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01 July, 2007:
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Listen and Repeat

Listening and Repeating seem to be intuitive concepts for foreign language students. It is particularly important in Chinese because poor pronunciation can render your speech incomprehensible.

To make the most of listen-and-repeat, you should think of it as a technique rather than an instinct. In fact, Professor John Rassias developed rapid-fire listening and repeating of words and phrases into a technique for teaching foreign languages. His “Rassias Method” was originally developed for the Peace Corps, and involves small groups led by a highly trained instructor. In the absence of such resources, it is possibly to drill yourself on newly acquired vocabulary.

Here’s a good way to make listen-and-repeat work in class or in a conversation:

Step one: Hear a new word, or ask someone how to say something in Chinese.

Step two: Listen carefully to what a native speaker (your teacher, language partner, friend, lover…) says.

Step three: Repeat it back to them.

If the native speaker nods and says “dui4 对” or “en4 恩,” then you know that you were right. If not, keep having them repeat the word to you until you can repeat it back perfectly. Repetition and correction will help drill the vocabulary into your memory, while the excruciating pain of the process will encourage you to maintain that memory.

The following dialogue (rendered in Pinyin) should illustrate the listen-and-repeat process:

Student:    “table” yong4 Zhong1wen2 zen4me shuo1
Teacher:    Zhuo1zi
Student:    ZhOU4zi
Teacher:    (shakes head ) zhuo1zi
Student:    zhuo2zi?
Teacher:    en4. Zhuo1zi
Student:    zhuo1zi
Teacher:    dui4le. Fei1chang2 hao3! Zai4 shuo1 yi4ci4.
Student:    zhuo1zi.

It is not unlikely that it will take even more than four repetitions to get a pronunciation down. Do not despair. The repetition seems dull and you may feel hopeless, but the more you repeat a word, the more it stays in your memory. If you are going to remember a new vocabulary item, then it is better to remember it  correctly than with problems that will be difficult to fix later on.