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Location: United States

Monday, June 11, 2007

How would your life be different if you spoke Chinese - effortlessly?

Ever since I was a child I have been fascinated with foreign languages. At age 13 my parents told me I could have anything I wanted as a bar mitzvah present. Without any hesitation I requested a short wave radio. I bought it at Lafayette Electronics in Newark, NJ. It was a large, blue, metal box with several dials for tuning. From the back I was able to peer inside and see the glowing tubes.

I am not too sure how my siblings spent their evenings and nights. Mine were spent in the basement of our house, my bedroom, endlessly turning the dials and happily listening to strange voices speaking in foreign languages from far away places. I quickly became adept at distinguishing between the various tongues. If you needed someone to distinguish between Ukrainian and Polish, Estonian and Finnish, Yiddish and German, Cantonese and Mandarin, then I was your man. Any new language which I couldn't identify ( the missionary stations were good for these) became an obsession. Then, once catalogued, I would move on.

Each language, I discovered, had it's own cadence, it's personal signature. There were spoken and written patterns to the various languages and these, I noticed, made it so that without understanding a word I could still easily identify the language. It is like picking up the phone and hearing the voice of someone you know. Maybe you don't know them too well. However, intentionally or not, you have caught on to the underlying voice signature. This is unconscious, both on the part of the speaker and the listener. Hence, its power and ease of being learned.

The speaker may only utter one word. You instantly know who it is. If it is not someone you know well you may not recall their name but you do know that " I know him." This is a primordial form of learning, one which sticks forever, effortlessly. If you can do this ( and I know that you can, we all can) then, as you will soon learn, you can do it with spoken Chinese. Effortlessly. Just as effortlessly as you learn to recognize a familiar voice.

In 1995 I had the good fortune to meet Michel Thomas. How this happened and what resulted I shall explore in future posts. Mr. Thomas was a teacher who had developed a method to teach foreign languages with a minimum of effort on the part of the learner. The entire period of study usually was no more than a few days. Everything was done orally, usually one on one or in small groups. Over a period of close to fifty years he taught more than 8,000 students in this way. From 1995 until shortly before his death in January, 2005, I was fortunate to study under him. Besides illustrating his method by teaching me two languages he agreed to help me understand just how he was able to achieve his remarkable results. In essence, he imparted a practical understanding of his teaching and course development methodology.

The Michel Thomas method became famous in the UK in 1997 when the BBC broadcast a documentary of Mr. Thomas teaching French to a group of English students. These were young people who had displayed a singularly difficult time learning foreign languages. Some had even been told that their lack of aptitude insured that they would never learn a foreign language.

Within a week Michel Thomas had them happily chattering away in grammatically correct French. They were subsequently tested and it was announced that they had successfully achieved a level that might be possible after two years of formal study.
Impressive, to say the least.

Prior to this Mr. Thomas had told me about his tapes which he rented out for in office use only. They were never to leave the office since he was concerned that someone might use them to copy his work. Over a period of several years I persuaded him to agree to release them publicly. Finally, in agreement with the British publisher Hodder, Michel Thomas courses in French, Spanish, German and Italian were published on CD and in cassette form and released to wide acclaim.

Following the death of Michel Thomas I was approached by Hodder to work with them on related projects. What resulted was the development of a course for English speakers to learn spoken Mandarin Chinese. I have spent quite a bit of time in the design of this course and, after several trials with various students ( from age 16 to 70) ,now expect a student who undertakes this course to emerge with the ability to speak basic Mandarin Chinese. This will take place in a matter of hours which, as far as I know, is unheard of .

Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai and several other languages are, in part, distinguished by their use of tones. This factor as well as the sheer foreignness of the languages have traditionally been a real stumbling block for non-native learners. I recently read an essay by a distinguished professor from Princeton University who has spent most of his career teaching Chinese. He wrote that even though he was under no obligation to teach basic, spoken Chinese, it gave him so much pleasure that he continued to do so. However, he noted, when it came to tones this was an area which very few teachers could successfully impart.

Mindful of this I have developed a method to teach tones which, to date, has been even more successful than I had anticipated. It is based on the understanding that each of us has a very personal learning style. The method used
(patent pending) manages to utilize unconscious learning styles in a way that makes the tones and their association with specific words stick effortlessly,forever and without repetitious practice . I still am in awe of the results I am seeing with students.

In addition to my years with Michel Thomas I have learned much from many other teachers in various disciplines. For the last seventeen years I have worked full-time as a physician. The nature of my practice is such that I employ innovative approaches to help patients who present with a myriad of disorders. From doing this on a daily basis I have learned many aspects of practical problem solving. It's just another example of the maxim, Necessity is the mother of invention.I have tried to meld as much of all of this as possible in the Chinese course.

My co-teacher, Jingtao Deng, a native of Beijing, China, speaks a beautiful, clear, traditional Mandarin. It has been a real pleasure to work along side her in the creation of this course in Mandarin Chinese. I look forward to develop many more courses for languages and other subjects.

Just imagine accomplishing something that you had assumed was impossible. It is such a high, such an empowering experience. Some people have gone to seminars ( popular a number of years ago in the US) where they experienced this by fire walking. The very idea of walking over a bed of hot coals without any adverse effect was unimaginable. So, of course, when they successfully completed it ( without burnt feet!) they were delirious with joy. "I did it! I achieved the impossible!" It just opens up so many doors psychologically. The thought arises, "If I can do this then I can do just about anything."

This is how I feel about the Chinese course.. In less than an hour
with the assistance of Jingtao and me you are speaking sentences that you create on your own, sentences which any fluent Mandarin speaker will understand perfectly. They will also assume, from your mastery of the tones and sentence patterns, that you have been studying the language for quite some time. No one would ever believe that such a thing can be accomplished in a few hours and without any memorization, homework, or trying.

Even Jingtao told me that she couldn't believe what she was witnessing. It was so bizarre, so unbelievable that even though she was the co-teacher she still couldn't, wouldn't believe it! Now she believes it ,though, as she repeatedly mentions, it is still hard to accept. It has altered her entire worldview. One of our trial students, a 22 year old woman who didn't know a word of Chinese when she began and had never studied a tonal language, told us after two days, " Its a miracle."

When,after a few short hours, you discover that you can effortlessly produce complicated sentences in Mandarin Chinese you will find that now anything in any area of life is possible. And the great part is that you can take this as far as you wish. If you wish to continue on in Chinese ( possibly more rewarding than walking over hot coals) this is your choice. This foundation is solid and will support you in any direction you may go in your Chinese studies. Should this give you the boost and confidence to tackle something else - go for it! For me, true learning, which you will experience in this course, is totally unique and amazingly empowering. I love it.

It is the ultimate high.

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11 Comments:

Blogger run4motion said...

Harold, what made you want to learn Chinese and how did you stumble upon it??? Who, what when, where, how? :D
I, and others I am sure, would like to know more about your background.

I'm actually born in China but was raised here since 6 years old and speak a provincial dialect of Cantonese, not Mandarin. I am in the process of self teaching Cantonese, which is easy b/c I spoke it fluently when I was 5-6, but 20 years later without practice, it has been downgraded to elementary levels. However, it is like learning to ride a bike, you don't really ever forget, just rusty.

However, I now endeavor to learn Mandarin on my own.

I enjoy reading your insights into the Chinese language as well as osteopathy.

May 26, 2008 at 1:37 PM  
Blogger AlexL said...

Interesting...I wonder how much you underestimate other learning methods?

Pimsleur language tapes, within hours, have students producing longer, complex sentences as well. 8 hours brings you halfway through their level 1 course, at which point you've learned a good amount of vocabulary as well as grammar.

January 31, 2009 at 8:27 AM  
Blogger Soren said...

Hi Harold,

I have just completed the introduction to mandarin chinese and recieved the full foundation course.

Not only have I learned a lot of chinese - more than I imagined. I have also enjoyed the process, making it a pleasure to learn rather than a burden.

I look forward to the rest of the course. Thanks!

//Soren

February 21, 2009 at 3:56 AM  
Blogger Harold said...

Hi, all

Thanks for your comments.

run4motion: I have been fascinated with things Chinese since I was a young boy. This, coupled to my love of languages, made it natural for me to take on Chinese.

AlexL:
I,too, have heard good things about Pimsleur courses. I have examined the Mandarin course. If it works for you, great!!

Soren:

Thanks for your feedback on the Michel Thomas method Mandarin course. I believe that this is the quickest way to learn spoken Mandarin. I am delighted that you have found it so helpful. The Advanced course is available which continues from where the Foundation leaves off. In late summer, 2009, the Vocabulary course will provide the final piece of what is actually a single course in three parts.

When you finish all three parts you will not only have covered most of what is taught in the first two years of university Chinese but you will be speaking at a far higher level than many other students. What is most remarkable is that unlike other approaches you will not have spent any time in review, homework, memorization and drilling.

This is the genius of this method.

February 27, 2009 at 4:36 PM  
Blogger Soren said...

Hi Harold,

How is the vocabulary course coming along? I have now finished the advanced course and are eager to move on. Maybe you could post a note here when it is published?

Can you recommend other electronic courses to increase my chinese vocabulary?

Thanks again for an excellent course. I think I have come a long way in a very short time.

//Søren

May 21, 2009 at 12:50 AM  
Blogger Harold said...

Soren

The Vocabulary course is due for release in the UK in August, 2009. It has already been recorded and edited. It will not be sold elsewhere so I suggest that you get it via the publisher at:

www.hoddereducation.co.uk

You may also download it at www.audible.com.

Of course, many other net sources will have it.

In my opinion, this third part is the best of all three parts.

Based on the feedback I have received, our students not only learn to speak Mandarin with correct tones faster than any other approach available but, equally important, remember it.

In this approach you do not need to review or revise.

Thanks for your questions, comments.

Keep them coming!!

May 21, 2009 at 5:06 AM  
Blogger Harold said...

Things have changed for the better regarding the availability of the Vocabulary course.

Amazon.co.uk is now once again carrying the complete line of Michel Thomas products. So, if you want, you can order the Vocabulary course from them. It will be discounted and, for those living in North America, the delivery is quite good in my own experience.

Unfortunately, McGraw-Hill, the US publisher is not planning on issuing any of the Michel Thomas vocabulary courses so they will not be available in US stores.

Harold

June 25, 2009 at 6:53 AM  
Blogger Home Exchanger said...

Well, thanks to your beginner and advanced Michel Thomas courses I do speak some Mandarin now, and my life really is different. I work in NYC's Chinatown and I confronted the Great Wall of not-being-able-to-speak-Chinese every day. It was amazing how easy you made it to learn the tones. Chinese-speakers tell me that what I say is very clear. I'm moving on to the vocab course. You have my deepest thanks for opening up a new world to me.

December 21, 2009 at 3:36 PM  
Blogger Harold said...

Home Exchanger

Thanks so much for writing!

I love feedback from students. It helps me to improve the course.

Coincidentally, just today I received an e mail from a lady whose spouse did an undergraduate degree in Chinese and also lived two years in China. She wrote that her spouse has listened to he Advanced with her and remarked that for the first time she understands how to use the -le particle.

When I was studying Chinese I asked three Chinese native teachers to explain it to me. Each one began by warning me that this was so complicated that even Chinese language scholars found it difficult to explain. Then they each gave me a different explanation. I was even more confused afterwards than before I asked them.

So I was really honored to learn that this lady, who is an expert in the language, found the instruction helpful. She added, according to her wife, that the course is the easiest and clearest introduction to the Chinese language that she has come across.

I am very happy that you are going on to do the Vocabulary course. It is probably the best of the three parts, I believe. It will also provide you with a lot of really useful, everyday vocabulary as well as even more essential patterns to effortlessly communicate in Mandarin.

The Vocabulary course is available via Amazon.co.uk, any British bookstore, or Audible.com. Unfortunately, it is not being sold in the US that I know of.

Best wishes,

Harold Goodman

December 21, 2009 at 4:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does Jingtao Deng have an online presence?

February 10, 2010 at 4:08 AM  
Blogger Harold said...

As far as I know she keeps a low profile. She has two kids and works as a government meteorologist. I asked her why she chose this work? She said that her parents, who are both scientists in China, were concerned that if she became an engineer in communist China she would have to work in a factory. So by becoming a meteorologist she knew that she would be safer.

She is a very wonderful and intelligent lady and I truly value her work in helping make this course successful.

February 10, 2010 at 7:52 AM  

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