Sunday, September 09, 2007

The start of a better Mandarin course (hypothetical)

I guess I may need to rethink my blogging style, I don't have much time so I tend to brain dump, possibly causing confusion. In my last post I briefly outlined a possible start to a better Mandarin course. I have quoted below.

"Right people here is a whole bunch of Vietnamese, Cantonese, Thai, Japanese and Mandarin audio." Please use it to calibrate your ear to Mandarin language, I will test you on some more audio at the end of the week just to make sure you get it. When you get the feel you can always listen to try to determine where the sentences are, when people might be saying names, what sounds are often co-opted for breathing stops etc. what is the mood of speakers and identify a few common sounds you hear a lot (mimic one or two of these at the end of week, and I will tell you what they mean). Don't worry about meaning for now, but if you think you have guessed something, especially in the video material you can share on Friday. Ok see you at the end of the week, oh and by the way let my know which Mandarin voices you each like the best, we will see what we can do as you are going to be listening to them a lot."

Jenny commented that: But I imagine that many people would give up too quick with your method. They would say to the teacher:“What are you expecting me to hear? How shall I hear out the names. I mean I don't even know that language. So how do you expect me to distinguish Mandarin from Cantonese when I don't know what both are alike“

Here is where I am at. Firstly I would hope that on a university course the students would be at least relatively smart and have some motivation even if it is just to pass the course rather than a passion for Mandarin. How do they work out which is Mandarin? They go online and find examples of the target languages to work with. They use the knowledge gained here to filter what they hear. If they are smart they will realize that they are probably better off spending more time listening to Mandarin so they can positively identify just what they need. Granted some won't get it, I may need to spell it out to them (they lose a few marks :)). Maybe the names are too hard , maybe not, but it is surprising what you can discern if you listen.

For example a colleague of mine spent a little holiday in China, he had no interest in learning Mandarin but when he came back he said to me I kept hearing zhe ge and na ge all the time (although being Northern Chinese it was more like zhei ge and nei ge) what do they mean? He was happy when I told him that mostly he was hearing "this" and "that". You would be surprised how much more interesting stuff can be discovered by someone listening attentively to a language they don't yet understand.

At the end of the week I would expect that those that had worked at it would have a good start to the rest of the course, and started to learn the way that that children do before they can even speak. I bet you that a Chinese (or any other child) will usually react more favorably to an adult speaking the language they are familiar with than a foreign language even before they can understand a single word.

The biggest initial hurdle to most Westerners is that they have never heard Mandarin, first sort that out and give the same ability to identify it as they may have to differentiate French and German (even if they don't speak French and German).

The conventional learning approach is so ingrained that most people cannot think outside of it. The intention of my course would not be to teach people Mandarin but to teach them how to learn Mandarin.

Yup they are going to have to work at it the first week but that is as it should be.

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