Over 2 years I’ve read thousands of forum posts on people’s experiences in learning languages and methods they’ve used to improve their spoken skills. Many people have given various suggestions which I’ve tried. The number one advice is to simply listen and imitate what you hear. Now this method not only doesn’t work for me, it actually hinders me.

Imitating new words without analysing its tones and romanization actually hinders my pronuncation. I tried once-upon-a-time to simply listen and copy, and ended up speaking some rubbish bastardised dribble that people can’t understand. What I thought I heard actually ends up being totally opposite to what the real tone and romanization were. Maybe I get it right then and there, but the next day I can’t remember how the words sounded like. If I proactively study a word I get better results, I’ll explain why…

EVERY word I learn goes through this process:

1) Learn words by Listening: Perhaps via watching Television, my wife telling me a new word, I ask how to say a new word.

2) Get its meaning: I hate people teaching me a new word in Cantonese. I honestly never remember or understand the explanations. Either the explanations contain 3-4 new words or the meaning isn’t clear for me which I will then never remember. I prefer direct Cantonese to English translations for every word! The times when there is no suitable English word, I prefer an English explanation. This is where it becomes tricky… many people have given me ridiculous English meanings which I needed to correct by using the Cantodict dictionary. I have learnt every word purely by doing a translation into English. This does not mean I think in English or translate everything I hear into English. Only new words I learn I prefer to be acquired via English as the meaning is much clearer and I remember far better. The other way is to provide a Cantonese synonym which I’ve already learnt and produces the same results.

3) Get the tones and Jyutping: I use the Cantodict dictionary in which I guess the 拼音 ping3 jam1 or have a native speaker type the characters which I then look up the correct tones and romanization. I’m also lucky because my wife knows all the tones in Cantonese and I can easily ask her what a particular word’s tone is.

4) Get a few pratical examples: I hate learning a word and then using it incorrectly, so I ask my wife or forum members to provide a few examples.

5) Use the words: I sometimes have sane conversations with myself to improve fluency of new words, but I also purposely throw in new words in every conversation where applicable so to build its automaticity. Then I’ll try them out with my wife or colleagues.

This is how I’ve learnt ~10,000 Cantonese words and I can think 100% in Cantonese! I hope this helps those that email me asking.