Many thanks again to everyone who came to class last night. I think that we had 11 people, which means that 10 were missing. Several students have emailed that they were ill or needed to work late, and 1 or 2 have dropped out and are in the process of being replaced with waitlist folks. If you are one of the 9 or so remaining people from my original class roster provided to me by our ALESN Program Administrator, please let me know whether to expect you in class going forward, or if you will need to drop out due to scheduling or personal needs. PLEASE REPLY ASAP, BECAUSE MY WAITLIST IS ALMOST AS LONG AS THE CURRENT ROSTER FOR THIS CLASS -- AND WE WANT TO GIVE INTERESTED STUDENTS THE OPPORTUNITY TO JOIN IF ANYONE CURRENTLY REGISTERED CAN NO LONGER TAKE MY CLASS.
Thanks in advance.
Last night was a very good and encouraging first class. We spent some time covering a basic handout and went around the room doing some very brief programmed self-introductions. I was pleasantly surprised at some of the students' pronunciation and tones. Other students are obviously "from zero" absolute beginners -- and that is certainly ok. More than ok, because if you really pay attention and make sure that you learn properly from the very beginning, you won't need to unlearn any mistakes that are common to beginner Mandarin students in general, and more specifically to students over the years in our ALESN program!
We also covered a brief overview of your textbook. Your homework for next Monday, whether you were in class last night or not (as long as you intend to stay in the class), will be to download your textbook and to read the intro portion and familiarize yourself with the pronunciation and tones section up to or around page 11. OBVIOUSLY, few or none of you will know how to pronounce many or most of these syllables or tones yet -- unless you really paid attention in class last night, or unless you have previous Mandarin language study experience.
You are welcome to spend 5 minutes looking at this material in your book...or you can immerse yourself and do some internet research, watch random Youtube videos on the four Mandarin tones and the neutral tone, etc. -- whatever you feel motivated or inspired to do. Once we actually cover 1 hour worth of pronunciation material from the book next week, you will all have a much better idea FOR EACH OF YOU INDIVIDUALLY what you may OR MAY NOT need to spend time studying, focusing on, and reviewing -- as much or as little as necessary over the next few weeks before we launch into our first dialogue and we look at our first beginner level vocabulary list.
Please also take a look at the 2 links that I provided in my previous email to the the video material that will accompany our dialogues, once we begin the actual lessons in our book. It is worthwhile watching (before next week) the 5 minute-long lesson 1 dialogue 1 video to gain an idea of the campy, fun resource that I hope these videos will be for each of you this year to help reinforce the vocabulary, sentence structures, and lesson materials that we will cover between now and May or June.
A few suggestions to help you learn AND RETAIN proper pronunciation, tones, vocabulary, grammar and syntax, as well as situational language cues (i.e. under what circumstances you might expect to hear and use the various Mandarin concepts and specific vocabulary and sentence structures that you will be learning this year):
- The fastest way to learn to pronounce Mandarin properly in a way that native speakers who don't know you will be able to understand what you are trying to communicate is to RECORD ALL OF YOUR CLASSES AND THEN LISTEN BACK, PRETENDING YOU ARE AN OUTSIDER. TRY YOUR BEST TO DISTANCE YOURSELF FROM ANY EMOTION, FROM ANY DISAPPOINTMENT OVER NOT SOUNDING AS "GOOD" AS YOUR NEIGHBOR, AS WELL AS FROM ANY GRATUITOUS PATTING YOURSELF ON THE BACK FOR BEING SUCH A "STAR STUDENT," SHOULD THAT BE THE CASE. You will find that you can learn a lot from listening back to what you and all of your classmates do RIGHT each week, and even more, from what you and your classmates might say incorrectly. I tell all of my absolute beginner students to do this each year (those who do not already know how to pronounce Mandarin accurately, who have not grown up speaking with their families, etc.). Each year, only one or two students will actually record their classes and listen back each week. Invariably, each year, THOSE 1 OR 2 STUDENTS make the most progress -- sometimes even eclipsing the spoken language abilities of other ethnically Chinese students in the class who may have grown up listening to and speaking Chinese. Not exaggerating. I once had a caucasian female Mandarin student who recorded and really listened back to and studied her classes each week. Within one academic year, she went from zero (never tried to speak Chinese before) to delivering a short speech in spoken Mandarin for her US fashion design company to factory representatives in China where her company was outsourcing all of the textile labor for their clothing line. It was very important that she pronounce Chinese slowly and accurately, so that her Chinese clients would understand the friendly and positive teamwork message that her US company intended to communicate. She was able to accomplish this goal, and it was impressive for the class to see it unfold and then to hear about it after the student returned from her trip later that spring.
- The best way to stay motivated while learning a new language during the beginning and early stages, besides enthusiastically taking advantage of every possible opportunity to speak that language with anyone who might even remotely have time to speak with you, is to MAKE THE LEARNING PROCESS AS FUN AS POSSIBLE. This will be different for each person. For some people, collecting a personal library of books or PDF resources and then bombarding yourself with beginner level language and culture information, vocabulary, and basic concepts, is the way to go. For others, starting a collection of travel guides or history books about various place(s) in the world where the language is spoken can allow frequent daydreaming, where the student can imagine all kinds of exciting social interactions that he or she might one day have with native speakers of the language while visiting exotic locales where the language is spoken. For others, maybe the motivation is to deepen your relationship with your favorite grandparent, or to connect with overseas relatives that you do not yet know, but have always wanted to visit. For me, when I first started learning Cantonese (and several years later, Mandarin), I was very into martial arts, and in particular into watching and collecting DVDs of vintage kung fu films from the 70s and 80s. I'd had opportunities to watch non-overdubbed Jackie Chan and other classic Chinese action movies on DVD, and was blown away by how much better and more engrossing the storylines were in those films when not butchered with ridiculous overdubbed English language tracks. For me, as fun as it was to hear "You bastard, I am going to kill you" fifty times during each Chinese kung fu film I might watch, it became a much deeper "foreign film" experience for me to listen to the original soundtracks in Cantonese and Mandarin and to daydream about how I might over time understand more and more of the spoken Chinese until one day, I might be able to watch these movies in their original Cantonese or Mandarin without subtitles. To that end, I RECOMMEND TO ALL OF MY STUDENTS TO PURCHASE OR DOWNLOAD ENGLISH LANGUAGE CHILDREN'S MOVIES OR TV SHOWS DUBBED INTO CHINESE WITH ENGLISH SUBTITLES. MY PERSONAL FAVORITES, WHICH ARE AMAZING IN MANDARIN, ARE ALL OF THE HARRY POTTER MOVIES, AS WELL AS ANY DISNEY OR PIXAR ANIMATED MOVIE -- PERSONAL FAVORITES INCLUDE FROZEN, MEGAMIND, AND THE INCREDIBLES. Of course, movies originally released in Mandarin from China, Taiwan or Hong Kong are also amazing resources. For me, my favorite genres are the aforementioned Hong Kong martial arts movies (especially Shaw Brothers's 70s and 80s "period" kung fu films, many of which were originally released in Mandarin) and romantic or other comedies. Laughter always helps with language learning -- especially for beginners.
Anyway, these are some suggestions that I can give to help you improve quicker rather than slower as a beginning Mandarin student -- especially for those of us who are not ethnically Chinese and may not have grown up hearing and speaking some amount of Chinese with our families.
Thanks for reading and see everyone next week,