Sunday, November 4, 2018


Hi Everyone,

I offer private tutoring for beginning Cantonese and Mandarin students, executives traveling for business purposes, and tourists and backpackers who want to actually be able to communicate with native speakers while visiting China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. I am in the process of sorting out my fee structure for 1 and 2 hour in person and online lessons, as well as in-person location possibilities for local NYC students or small group seminars and classes.

Unlike many Chinese tutors and language schools in NYC and online, the niche focus of my tutoring services is simply this: accurate pronunciation of the syllables and tones of basic Cantonese and Mandarin Chinese within a window of what is acceptable and comprehensible to a native speaker who doesn't know you, who is in a hurry, who doesn't care about you at all, and who needs to be able to understand you the first or second time you say something, so that you can communicate effectively with this person.

I have been studying Cantonese off and on for 8 years and Mandarin off and on for 4 and some as of 2018. Everything I have learned has either come from ALESN classes that I have taken in person in NYC with various teachers who have since become my friends, mentors and colleagues, or via intensive self-study supplemented with hundreds of hours of watching Harry Potter and Disney movies in Cantonese and Mandarin.
I have visited Hong Kong and China three times now and Taiwan once. To date, I have spent a total of 3 months over there pursuing my own language and culture immersion trips which I have designed myself, staying in Air BnB rooms and youth hostels, on purpose in working class neighborhoods where I would be more likely to encounter locals who did not speak English. By my third trip in 2017, I was able to speak Cantonese 80-90% of the time I was there -- effective basic and intermediate level Cantonese to communicate about a wide variety of topics from across the scope of everyday life, from housing to food and beverage to entertainment to sightseeing to inquiries from my friend Hung Choi's family asking me over and over again why I am not married yet.
Until recently, Mandarin Chinese was an afterthought for me, a by product of my Cantonese studies and my genuine interest as a white Jewish outsider in all things Chinesey. In 2017, I was accepted to level 3 out of 5 at the Chinese University of Hong Kong's Yale In China Program for both Cantonese and Mandarin second language studies after touring the campus and interviewing with the heads of both programs. I conducted my interviews mainly in Cantonese and Mandarin [with a lot of pauses], with English thrown in when I was not aware of the academic vocabulary necessary to describe my learning goals. My intention was to pursue 2 semesters of fulltime study there beginning the fall of 2018, but life happened, plans changed, and I am now in New York rededicating my career to singing and music journalism -- the reasons I originally moved here in 1998.

I want to be clear that I am not fluent in either Cantonese or Mandarin, and I have never claimed to be. I pronounce both dialects with a noticeable white person accent, and I still have A LOT to learn vocabulary-wise in both...BUT, when I go to Hong Kong and China and I open my mouth, real, understandable, functional basic Cantonese and Mandarin sounds come out. There is no need for charades, and if I don't know how to say something, I am able to ask in Cantonese or Mandarin how to say the thing that I don't know the words for...and then the conversation continues. I am usually understood the very first time I speak by people who don't know me, who are in a hurry, and who don't give a shit about my life or what I am trying to ask them or talk about.

I would like to help all of my students achieve a level of basic functionality in spoken Chinese -- first and foremost focusing on inaccuracies with their pronunciation and tones -- either in class, or with some private help if one hour a week at ALESN isn't cutting it for some of my weekly students. Some of you will get there on your own because you have a great ear, a lot of time, a solid study ethic, and a deep, emotionalized motivation -- as I have mentioned several times in this blog. Other students will need more help or even hand holding.
I am not very good at hand holding during my weekly classes at ALESN, which is why some current and former students think I am an asshole. Hand holding at ALESN is not something I have time or patience for, given the very limited 1-hour window of time we have together once a week for a limited number of weeks each academic year. THIS is why I offer private tutoring for students who genuinely want to be able to speak effective, comprehensible Chinese but whose current pronunciation is, for lack of a better word, "bad." One on one tutoring allows me to be very nice and encouraging, with a lot of hand holding, if that is what a given student needs.

All lessons will be 1-2 hours long and will of course focus on any relevant chapter lesson material and dialogues, vocabulary from the textbook, etc. -- if I am tutoring an ALESN student. For all other students, we will choose one of two Cantonese romanization systems or pinyin for Mandarin, and a textbook or website and we will begin to take apart the basic sounds of Chinese -- the initial consonants, the vowels or "finals" of all of the various possible syllables, and then we will spend however long it takes to create a working system for each student to internalize the tones of spoken Cantonese or Mandarin Chinese.
I am not going to teach you WHAT to say when you speak Chinese. I am going to teach you HOW to say it in the first place. You can then take what I teach you and teach yourself to say anything you want in Cantonese or Mandarin, using phrasebooks and self study, for the rest of your life as you begin to have meaningful interactions and conversations with native speakers of Chinese.


I am in the middle of editing together a series of audio resources that will be available as CDs and digital downloads, focusing on a system for learning the correct SOUNDS of Cantonese and Mandarin Chinese -- the most basic correct sonic building blocks that will allow you to communicate with native speakers and be understood the first time you open your mouth. More on this as I get closer to a release date...

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