Yudan Taiteki wrote:
You can do both, though. The Chinese classes I'm taking right now have audio files (an interactive DVD, actually) as the main study aid, with a companion textbook that has pinyin and marked tones. In class you are not allowed to have any notes or books open and the class is all in Chinese, so your tones are getting corrected a lot.
Well, that program sounds a lot better than the one I went to (and your Japanese program does too). Mine had a good reputation, but to steal a phrase from AJBryant, I thought it amounted to borderline malfeasance- close to 50% of our class time was occupied by tests and quizzes (we must have had something like 40-50/15 week semester), and a lot of the rest was a professor reading the vocabulary list for the week out loud. I do think that to some degree there is a tension between listening and other aspects of learning that can't be made to go away entirely at the beginning. If time and resources were no object, I can imagine a program that focussed almost exclusively on mimicry and listening (with a lot of feedback in the mimicry part) at first, and I think it might be pretty effective- but it would not be very practical given the actual constraints of a University program. My concern is about letting preconceptions crystallise too early- we tend to hear what we expect to. But, at a certain point you have to bow to practicality.
Here's an interesting experiment that can be applied to either Chinese or Japanese. Take a snippet of rapidly spoken dialogue recorded at a high sample rate, and slow it down using software that can change tempo without altering pitch. Listen to it, trying as hard as you can to hear it as pure sound, and compare it to someone slowly and clearly enunciating a word, in the way that a native speaker might, if trying to demonstrate the correct pronunciation of a word in isolation. I've listened to Japanese slowed down this way, and it was interesting- just to be clear, I'm not suggesting that this would be a good way to learn pronunciation.