Sunday, November 4, 2018

10/2/18 ALESN Cantonese 1 Monday, Oct 1 Class summary and thank you email

ALESN Cantonese 1 Monday, Oct 1 Class summary and thank you email -- another long email: PLEASE READ...

Tue, Oct 2, 2018 at 10:01 AM

Hi Gang,

First of all, I would like to thank everyone for signing up for my class, and for hopefully deciding to stick with learning this wonderful and dynamic language. I will be strict this year with pronunciation and I will definitely help each of you to clarify whether studying Cantonese is the right pursuit for you, but I promise that I will absolutely NOT be a jerk about it.

Please don't let my initial email or my introductory remarks last night dissuade you or scare you away -- unless you tend to be lazy and unless you have not budgeted into your weekly schedule time for the rest of the academic year to study Cantonese on your own each week outside of class. If you cannot commit 15-20 minutes a day or perhaps an hour a day 3 times a week to study, practice, memorize vocabulary, watch Youtube videos, attempt brief conversations with family members, friends, coworkers, lovers, neighbors, etc., then you do need to ask yourself why you want to learn Cantonese and how you expect to do that without a steady, minimal time commitment outside of class each week.

I am a big believer that people should say things, particularly to large groups of people, with a desired outcome in mind. What good can come of what I have said to these people at this moment in time?

Why am I spending so much time harping on proper pronunciation, as if I am trying to scare some of you away?

Here are my 2 possible desired outcomes for each of my students this year:
  1. EITHER you will decide to prove me wrong in my assertion that Cantonese is a very difficult language for adult learners to speak at a level that will be understood by native speakers who don't know the student in advance and who have no idea what you are trying to communicate, and you will put in whatever time and efforts are necessary FOR YOU (which will be different from whatever time and efforts are necessary for any of your classmates) to learn to pronounce this language properly within a window of comprehensibility; OR
  2. You will decide that Cantonese is too hard for you, you will become discouraged, you will not be motivated by my anecdotes and experiences that I will share with the class (designed to motivate everyone to improve and attain a level of "functional comprehensibility") and you will quit, leaving the rest of us to focus our time and energy on improving our ability to speak accurate, basic Cantonese words, phrases, and sentences.
Either outcome is a win-win for me as your teacher. Not everyone is built for every pursuit, for every hobby available to us. I am a firm believer in this. Not everyone is a chef, and I believe strongly that a student in a cooking class who burns multiple class projects, casseroles or baked goods should either change their priorities and focus on learning to follow a recipe OR THEY SHOULD QUIT IMMEDIATELY AND FREE UP ENERGY IN THEIR LIVES TO ALLOW FOR OTHER MORE NATURAL TALENTS OR AFFINITIES.

I myself am not built to be a professional bodybuilder. When I was in my late teens and 20s, I was obsessed with Arnold Schwarzenegger and all of those 80s and 90s muscular guys, and I lifted weights for 2 hours a day 6 days a week, for maybe 12 years in a row. I made significant progress without any steroids or anything like that, but I never got to the point where I could lift very heavy weights -- SO I COULD NOT JOIN OTHERS IN EXERCISES IN THAT SECTION OF THE GYM, EVEN THOUGH I WANTED TO. After many years of trying to get big and muscular, I decided to listen to my body and pursue other forms of exercises that didn't necessarily require huge muscles -- like swimming, martial arts, yoga. I made more progress in shorter periods of time with these other forms of exercise because I wasn't fighting against what my body naturally wanted to do with the muscles that I naturally possessed.

In a similar vein, some of you may discover after some months of trying to learn this language that you still cannot say hello and tell a native speaker your name and have them understand you. This is fine if you are taking the class to learn more about Chinese culture and to appreciate the language as an outsider, but you would need to make a decision at that point as to whether you really have the time, energy, and personal learning ability (and the space in your schedule to change your priorities) to accommodate even more attention to your Chinese studies. One of my goals as a teacher, as I mentioned to both classes last night, is to gently point you in the direction of one of the 2 outcomes mentioned above.

Some of you will quit without consulting with me first.

I AM LETTING YOU ALL KNOW THAT I AM AVAILABLE BY EMAIL OR IN PERSON FOR THE REST OF THE YEAR TO DISCUSS YOUR PERSONAL INSECURITIES OR DIFFICULTIES WHILE ATTEMPTING TO LEARN THIS LANGUAGE -- so that each of you, if or when faced with this kind of personal learning crisis, can make the best decision for you.

It comes down to this:

How strong is your personal motivation to learn this language?

Are you learning Chinese to communicate with your family members, with your partner, with his or her family in the USA or in Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, etc.? If so, then you have a strong motivation and you will either succeed with learning acceptable pronunciation of a beginning vocabulary this year, or you will find the motivation to come back next year and try again. If so, you will be motivated to watch children's videos and Youtube tutorials and to study on your own, listening to and imitating the sounds of as much Chinese as possible until you start to sound "Chinesey."

If your motivation is that you want to hang out or you are looking to try a new hobby (like you might take a salsa class), then there is a very good chance that you will fail at learning Chinese -- unless you can associate your studies with a much more powerful, much more EMOTIONAL "why."

Someone who wants to learn Chinese to deliver a speech in front of a hundred or more Chinese people in China at his future wedding to a Chinese woman has raised the stakes pretty high, with a real risk of serious embarrassment and emotional pain if he fails and makes a fool of himself in front of all of those people. This guy is going to be the best student in class this year.

Someone who is taking my class because they have lived in a Chinese neighborhood for 20 years and are finally getting around to "learning some Chinese" needs to raise the stakes of their goal and needs to set himself or herself up for some kind of penalty, some kind of negative emotional experience if failure is encountered, in order for this kind of lesser motivation to be enough to carry the student through an entire year of classes, home study sessions, listening to mp3s, watching videos, and attempting to practice speaking with real Chinese people.

Hopefully, each of you can see into both of these scenarios and understand a bit more about where I am coming from in my approach to teaching beginning Cantonese and Mandarin at ALESN. I can present the lessons each week and refer you all to blog entries I wrote last year covering the lesson. I can recommend external resources like movies or Youtube videos or websites or books. I can try my best to motivate each of you to learn to speak Cantonese, but when it comes down to it, each of you has to motivate yourselves every day to get just a little bit better,. Learning Cantonese has to become a real priority for you this year -- or you need to please quit my class and come back to it at a later date when you can create more space and energy in your life to make it a priority.

We will talk more about this as the year goes on.

Again, many thanks in advance to everyone who decides to stick with their learning process -- and many thanks as well to any of you who decides to give up on your studies, for whatever reason -- because that will also add to the positive energy of the class for those who remain.


We will begin next class with brief greetings and self-introductions -- each student standing, saying hello to the group, introducing themselves, speaking a bit about why they want to learn Cantonese (try to limit it to 30 seconds or a minute), and then asking the next student what his or her name is. This is the material that we went over during the final 15 minutes of class last night. Following this, we will begin to learn the most basic building block sounds of Cantonese -- the Legos of Cantonese, if you will.

Please feel free to email me with any questions, concerns, or to tell me that you think I am full of crap. I have been teaching for ALESN for 6 years now and have had hundreds of students in my classes over the years. I kind of know what I am talking about, but I am always open to any well-worded form of criticism.

One last thing:


I am a non-Asian second language learner of Chinese and I am only an intermediate student myself. I have moments of conversational awesomeness when I visit Hong Kong, but I am by no means fluent in this language. I have a lot of information to share, and I am happy to share. IF YOU DO RAISE YOUR HAND TO INTERRUPT AND CORRECT ME IN CLASS, PLEASE BE CERTAIN BEFOREHAND THAT YOU ARE RIGHT, THAT YOU KNOW WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT. I have no problem admitting when I am wrong -- in class and in my life -- and as long as it is pointed out politely, I don't mind the temporary embarrassment in front of the class, because we will all learn and we will all improve as students.

AGAIN, PLEASE JUST MAKE SURE YOU ARE RIGHT BEFORE CORRECTING ME. I really DO welcome any corrections as I am teaching. I do not welcome know-it-alls with attitude who turn out to be wrong -- which has happened in the past, and simply causes disruptions in class without any positive result. Thanks in advance!

See you all in 2 weeks!

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