Tutor profile: Hayden G.
I'm a beginning Mandarin student. What aspect of the language should I study first to give myself a solid foundation?
Without a doubt, pick pronunciation. Diving straight into characters is a mistake made by far too many Mandarin Chinese learners, and they inevitably pay the price for this choice down the road. If you neglect pronunciation, it doesn't matter how many characters you can read or write. For most language learners, the goal of studying a language is fluent communication with native speakers, and you will simply not be able to fully achieve this with Mandarin if you don't dedicate extended time to pronunciation at the beginning. It will be tedious at times, and your inability to read or write will be frustrating, but mastering Pinyin and tones is absolutely essential for anyone who wants to be understood in conversations. The nature of Mandarin is such that subtle shifts in the pronunciation of initials and finals, or in the tones of a character, can create a litany of different meanings. If you prioritize pronunciation, you will spend a longer time as a beginning speaker, but you will thank yourself a year later.
How can I make my writing flow better?
First of all, read it out loud. It's hard to get a feel for the overall rhythm of our writing when we're just skimming through it silently. You can pretend you're reading to an audience, or performing as a character in a play. Dramatizing and exaggerating your reading will help you identify choppy, clunky areas. The next thing you can do is analyze the length and sequencing of your sentences. Do I have three run-on sentences in a row in this paragraph? Will this part read better if I break it into two sentences? Make sure there is variety in sentence length, and don't be afraid to sprinkle some bold, concise statements into your paragraphs. Long, complex sentences may sound attractive in theory, but they need to be offset with brevity every once in a while.
Subject: English as a Second Language
How can I get a shy or nervous student to speak more and grow more comfortable communicating in the target language?
It is completely natural for any student to become hesitant and a bit reserved when speaking in a non-native language. This is often exacerbated if the student's vocabulary is quite limited, or if the student is not yet fully familiar with their teacher/tutor. First, it is important for a teacher to assess the student's language level and get a sense for what kind of topics they feels most comfortable with. At first, it is okay to linger on those topics and focus on using language that the student can understand. This will build confidence and help them relax. Additionally, the teacher should maintain an enthusiastic and supportive tone at this stage, and avoid correcting the students' speech or expressing confusion. The key is to help the student feel that they are contributing to a fun, natural conversation. If the student is still not responding to these techniques, it helps to search for conversation starters based on what they are wearing, what their schoolbag looks like, or any other information you can detect that may reveal something about them.
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