Listening to Cantonese over-and-over…

Cantonese is very tonal; the wrong tone can cause misunderstanding, even in context. It’s virtually impossible to remember words and tones through memorising a dictionary. So how can I learn massive amounts of vocabulary without sounding like a pitch-less opera singer? Speaking fluently requires memorisation of vocabulary and knowing how to say them correctly at the correct tone. In addition, one needs to learn how to use the words in a sentence structure. So far in my studies, I have forced 5000 or so words into my brain through massive listening of repeated audio in under 1 year.

My study regime is 90% listening and 10% speaking. However, I speak Cantonese without thinking in English, and my tones are mostly accurate. I constantly improve without being in a fully immersed environment. I do admit I cannot read any Chinese characters, but in my opinion the time spent in memorising 1 written character cannot possibly outweigh the benefits of learning 10 new words through listening. Especially Written Chinese doesn’t match with Oral Cantonese; it doesn’t help my goal of spoken fluency. I want to be able to use the language to communicate as soon as possible.

Using my iPod, I learn about 15-20 new words, phrases or idioms per day on average. I would begin each day by identifying definitions of each new word first before I listen for 1-2 hour to the same dialogue until it becomes assimilated and automatic. This is extremely beneficial in more complicated phrases, idioms or important words that you often like to say, but don’t listen to them enough in movies or conversations to remember correctly. I have a native speaker explain in Cantonese how to use each new word or phrase in context before I start my listening marathon. I regularly talk to myself in Cantonese with these new words and phrases to ensure when I need to converse to a native speaker, my words come off the tip off my tongue like in English.

DIALOGUE: - (58 seconds)
This MP3 was listened to over 150 times.

Listening to new dialogues each day has improved my intonations and listening comprehension for real-life usage. It has dramatically helped me recognise vocabulary and recall its meaning instantly. In addition to listening to dialogues, I listen for 2 hours each day to vocabulary lists (10-20 new words/phrases/idioms). Instead of making a dialogue, the words are simply spoken one after another. I feel this improves my vocabulary much quicker then a dialogue because the words are spoken more clearly, helping in correct tone recognition and pronunciation. As I have researched the meaning and usage of the words before listening, I find that listening only to specific vocabulary allows me to learn more words in a single hit.

zyun1 fong2 = an exclusive interview
min6 si5 = an interview (job)
fong2 man6 = interview (reporter)
zju3 caak3 = enrol
dang1 gei3 = register
gwaa3 hou6 = register (hospital)

I have learnt that you cannot say a word correctly, if you haven’t heard it properly to begin with. Using this method, I can speak naturally without thinking, my tones are very accurate, and my comprehension has improved. I remember when I was in Hong Kong briefly in June, I wanted to know how to say “recharge” as in top up my Octupus card. I thought I heard people say “zan3 zik1″, when in fact the correct pronunciation is “增值 / zang1 zik6″. This is an example where not hearing the word clearly or enough to begin with can cause problems later on.

My spoken fluency has dramatically improved through repetitive listening, and my recall of words has started to become effortless. I am only now starting to benefit from watching TVB Hong Kong series as a supplement to my studies.

Will I forget words? I sometimes forget new words learnt, however, I regularly revise already learnt material each day. The more often I listen to and revise words, they start becoming like English words: Perfect understanding of the meaning with no effort in recalling how to use and say them. I have a higher chance of remembering a word that I have heard 200 times, then someone who goes to a class and hears that word once every week.