Asian Language Exchange & Social Network (ALESN)
Feature of the Month: Anthony Parisi
Interviewed by Tina Chan
Friday, March 19, 2010, New York, NY
This is Tina Chan’s first interview and she is very happy to be an ALESN newsletter contributor! For her first interview, she has interviewed Tony Parisi, who is instructor, coordinator and co-founder of ALESN. In addition to featuring Tony this month, ALESN also wishes Tony a very happy birthday as his birthday was on March 18th. 生 日 快 樂 saang1 jat6 faai3 lok6!
Tony’s Roles and Experience at ALESN
Tina: What are your current volunteer roles at ALESN?
Tony: In addition to helping Kam with the day-to-day operations, I also serve as the co-locator/liaison to the YMCA, coordinate the schedule and workshops, and teach the Beginner’s Cantonese class, as well as the Standard Chinese Reading/Writing class.
Tina: How long have you been teaching the Chinese language?
Tony: About 4 years.
Tina: What have been some of your challenges and successes so far with the program?
Tony: It’s very challenging for me to be teaching Cantonese and Chinese characters when I am really just an advanced student myself. I am actually amazed that people keep coming back to my class, but they do seem to be learning which is what I count as success.
Tina: How do you envision ALESN to be in one (1) to three (3) years from now?
Tony: The way the program is growing in leaps and bounds, there’s almost no telling where we will be in a few years, but part of my dream is to have daily classes of different levels and different Asian languages as well Asian culturally related workshops.
Tony’s Interest and Experience with Learning Chinese
Tina: What or who intrigued you initially to learn Chinese?
Tony: My interest in Chinese Kung Fu was really what started it all. Most of my Kung Fu Masters were Cantonese speakers from Hong Kong. This initially inspired me to learn the language.
Tina: How has your experience been with learning Cantonese and Mandarin?
Tony: I think that there are aspects of both languages that I find more or less difficult. For example, I struggle with some of the “x” “r and “q” pronunciations in Mandarin. Cantonese has one extra tone, and the grammar and syntax seems to differ more from English than Mandarin, but I find both languages very challenging, yet rewarding to learn.
Tina: From someone who has over two decades of Cantonese and Mandarin studies, what would you consider to be the biggest challenge(s) in learning Chinese?
Tony: For me personally I find that developing those listening comprehension skills presents the biggest challenge. Memorizing vocabulary and understanding grammar can also be challenging, but in order to really be able to converse with people we have to learn to attune our ears to what is being said. I still struggle with this on a daily basis.
Tony’s Opinions on the Asian and Chinese language and Its Influence
Tina: Of all the Asian languages or dialect(s) which do you find the most intriguing? Why so?
Tony: Well I love Cantonese, first and foremost because of my interest in that culture and the fact that I’ve been teaching it now for a while and have studied it the longest. I also love Mandarin as it is also such a beautiful language and because I love traveling through China and wish to explore more of that amazing country. I also hope to gain a working knowledge of Japanese and Korean as I hope to visit those countries as well some day.
Tina: With the numerous Romanization systems developed for Cantonese, which is the most resourceful in enhancing one’s oral and written skills? Why so?
Tony: We are using the “jyut6 ping3” system developed in 1993 by the Linguistics Society of Hong Kong in most of our classes now. Kam and I feel that it is the most useful one right now due in part to it’s presence on the internet. However, because of a lack of written material outside of our own program using “jyut6 ping3” I think I would encourage those students so inclined to also learn the famous “Yale” system developed by Parker Po-fei Huang and Gerald P. Kok, as most of the books on Cantonese that you will find in this country would employ that system. The two systems are really not that dissimilar anyway and can be mastered with a minimal effort.
Tina: What is your opinion on the presence of Cantonese in New York City?
Tony: I feel Cantonese does have a strong presence in NYC as well as the rest of the world. It always amazes me how widespread it is, thanks to Cantonese immigrants who settled Chinatowns all over the world.
Tina: How do you feel about learning Cantonese vs. Mandarin?
Tony: When I first started hanging out in Chinatown, it was pretty much a Cantonese/Toisanese speaking community. In more recent years I have noted there are more and more Mandarin speakers coming all the time. I am personally a student of both languages, which admittedly is not an easy thing to do but I do encourage those students so inclined to learn both. Part of ALESN’s mission is to encourage the spirit of brotherhood, cooperation and mutual respect for people of all languages and backgrounds.
Tina: Since learning the Chinese language (as a Westerner), how has your view of the entire Chinese culture changed?
Tony: You know, I fell in love with this culture and it’s languages many years ago, and that love just keeps building with every passing day.
Tina: How long do you feel it would take to be able to read a Chinese newspaper?
Tony: It’s really up to the individual. I read of one linguist who was able to read a Chinese newspaper after only six months of training. This of course is an exception, but it does show that it can be done with the proper motivation. My guess is that the average student could do it in one to two years with serious study and dedication.
Tina: Do you find it easier to learn the spoken form or the written form of the Chinese characters?
Tony: If I understand you correctly, I think its actually easier to recognize the characters and learn how to say them rather than to actually learn to write them from memory.
Tina: Which Chinese dialects do you feel are easier to learn for American Born Chinese (ABCs)?
Tony: Again, I feel that this is more up to the individual, but I think that a lot of ABCs I encounter already have a very good Cantonese foundation. It doesn’t
usually take much time to enhance their language skills.
Tony’s Advice Section
Tina: What mediums of learning Chinese do you recommend?
Tony: Personally I’m a big fan of using multiple mediums for learning. As to which one is better...I guess I’m going to have to say that nothing really replaces practice with a native speaker. Of course this is not always possible, so the other mediums such as language books and online resources (and don’t forget the Pimsleur and FSI audio courses as well as the Cantonese Radio broadcast on 1480 on your AM dial) are also useful in learning language.
Tina: As a volunteer dedicated to spreading one’s wealth of Chinese knowledge to students, what heartfelt advice would you give to beginners?
Tony: I would advise new students to not make the same mistakes I did. Don’t get too caught up in learning tons of new vocabulary and Chinese characters at first. I think it’s better to get out there and practice speaking with people. Even if you make mistakes and get a little embarrassed you should try to speak and listen to Chinese on a daily basis. This will develop those conversational skills early and you will have a lot more fun interacting with people as opposed to sitting at home memorizing words from a book.
Tina: Lastly, on behalf of ALESN, thank you for your time for this interview. 唔該 m4 goi1!