When I first started to learn Cantonese and even up to a few days ago, I thought that reading and writing Chinese would be a total waste of my time. Speaking Cantonese fluently is all that I needed and I would be happy. Besides street signs are written in both English and Chinese.

I was only kidding myself as I continually found it difficult to build my vocabulary to the advanced level without characters and relying 100% on Cantodict Parser to translate everything to Jyutping. I still wanted to build my spoken fluency first, then maybe tackle characters next year or the year after.

Yesterday, I found a school very close to my workplace, Hong Kong Language Learning Centre. I walked in and spoke in English, “I want to learn some Cantonese”. She asked if I was interested in their Beginner Level 1 Spoken class. Being modest, I replied that maybe Intermediate classes would suit me since I already knew a little. After a short conversation she pointed out a few things about my Cantonese:

- Pronunciation needs a little more work which gets worse when I speak fast
- I speak quite fluently but difficult at times because I speak too fast
- In general my tones are good but fall apart when speaking too fast

So simply speaking, I speak too fast and need to slow down. When I finally slowed down, I sounded quite good and she had no problems in communicating with me.

She suggested that I am better than some of their Advanced - Level 2 students and probably even Level 3. I took a look at their course materials for these levels and I found that I knew more than 80% or 90% of the new vocabulary. I’m quite paranoid of non-native foreign accents and bad habits affecting my Cantonese, that I decided to choose the Reading and Writing Beginner Level 1 class instead. She explained that the students could already speak fluently.

Luckily the term commenced last night, I signed up and started the class that day - quite cheap $2300HKD for 10 lessons (2 hours each). There were 2 other students in the class, surprisingly they were both native Hong Kong Cantonese speakers and victims of parents who thought English was superior to Chinese. These students grew up and studied half their life in Hong Kong (International school) before moving to Canada during primary school. Worried I might drown in the constant flow of advanced spoken Cantonese, I amazed myself and could understand 95% of what the teacher was saying.

I have never intentionally learnt to read, but I have accumulated a few hundred characters through daily exposure of street signs, sub-titles, and Cantodict. Our first lesson was quite interesting as I learnt the Cantonese names of the 12 strokes and learnt the stroke orders, character rules and some meanings for some characters.

We practiced to write following characters: 一二三四五六七八九十口月日水王玉山木田魚火明女子好人中不年有我你您他她們是美個高國

I’ve decided to learn how to read as fast as possible! I know Steve Kaufmann learnt to read a newspaper fluently in 6 months, so I’m sure its not as impossible as I once was lead to believe.