Monday, December 13, 2021

Brendan, your ALESN Mandarin I teacher for the 2021-2022 Academic Year, saying WELCOME TO ALL NEW AND RETURNING STUDENTS!!!


Hi Gang,

I have been away from ALESN for a few years, so it is possible that some of you are returning students -- perhaps former students of our other ALESN Mandarin 1 teachers. If that is the case, welcome back! For all new students, WELCOME!

Let me tell you a bit about myself, in particular about how it might impact my teaching over the coming months -- though I will try my best to not have that happen, if at all possible:

First of all, before I tell you a bit about my background and my hopes for what I want us to accomplish in this class over the coming months, let me mention this crucial tidbit: 

Unfortunately, both of my parents are currently ill with unrelated but serious medical concerns, and they are located 200+ miles from NYC. I have been driving back and forth between Brooklyn and Baltimore, MD every other week, usually leaving on a Tuesday and returning on a Friday or Saturday, for the past 2 months. This will continue for the foreseeable future. I have asked my parents to schedule all doctors' appointments mid or end-week so that I can teach for ALESN this year and so that I can start each work week right for myself at my NYC home office if it will be "a Baltimore week" for me. In the event that my parents need me on a Monday, I have arranged with Tsz for me to possibly teach online via the ALESN portal, if that might be doable for my schedule in Baltimore that week.

Thank you all in advance for your kind understanding of my ongoing family emergency travel logistics, which may or may not impact my ability to teach on some Mondays going forward.

This said, I want to also mention what is perhaps a bit of TMI, but it will help to explain if my language skills might appear a bit rusty at times -- should any of the students ask questions at a higher level than the beginner lesson material that we will be learning:

It is true that I have studied Cantonese and Mandarin on and off since 2009, exclusively with ALESN, and that as of Feb 2020 right before the Pandemic Shutdown, my broken Cantonese and Mandarin conversational skills were effective enough for me to be able to teach 2-hour ESL lessons 4 nights a week, almost entirely in either Cantonese or Mandarin or both back and forth, to new Chinese immigrant ESL students via the YMCA, in the same building where we are currently studying with ALESN.

It is also true that I have not spoken Cantonese or Mandarin in almost 2 years -- AND that over the past year, I was diagnosed with mercury poisoning and lyme disease. Luckily, for the past 3 months, I have been undergoing treatment and my brain has started working again. However, for most of this calendar year, I was experiencing all kinds of memory lapses and learning disability moments.

I am extremely confident that I am more than qualified to teach your absolute beginner level class this year; I am also certain that if you pay attention, you will develop extremely accurate pronunciation and tones as you begin your Mandarin language learning odyssey. As I say, though, it is possible that if someone asks me a more advanced question that I would have otherwise known the answer to immediately 2 years ago, I might not remember right away. My brain is still "coming back," so to speak. Thank you all in advance for your kind understanding. I didn't mean to share too much just now, but I also don't want my students to feel that I am unqualified if you ask me something that I should (and probably do) know, but I cannot recall immediately, the same moment as your question.

Ok -- enough of all of that.

Let me now tell you a bit about my Chinese background and my hopes for your class. Following this, I will include links and attachments for some resources that we will be using in this class: your textbook, some audio stuff, some web stuff, etc.


I started studying Cantonese before Mandarin as a hobby, with Tony Parisi, the co-founder of ALESN, in 2009. After several months of a false start, I returned in 2010 and studied Cantonese language and culture obsessively -- in class with Tony and other ALESN teachers, and for many hours each week on my own. In 2012, 2013 and 2017 respectively, I spent 1 month each time in Hong Kong, on purpose staying in Sham Shui Po: a very grungy, blue collar area in Kowloon where few locals speak English. This allowed me hours of daily opportunities to butcher the language during all manner of daily tasks and experiences. This, combined with constantly challenging myself to speak often, and to use Cantonese (not English) to ask Chinese people how to say what I didn't know how to communicate in Cantonese, allowed me to become very functionally conversational [WITH ALL KINDS OF ERRORS] across a wide variety of topics -- all the while speaking broken, but effective Cantonese with a "white person" accent.

Along the way, when ALESN began offering Mandarin classes as well, I started attending, and was able to quickly participate in Mandarin II and III classes via the miracle of cognates and by translating from Cantonese in real time in my head -- which we will discuss at length for those of you who might already speak Mandarin or another Chinese dialect.

I continued my [literally] obsessive self-directed Chinese studies until 2017, when after 10 years away from music (my original reason for moving to NYC in 1998), I started to feel a pull to sing again. It is a long story, but the summary is that when I was totally into Chinese, I had been accepted to a language certification program in Hong Kong and my intention was to do that and then return to start a PhD program here in the US in Applied Linguistics with a focus in Chinese. My life direction changed around 2018/2019, however, and now I am back to focusing on my music and on music journalism -- or at least that was the plan before the Pandemic started...

So, anywho, that is my background.

I taught ESL to absolute beginner Chinese people IN CHINESE for the YMCA for most of the 2019-2020 academic year preceding the start of the Pandemic, but because I have not spoken either dialect at all for almost 2 years, I am currently, alas...ahem...rusty.


We will be using Integrated Chinese THIRD EDITION Level 1 Part 1 TEXTBOOK, which was an extremely popular high school- and college-level intro Chinese textbook for many years until it was recently supplanted by the 4th edition. WE WILL NOT BE USING THE REWRITTEN 4TH EDITION. I do not have a copy of the 4th edition; have never seen the 4th edition; and have no idea what the many page # differences or entirely rewritten sections might be. Please plan to study from the THIRD EDITION. Thanks in advance.

While I firmly believe in US Copyright law, the Pandemic has made things wonky all over, so I am breaking with my own rule from past years teaching at ALESN by providing PDFs of the textbook as free downloads to the students. You have your choice of Traditional or Simplified Character editions. Don't worry if you have no idea what this means; I will explain in class. IT DOES NOT MATTER TO ME WHICH EDITION YOU USE, BECAUSE FOR MY PURPOSES, THEY ARE FUNCTIONALLY IDENTICAL FOR THIS CLASS. I WILL NOT BE TEACHING CHINESE CHARACTERS. I WILL BE FOCUSING ON THE SOUNDS AND MEANINGS OF BASIC MANDARIN CHINESE WORDS AND PHRASES, WHICH WILL ALLOW YOU TO BEGIN TO HAVE BASIC CONVERSATIONS WITH NATIVE SPEAKERS WHO HAVE NEVER MET YOU BEFORE.


[link removed]

I will explain the layout of the textbook this evening as well as over the next few classes if we have any new students join.

I love this textbook. It is extremely practical, and is written for adults without a bunch of dumbed-down language. If you pay attention in class and learn proper pronunciation and tones, you WILL be able to use this particular book as a launching pad to begin to speak real, basic Mandarin with real Chinese people you have never met before. And if you really pay attention and practice a lot, these Chinese strangers will actually understand you -- and vice versa!

In addition to the textbook, the publishers of the Integrated Chinese series also produced all kinds of workbooks, audio resources, AND VIDEO RESOURCES to help reinforce the lesson material, especially the dialogues. This year, we will be referring often to the VIDEOS in particular that were designed to go with the lessons from your textbook. At this moment, I was able to find 2 separate, unrelated non-password-protected major US university websites with free streaming access to the complete dialogue and "culture moments" videos for your book. At least one of the sites also has complete audio for your book as well as access to the Level 1 Part 1 Workbook, for those of you interested in teaching yourself to read and write Chinese characters -- which again, will be outside the scope of what I will teach this year.

Please familiarize yourself with whichever website below that you prefer. Hopefully, both will remain un-password-protected for the duration of our 2021-2022 class. In past years, we used to rely on the University of Rhode Island's Chinese Department's website, but they are now password-protected, alas...


[links removed]

In class tonight, we will be using the attached PDF handout to hear and produce some very basic Mandarin sounds, and to learn some very basic words and sentences. Most likely, next week in our second class and then going forward, we will switch exclusively to studying from the book. I recommend that you either put the book on a laptop or tablet and bring that to class from now on -- or that you print the first 25 pages of the book (minus the intro text portions before the Pronunciation section -- which you should read, but which we will not be covering in class). Once we have covered these initial 25 pages, you can print out additional lessons as necessary. If you are going to print out your pages, please make sure that you print ALL of the pronunciation and tones pages prior to the first lesson!

There is SO much that I could continue to type here regarding Mandarin language and culture; or Hong Kong; or my limited experiences in Beijing, Guangzou, and Taiwan; or my personal successes and failures learning to speak Chinese; or any number of related topics, but I think you have already read enough and I don't want to exhaust you before class even starts...

If you are very curious and want to know more about what kind of teacher I am, or have been in the past, over the many years that I have taught for ALESN (I think this is my 7th or 8th year teaching for ALESN?), please feel free to check out my dedicated Cantonese and Mandarin Chinese language learning blog that I maintained for my ALESN students over a several year period. There are several sections devoted to my prior Mandarin 1 classes that I taught at ALESN. Lucky for you, ALL of my blog's Mandarin I category entries focus on lessons from the exact same edition of the exact same textbook that you will be learning from -- so if you ever want any additional insights on the same material covered in each class that I teach this year, all you need to do is visit the earliest entries each year under the Mandarin I category of the blog, and then proceed to read in reverse chronological order until you find the same lesson that we might be currently covering in your in-person 2021 or 2022 ALESN class:


It is my very firm policy, backed up many times over the years by the "Powers That Be" at ALESN (of which I used to be one, with a title and everything), that an absolute beginner student will only be allowed to study ONE dialect at first -- until that student can demonstrate accurate pronunciation and tones in that first dialect without making goofy beginner mistakes. ONLY THEN will I allow one of my students to take my classes while simultaneously studying another Chinese language. As I say, I don't believe this applies to any of my students this fall, but if it does and I see you in both of my classes, we will need to have a little chat away from the other students after class or via email. Thanks in advance...

Very best wishes to All and WELCOME TO MANDARIN 1 AT ALESN!

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