and in Hong Kong! Kam has a special way about her, and if you all are not careful, you might learn some lasting lessons and some very practical tips for your conversational Cantonese. Most importantly, she is a native speaker ABC and will be able to answer any question you might want to throw at her -- unlike your goofy retiring white teacher Brendan.

In class this past Monday, we covered the following:
  • We jumped right into the pronunciation work on page 60. We explored the difference between the single (short) a and double (long) aa vowel sounds
  • We discussed nasal-sounding consonants like NG and nasal-sounding vowels when they follow these consonants, using the examples in the book. 
  • We reviewed the EUNG ending of various words, including our new Lesson 3 vocabulary word, seung2, to want to do another verb. In the past I have used Kam as an example of one of the two main pronunciations of this sound, depending on one's accent. I pointed out how I learned to pronounce this with a sort of nasal "French" sounding vowel, while Kam and her family pronounce eung more as "EARN + G."
  • We compared and contrasted the EUI and OI vowel sounds. Remember that these are NOT the same sound; they are 2 different Cantonese vowel sounds and you must not be lazy -- you MUST learn to say each one properly so that they don't sound the same as each other!
  • We reviewed that the P, T, and K "stop" final sounds of certain Cantonese words are NOT pronounced loudly and in many cases are not pronounced AT ALL, but rather your mouth simply shapes like a p, a t, or a k at the end of the syllable. When done right, native speakers can tell which one you meant to say, even if you don't actually pronounce the p, the t or the k at the end of the appropriate word. Our example words on page 61 were HOHK6, to study, and GWOK3, country, as in jung1gwok3, China.
  • Finally, for pronunciation review, we reminded ourselves that some people pronounce the number 5 as "NG5," and others say it as "MMH5" -- Kam among those who pronounce it as the latter. This is PotAYto PotAHto -- simply a regional accent variation in China and Guangdong Province.
  • Next, for Culture notes, we reviewed the names of the Chinese dialects / regional spoken languages mentioned in Dialogue 3.
  • We turned next to grammar. We mentioned that verbs in the present tense are not conjugated in Cantonese. THE INFINITIVE IS THE VERB IN ALL OF ITS PRESENT TENSE CONJUGATIONS -- one less thing for you to have to memorize or worry about in your early learning stages!
  • We talked about verbs in series -- auxiliary verbs, or as I learned to call them in middle school, "helping verbs." Our main example from this lesson is SEUNG2, to want to do another verb. If you want to say that you "want to say," for example, then you SEUNG2 GONG2 [blah blah blah]. Our lessons have shown us other examples, such as SIK1 GONG2, to know how to speak a certain language.
  • We discussed the SENTENCE FINAL PARTICLE ME1, indicating surprise, and again I reminded you all of its wonderful usage in the Cantonese overdubbed version of the Dreamworks animated film, Megamind: "Oh, haih6 me1?!" = "Oh, really?!" said in a sarcastic manner by Megamind early on in the movie.
  • The SENTENCE FINAL PARTICLE JE1, meaning "only" or "just" that thing or that quantity, as in someone expected more but you ONLY did or had or were such and such (to a lesser degree or with a lesser quantity than was initially expected).
  • The SENTENCE FINAL PARTICLE GA3, indicating "no big deal," expressing something in a matter of fact way because this is just the way it is, nothing to be surprised about...
  • Comparing and contrasting this use of GA3 with previous uses we have seen of GE3. Please reread this bit at the top of p. 65, and if anyone is confused, please ask Kam to clarify next week.
  • SECTION 6 AND 7 ON PAGES 65 THROUGH 67 ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT PARTS OF THIS PAST WEEK'S LESSON. Please read and reread and re-re-reread these 2 sections and make sure that you understand everything, ESPECIALLY THE CONCEPT OF THE "TOPIC COMMENT SENTENCE" IN CANTONESE. If you are at all unclear about the possible relationships between subject and predicate in the various possible Cantonese sentence structures that the book explains on these 3 crucial pages, NOW is the time for you to ask any and all questions about these points to Kam -- ask over and over again until you are all clear on this stuff. The sooner you can all internalize these structures and THE IDEA of each of the structures explained in the book, the sooner you will have A SET OF ROADMAPS, A SET OF BASIC STRUCTURES that you can use to frame any concepts you want to word in Cantonese for the rest of your life!!!
  • TUHNG4 and YAUH6. Tuhng4 is AND FOR 2 NOUNS, whereas YAUH6 is AND FOR 2 VERBS OR VERB PHRASES. Yauh6 verb 1...yauh6 verb 2 is a nice parallel sentence structure to learn in Cantonese at this early point in your learning process, as a way for you to express that someone is both A and B, or does both A action and B action.
  • DOU1, being used in Cantonese for BOTH or ALL, but also being used for ALSO (the latter being a different use of this character compared to Mandarin, for my students also taking Mandarin I. DOU1 in Cantonese is more all-encompassing and versatile, and must be a top 5 or top 10 word in the language according to frequency. Anytime someone also is or does the same thing as someone else, DOU1 is used. In addition, anytime both or all members of a multi-person or multi-animal or multi-object group all share some common action or some common characteristic, the DOU1 whatever it is that they have in common -- they BOTH or ALL do, have, or are that, whatever it is that we are talking about to describe what they all are doing.
  • Again with AUXILIARY VERBS, and our example new vocabulary word SEUNG2. 
  • SIK1 = to know how to do something (such as being able to speak a language), or to know a person, like I KNOW Bob. Ngoh5 SIK1 keuih5, I KNOW him.
We left off mid page 69, so Kam will pick up there, with the various exercises for lesson 3 -- continuing to the end of the chapter.

Remember that I have given Kam the option of switching to a different book if you like, but student Julie Ann said it best when she expressed her strong feelings that this book is perhaps your best possible choice of textbook at this point in your learning process, if only for the sheer number of pages and length of mp3 audio examples for each lesson, allowing the student to do many more substitution and fill in the blank drills on all of the vocabulary and grammar concepts than the other textbook being used in our Saturday Cantonese classes. This is a very important opportunity for all of you to practice variations of the same concept over and over again on your own in between classes, once concept at a time, in a way that the Saturday book simply doesn't teach (at all, folks).

If the Saturday class's textbook (Hugh Baker's excellent beginner to intermediate all in one book, Teach Yourself Cantonese, "bicycle seat edition") has 5 exercises for students to study and repeat for each section, our textbook has 30 or more of the same kinds of exercises, for the same number of lesson pages covered. Big difference, and the main reason why, though slightly outdated in spots, your current textbook is far superior for absolute beginner students.

At this point in your learning, you should all try to do AS MANY drills on your own as possible -- page after page of substitutions and making up your own sentences based on the same concept with different vocabulary words, etc. When I was an absolute beginner student in Tony Parisi's class, one of the books he taught from the second year that I attended his classes was Sidney Lau's justifiably famous BEGINNING CANTONESE I, published in Hong Kong for British and other non-native learners in the 1970s. Each lesson in that book was over 50 pages long with maybe 25 or more pages just of substitution drills and other similar exercises. It w3as actually overwhelming for any student who didn't put in the time to do the exercises at home, because they couldn't really be skipped without missing the most important parts of the lesson.

Unlike all of my classmates at the time, I did ALL of the exercises on my own at home and on the subway every week between classes -- every week, like a man possessed. By the end of that year, I was able to have working, basic conversations on the street in Manhattan's Chinatown solely from what I learned in that book. At that time 7 or 8 years ago, there was no Youtube to watch for Cantonese conversation lessons; I had to read and practice with real live people. And so I did -- via the written drills in my beginner level textbook that Tony taught from, listening to cassettes and CDs in between classes. THIS formed the basis for my first attempts to have Cantonese language conversations with people whom I didn't know and had never met before here in NYC -- and THIS formed the basis of my first micro-successes in the language!


Please review all of the material mentioned above and please come to class next Monday ready to ask Kam any questions you might have about any of these concepts.

I wish you all the best in Kam's class for the rest of the academic year! I look forward to returning to ALESN to teach again, once I have fixed my work situation a bit and once I have set myself up to sing again on a regular basis in and around New York City.

Thanks again to all of my students this year and over the past years at ALESN, and many thanks to anyone who has taken the time to read this blog!

Finally, Kam has asked me to post this link for a free Cantonese conversation class given at Chatham Square Library (the branch of NYPL closest to our school building) on Tuesday mornings:

She is not sure whether this is run by the library staff or by an outside nonprofit group, but it looks interesting...

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