Learning Cantonese from scratch

Discussions on the Cantonese language.
Kevin

Learning Cantonese from scratch

Postby Kevin » Sun Jun 10, 2001 7:05 am

Although I'm about as non-Chinese as you can get, I've been interested in learning Cantonese for a while. I have several close Cantonese friends, none of whom are particularly good teachers, and years of listening to their conversations hasn't gotten me very far since I have no foundation at all. So far, all I've picked up are ultra-basic conversational phrases (like "thanks" and "good morning") and some random scattered phrases and words (like "turn right (and left)" and "plaza").
I was wondering if anyone has any insights on the best way of getting even just a rudimentary understanding of the language so that I can get to the point where I *can* start to learn by listening to conversations. Asking the friends I mentioned isn't really an option: I *have* asked, and they aren't that good at teaching. I'm not really looking to speak it all that well (although that would be nice too), but at least be able to follow the gist of a conversation.
Free would be ideal. I like the idea of websites, since they can provide both text and sound, and I can learn it at my own pace. I had found what I considered was a super website at http://www.geocities.com/Tokyo/Palace/7239/
, but it closed for indefinite maintenance only a week after I discovered it. (This was about a year ago, maybe more. Anyone know if it's ever going to be revived?) I've also tried reading English- and Chinese-subtitled Hong Kong movies, but they speak way too fast, and I've often noticed that what they say in Cantonese doesn't match what is written in English.
Any suggestions...?
Mgoh sai!
Kevin

Sallin

Re: Learning Cantonese from scratch

Postby Sallin » Mon Jun 11, 2001 7:17 am

Cantonese is hard to learn as it is informal.
I would like to offer some help. (I'm a native Cantonese speaker) Feel free to drop me message via ICQ
my # is 20144668
Sallin

Eugene Morrow

Re: Learning Cantonese from scratch

Postby Eugene Morrow » Wed Jun 13, 2001 12:33 am

Kevin
I am similar to you. I have found the best way
to learn is from tape. It sounds weird, but
think about the advantages.
If you learn from a person, then you might have
to pay that teacher heaps. If it is a friend,
then that friend will be exhausted by the hours,
days, weeks, months it would take. You are also
tied to that person, so if you and then are free
at different times it can be frustrating. Only
a wife might have that patience.
Tapes are wonderful. They are ready to go
anytime, anywhere, and they will repeat what
you need for as many times as you need. They
never complain, never get sick, and are very
reliable and consistent.
Actually, I know about 30 people who speak
Cantonese, but I would never impose on them
to teach me the whole language. I just try
things out on them, and they love it.
Another benefit is that I can learn when I
walk to the station, get on the train, and
walk to work, and the same when I go home.
Normally this time is effectively wasted.
I actually don't lose much time even though
I use the tapes twice a day (about two hours
a day in total).
I actually am learning from TWO tape courses.
The first one is an easy course from Pimsleur
(can buy on Amazon.com for US $236). It teaches
perhaps 200 words, and takes it in nice easy
steps. It was produced in 1998 and so is very
modern.
The second course is from the US Foreign Service
Institute (FSI) and is much larger and more
expensive. It is also much harder - you learn
about 1,000 words over both Parts 1 and 2.
I forget how much the FSI courses (Parts 1 and
2) cost, but it would be roughly US $ 250 each.
I am very motivated, which is why I have both
and I like both. Pimsleur is for those who want
it easy, FSI for the serious student, and both
for absolute enthusiasts like me.
I have a close friend who is Cantonese, and I
have not told her what I am doing. I want to
shock her in about 6 months time by suddenly
speaking to her in fluent Cantonese.
Yes, it's a bit of money. However, using tapes
means you have everything you need to learn
really well, and you can learn at your own
pace without needing someone else.
Remember, without going to Hong Kong it will
take you at least 6 months to really learn, and
possibly a year. Do you really expect someone
will put together a web site with that much
text and sound stuff for free?
Good luck, Kevin.
By the way, it's great fun.
Eugene Morrow
Sydney Australia

Helmut
Posts: 43
Joined: Thu Feb 03, 2005 3:53 pm

Re: Learning Cantonese from scratch

Postby Helmut » Sun Jun 17, 2001 11:43 pm

Kevin,
I was in a similar situation.
In the meantime I worked through a number of courses with books and tapes. Of all those the best one seemed to be
"Colloquial Cantonese" from Routledge.
It has been published in the 1990s, so its language is reasonably modern.
It uses Yale romanisation which is by far the best I have seen (even though not perfect) and which has become a defacto standard in cantonese language teaching.
It comes with two tapes. (Make sure they are included !)
The vocabulary is around 700 words, which is ok for a beginners course.
I do not remember the price but should be not more than 50 US$.
I did not try Pimsleur or FSI, as I did not find them in HK bookshops and, to me, the price seemed too outragous to buy them unseen.
I am not aware of any useful course on the web.
So, I think, besides going to Hongkong for several months and take a course there, or taking a course on some university specialising in Chinese languages, using books and tapes is the only thing left.
WARNING:
Cantonese is difficult to learn for westerners. Apart from the usual difficulties of learning Chinese (tones, writing etc.), Cantonese suffers from being regarded a dialect and not a language. One consequence is the scarcity of teaching material. The other important consequence is that in general written language differs strongly from spoken language (even in grammar). You may find, that not only the English subtitles differ from what is said in the movies, but also the Chinese subtitles.

Helmut

Helmut
Posts: 43
Joined: Thu Feb 03, 2005 3:53 pm

Re: Learning Cantonese from scratch

Postby Helmut » Sun Jun 17, 2001 11:53 pm

Eugene,
once you have finished the two courses. Could you tell more about these two courses and what you think about them ?
I was a bit shocked by the price and really wonder whether they are worth it.
200 words seems pretty few to me, even for a beginners course.
Thanks
Helmut

Eugene Morrow

Tape courses - what they are like

Postby Eugene Morrow » Thu Jun 21, 2001 12:43 am

Helmut,
Definitely I will give you detailed feedback
when I have completed both courses (the
Pimsleur by about end of July 2001, and the
FSI about early 2002).
Some feedback now.
First thing to say is that I want to be
FLUENT in Cantonese. Anyone can grab a
few words to say hello and a few quick
phrases. I want to really be able to
express myself and have long, detailed
conversations without hesitating. Forget
the writing - I want to listen and speak
easily.
Do you really think a book can do that?
You don't just learn the meaning of a word.
You have to practice it again and again so
that the meaning and the usage become
immediate and natural. It means listening
and speaking, not reading, and also getting
the pronunciation high quality.
The Pimsleur tape course teaches only a
few words, but teaches them well. There are
only 15 lessons, and if you really pushed
yourself you could do one a day, but you would
have to repeat that lesson at least four times
to really take it in (about 30 mintues per
lesson).
Pimsleur is good for very simple things -
asking some to eat or drink, asking directions,
asking someone to speak a bit slower because
you don't understand, and so on.
Pimsleur has no workbook (although they have
some trivial information booklets). You learn
everything verbally.
The most important thing is that it is easy
- anyone can do it even if you think you
are not good at languages. You won't know
that much at the end, but what you know
you can speak fluently.
I am using Pimsleur as a support for the other
course: FSI (US Foreign Service Institute).
The FSI course is a serious attempt to learn
about 1000 words very fluently. The FSI
course is like being in the army - you get
taught something and you get "drills" where
you do it backwards, forwards, sideways until
it is second nature.
FSI has a very thick workbook. Cantonese can
be written in a "romanisation" which means a
way of writing it using an alphabet. The
romanisation (modified Yale) describes how a
word is pronounced accurately. I have read out
things written in Yale and real Cantonese
speakers can understand me.
Using a romanisation means you can have a
proper vocabulary, and they can discuss
grammar and pronunciation variations with
great detail.
FSI is so serious it is not for everyone. You
have to be REALLY motivated to learn, because
the obstacle course of questions and variations
and homework they give you will scare most
people away.
Note that the FSI course was written in 1970.
The pronunciation of Cantonese has very
slightly changed since then. Cantonese experts
know that the high falling tone and the high
level tone are the same today, but in 1970
they were different (see other a question I
raised in this forum).
That's fine by me. I enjoy learning the 'old'
way of speaking, so that if someone speaks
to me in the older traditional way I will
be able to hear the subtlety they have.
Why am I using both tape courses? I am highly
motivated, and having two courses improves
my understanding and skill. The Pimsleur was
prepared in 1998 and so is very modern. The
FSI course gives me the scholarly background.
I find that the FSI course is a bit taxing at
times, and so I take a rest by doing some of
the easy Pimsleur lessons for a while. The
two courses support each other - the Yale
romanisation in FSI greatly helps my
pronunciation, and the Pimsleur improves my
fluency. I will probably review the Pimsleur
course a few times while I complete the FSI
course.
Sure, it's a bit of money, but just how well
do you want to learn Cantonese? I want to
REALLY learn how to speak, and I refuse to
cut corners.
Classroom courses don't exist in Sydney,
and private lessons would cost be $80 an hour.
I estimate it will take me 300 or 400 hours
of work to learn Cantonese, so that makes
$24,000 to $32,000 of private lessons.
Either that or marry a Cantonese speaker. To
me the tapes are cheap.
Remember what I said before: tapes are there
24 hours a day, they don't complain, and they
are always consistent (as long as my batteries
in my walkman are still alive). I do a lot
of learning on the way to work and going home,
so it really doesn't take a lot of time out
of my day.
I like to remind people that I'm doing this
because it's fun. The more I learn Cantonese
the more I enjoy it, and I'm looking forward
to surprising the Hong Kong people I know one
day by suddenly speaking to them in Cantonese.
It's all a question of how committed you are.
When you're really ready, tapes are the way
to go.
Eugene Morrow

Gary

Re: Learning Cantonese from scratch

Postby Gary » Tue Jun 26, 2001 6:58 pm

: Kevin,
: I was in a similar situation.
: In the meantime I worked through a number of courses with books and tapes. Of all those the best one seemed to be
: "Colloquial Cantonese" from Routledge.
: It has been published in the 1990s, so its language is reasonably modern.
The YMCA in Hong Kong has some great classes in Cantonese. You like boxed things, try "Everyday Catonese" This is very good. Also, Keith Tong's book Colloquial Cantonese" from Routledge is very good and you can have Tapes or CDs and is found in the USA.
Ohio State at one point had classes but not now.

Kevin

Thanks...!

Postby Kevin » Wed Jun 27, 2001 2:24 am

Thanks for all the info, guys. I'd been toying with the idea of using tapes for a little while, but I'd always wondered how effective they all, particularly since I'm a visual kind of guy. I think that's what's made Cantonese a little daunting - the fact that you can't actually *write* it. (Romanisation notwithstanding.)
Once again, thanks for the info!
Kevin

Helmut
Posts: 43
Joined: Thu Feb 03, 2005 3:53 pm

Re: Tape courses - what they are like

Postby Helmut » Wed Jun 27, 2001 10:58 pm

Hi Eugene,
you gave me already a pretty good idea about the
two courses. Thanks a lot !
My language learning strategy is to work through
many different courses one after the other in
order to broaden my base before advancing to the
next level. It had served me well before with
another language, so I try it again.
Unfortunately, choice is somewhat limited for
Cantonese, and I have seen some very bad
Cantonese language courses, and quality not being
related much to the price. So, I was curious
whether your courses might be good for me.
Judging from what you say, the Pimsleur is good
but only for beginners and I definitely passed
that stage already. I might consider the other
one, though.
From my own experience, a course like you describe
the Pimsleur to be is very good for starting,
because it gives you an immediate feeling for the
language melody and phonetics. Probably, I would
have bought it, had I found it in a shop when I
started out with Cantonese. Still, the books have
served me well, especially the one I mentioned.
Anyway, they mostly do come with tapes (even
though some taught me more English than Cantonese).
And even with the tapes, you have to check
regularly with native Cantonese speakers to get
your pronunciation right. (Maybe your idea of
marrying a native speaker isn't that bad after
all, and even if she talks back, it improves your
Cantonese.)
Wish you success
Helmut

arumugam

Re: Learning Cantonese from scratch

Postby arumugam » Thu Sep 13, 2001 4:01 am

: Although I'm about as non-Chinese as you can get, I've been interested in learning Cantonese for a while. I have several close Cantonese friends, none of whom are particularly good teachers, and years of listening to their conversations hasn't gotten me very far since I have no foundation at all. So far, all I've picked up are ultra-basic conversational phrases (like "thanks" and "good morning") and some random scattered phrases and words (like "turn right (and left)" and "plaza").
: I was wondering if anyone has any insights on the best way of getting even just a rudimentary understanding of the language so that I can get to the point where I *can* start to learn by listening to conversations. Asking the friends I mentioned isn't really an option: I *have* asked, and they aren't that good at teaching. I'm not really looking to speak it all that well (although that would be nice too), but at least be able to follow the gist of a conversation.
: Free would be ideal. I like the idea of websites, since they can provide both text and sound, and I can learn it at my own pace. I had found what I considered was a super website at http://www.geocities.com/Tokyo/Palace/7239/
: , but it closed for indefinite maintenance only a week after I discovered it. (This was about a year ago, maybe more. Anyone know if it's ever going to be revived?) I've also tried reading English- and Chinese-subtitled Hong Kong movies, but they speak way too fast, and I've often noticed that what they say in Cantonese doesn't match what is written in English.
: Any suggestions...?
: Mgoh sai!
: Kevin

David Noel

Re: Thanks...!

Postby David Noel » Tue Sep 25, 2001 5:04 pm

The best way I have found to learn cantonese is with tapes but you also need someone you like being with to help you with the correct pronunciation. I have also motivated myself to learn all the vocabulary pertaining to my environment.: Thanks for all the info, guys. I'd been toying with the idea of using tapes for a little while, but I'd always wondered how effective they all, particularly since I'm a visual kind of guy. I think that's what's made Cantonese a little daunting - the fact that you can't actually *write* it. (Romanisation notwithstanding.)
: Once again, thanks for the info!
: Kevin

LOVELY12

Postby LOVELY12 » Wed Jan 09, 2008 9:35 am

Cantonese is hard to learn as it is informal.

stanleyyou
Posts: 3
Joined: Mon Apr 28, 2008 11:07 am
Location: chandigarh, India

Postby stanleyyou » Mon Apr 28, 2008 11:29 am

Cantonese is one of the oldest languages(not dialect) in China, yet I don't think it's an informal language. Why people can't teach properly is because lack of governmental promotion of the Writing Cantonese

LearnChineseGirl
Posts: 3
Joined: Mon Aug 18, 2008 11:06 pm

re: Learning Cantonese

Postby LearnChineseGirl » Tue Aug 19, 2008 12:19 am

Hi,

This is a very old thread now, but thought I'd add my thoughts:

BASIC Cantonese is really not so difficult, it's just that it takes some time to get used to the new sounds. That simply amounts to practice with listening and repeating. For those just getting started, please try my free Cantonese lessons (click here).

However, I will agree that mastering (or becoming fluent) in Cantonese is a big challenge. I really think this is because there are so many slang terms in Cantonese, and they change all the time. On the other hand, if you want a challenge, slang terms can be a lot of fun to study and provide a lot of culture insight.

Interested in Chinese tutoring? Please click here to contact me

Thanks

User avatar
winniebree
Posts: 13
Joined: Wed Sep 24, 2008 4:27 pm
Contact:

Re: Learning Cantonese from scratch

Postby winniebree » Thu Sep 25, 2008 2:26 am

Basically I grew up watching Hongkong tv and movies and listening to Cantonese radio. I tried to pick up Cantonese words but my Cantonese was still very bad. Forget to mention that I am a Chinese who was born and raised in Guangdong. Since there were not many native Cantonese speakers around, I was too shy to open my mouth to speak the dialect even when I had a chance to meet one. Then I went to college in Guangzhou and after graduation a couple of years in a Cantonese speaking region. For at least 7 years,I had to force myself to use this language on a daily basis. Little by little, I made progress. Although now I don't practise Cantonese as much(because I don't a Cantonese learning environment), I am proud to say my Cantonese is more than okay.
I have many friends from outside Guangdong region. They tried very hard to pick up the dialect. But it never worked out the way they wanted it to be.In many cases, they were too embarrassed to speak because they were so afraid that people would laugh at their accents. In the end they chose to give up. The funny thing is many Mandarin speakers even complained that learning Cantonese was harder than learning English.
All I want to say is learning Cantonese is like learning any other languages (regional languages or foreign languages). It could be easy and difficult at the same time. If you really want to learn it, you have to make an effort.
If you want to win a game, you have to play it.

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