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?
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
- 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.
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.
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
Some of you will quit without consulting with me first.
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?
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
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
See you all IN TWO WEEKS. PLEASE REMEMBER THAT NEXT MONDAY IS A FEDERAL HOLIDAY, SO OUR NEXT CLASS WILL BE MONDAY, OCTOBER 15.
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 ALSO WANT TO WELCOME ANY STUDENT WHO KNOWS WHAT HE OR SHE IS TALKING ABOUT TO POLITELY (KEY WORD POLITELY) INTERRUPT ME IN CLASS GOING FORWARD IF I SAY SOMETHING WRONG OR (GOD FORBID) IF I PRONOUNCE SOMETHING INCORRECTLY.
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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