Mon 14 Aug 2006
In my first month of learning Cantonese, I learnt a mere 100 spoken words. I calculated 100 x 12 months = 1200 words per year if I continued on this pattern. As Pimsleur moved so slowly and painfully, I didn’t think it was possible to learn any faster.
The Linguist classifies a persons speaking ability by the number of words you know: Beginner a) 2,000 b) 3,500 Intermediate a) 5,000 b) 7,500 Advanced a) 10,000 b) 12,500
I thought that it would take 10 years to become advanced. Especially Cantonese being very tonal and intonations being very important, it takes much longer to accurately learn a word correctly. Saying a word with the wrong tone more often than not gives a different meaning.
My goal is to be functional in Cantonese as fast as humanly possible without total immersion in my first year of study.
I discovered that learning from reading is not effective, I would go to the dictionary and read:
超級市場 = ciu1 kap1 si5 coeng4 = supermarket
I committed this word to memory and then attempt to use it a few days later in a conversation. Even if I can remember the pronunciation of this word, I have already forgotten the tones. I haven’t heard the word enough to automatically and accurately reproduce the tones and word. Guessing leads to a high chance of making a mistake.
Unfortunately, I haven’t heard the word enough and so I start making the same mistakes. Once a bad habit is established, its very hard to break. I found that if you don’t correct bad tones early on, your speaker eventually gets used to your bad tones and eventually won’t correct you. Practicing with another speaker will result in “Huh? I don’t understand”. The reason being that native speaker (A) has gotten used to your bad tones and can understand what you are saying within context and perhaps if they are your teacher know what you are saying by the vocabulary you have been taught. Native speaker (B) has not gotten used to your bad tones and will immediately not comprehend, and even in context may still not understand.