A photo of Helen, a tutor from Georgetown University

Helen

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In today's increasingly global society, the ability to communicate efficiently is more important than ever. Mandarin is the single most spoken language in the world, not only among China's 1.6 billion people, but can be found in even the small corners of the world via Chinese who have left home to open businesses in other nations. Chinese restaurants are ubiquitous in every nation on earth, and there are Chinese-speaking people in every profession. To be able to speak Mandarin understandably is a skill that can benefit any individual in too many areas to list.

Speaking Mandarin is not as simple as taking Chinese language courses. Written Mandarin is 'formal', and a stilted way of talking. As a single syllable language, where all words are differentiated by 'tones', incorrect pronunciation of those tones can lead to small, and large, communication misunderstandings.

Conversational Mandarin is different from written Mandarin. The only way to learn, is to actually do it. Not one word at a time, but one sentence, one paragraph at a time. This not only provides the words and the correct grammatical structure, it is also easier to remember, because you have a context for those random sounds. Using a language makes you more confident of your speaking skills, and makes further learning that much easier.

I am a native Chinese speaker, with no accent in either English or Chinese. I learned both languages simultaneously. I continually spoke/speak Mandarin at home, and of course, English everywhere else. This ensures that my ability to speak, as vocabulary and pronunciation do not change over time. To this day, my mom reinforces my language skills by enforcing the rule that if I want to communicate with her, I will speak in Mandarin only! I love talking to my mom, and we talk every single day. My mom was a journalist in Taiwan before moving to the US, her Mandarin diction is the standard which newscasters in China and Taiwan still follow.

My degree is from Georgetown University, School of Foreign Service. My Major was International Politics, Law and Organization (the same degree as Bill Clinton's). This gives me a foundation in understanding not only language, but its usage and application in context. I am well aware of the difference between 'learning' a language, and 'communicating' in a language. I took 5 years of German in High School, scored a 90 on my AATG Language Proficiency test, which is 'native speaker' level German. It was painful for me to have a casual conversation with a German speaker, because I had insufficient practical and casual speaking practice. Over the years, this early deficiency made me hesitant to practice and I eventually lost motivation to keep up with it. We typically learn languages out of context for their common usage, and this is where a tutor can help. Use it or lose it. The more comfortable you are using it, the more likely you will.

Currently, I am a licensed Florida real estate agent. I enjoy helping students with mandarin because I believe that better communication with other cultures benefits everyone, and my own children are now college aged. If you took the time to learn mandarin, I can probably help you reinforce it enough that you will always have a functional base to expand on.

I will first evaluate what the student wants to accomplish. Do you wish to learn Mandarin for travel? For negotiating business deals? To understand the culture better, or work with colleagues in the medical, archeological, scientific, engineering professions? (for this, I will need a list of specific terminology used in your profession to review). I can work up a tutoring plan that is tailored for that specific students and their needs, after evaluating in a few sessions exactly where your specific deficiencies are.

After every session, my student should walk away with more language confidence, and a very specific verbal response set for a particular purpose.

I do not teach written Chinese characters. I only cover verbal pronunciation, correct conversational form, both formal and informal. The only written form I would go over is the Hanyu Pinyin system (roman alphabetized written form). In many major cities in China and Taiwan, many street signs and businesses use pinyin spelled out, so learning pinyin can be more than just a helpful phonetic/memory exercise.

I request that all students have already taken some Chinese, so it is not entirely new, and we are working on being able to converse understandably for your specific needs. How long this process takes is up to you, based on how quickly you learn, your focus and dedication, and how much effort you spend reviewing and practicing what you have learned. I look forward to hearing from you!

Helen’s Qualifications

Education & Certification

Undergraduate Degree: Georgetown University - Bachelors, International Politics Law and Organization

Hobbies

Stock Market, Investment Real Estate, Glassblowing, Gardening (figs), making handmade lye soap, perfumery, I collect rocks and perfume bottles

Tutoring Subjects

Conversational Mandarin

Languages

Mandarin Chinese

Mandarin Chinese 1

Mandarin Chinese 2

Mandarin Chinese 3

Mandarin Chinese 4


Q & A

How can you help a student become an independent learner?

By giving them the confidence in correct pronunciation. Mandarin words are all single syllable, differentiated by tones. Get the tone wrong, you may say something different than you intended. Correct pronunciation of the tones is critical to advancing in Mandarin. You get this, and the rest is much easier.

What is your teaching philosophy?

To learn in context. With every lesson, I try to associate correct pronunciation with something the student relates to already. If a memory can be tied into what we covered, it makes it much harder to forget. Learning should be interesting, and I try to put lessons into context with something the student finds interesting!

What might you do in a typical first session with a student?

The first session is completely focused on the student. Why they are learning how to speak Chinese, what they hope to get out of tutoring, and what they hope to have accomplished by the time we are done, both for this session and future sessions. We will have some of this discussion in Mandarin to assess where the student is already and what they need to cover. Then, we discuss a plan for how to get to their goal.

How would you help a student stay motivated?

I am an engineer,. I majored in physics at Emory University, a top 25 school as ranked by US News, where I attended as the recipient of full tuition, room, and board scholarship.

If a student has difficulty learning a skill or concept, what would you do?

There is no skill/difficulty that cannot be overcome. We practice and we approach a problem from different directions. Most people who grow up speaking English have trouble making certain sounds. As I too have grown up speaking English, I can relate Mandarin sounds to ones they can make already.

How do you help students who are struggling with reading comprehension?

I do not cover reading comprehension. Spoken Mandarin is different from written Mandarin, and, in some ways, it's almost a different language in terms of formality. No one speaks Mandarin the way it is formally written. It would be similar to someone speaking English only in poetic prose.

What strategies have you found to be most successful when you start to work with a student?

To find what interests them, and then focus on that. If someone is athletic, we may focus on learning Mandarin in the context of martial arts. If someone is interested in botany, we can converse about what grows in China.

How would you help a student get excited/engaged with a subject that they are struggling in?

My students learn what they need to know by learning what they want to know.

What techniques would you use to be sure that a student understands the material?

They will learn to communicate with me understandably in Mandarin. We talk. In Mandarin. They can't avoid learning if they want to have a conversation, short or long.

How do you build a student's confidence in a subject?

My approach is not as serious as a teacher's. The student wants to learn Mandarin but does not have to learn Mandarin. Lessons should be interesting and fun, not pressured. As the student masters the pronunciation sounds, the confidence comes automatically.

How do you evaluate a student's needs?

By talking with the student. Anyone willing to pay for tutoring is already serious about the subject. They have their own specific ideas about where they need work, and in talking with them, we can both determine what other areas they need work.

How do you adapt your tutoring to the student's needs?

My entire approach is focused on the student's needs. Learning a language, and I have learned four myself, is much easier when you learn in context. The student's context, not mine.

What types of materials do you typically use during a tutoring session?

If it's a webcam lesson, we can both draw from online sources and make notes as we go. If it's a face-to-face lesson, we can use whatever materials the student wants to work with, whether it's a textbook or discussing a magazine article in Chinese. I don't do homework. Busy people do not need more to do.