Cantonese


I hate when people tell me “your Cantonese is very good” but say it in English. Finally, all my built up frustration over the years can be explained by this video…

A while back, someone on the Cantonese learning forum described:

There are two Hong Kong’s.

Hong Kong (香港,香講) and Hong (m) Kong (香唔港, 香唔講).

“Heung Gong” (香港,香講) is “the HK that speaks to you in Cantonese”. You’ll make friends and speak Cantonese with them. Heung Gong (HK) people mostly live in Kowloon, the New Territories, Shenzhen and Guangzhou.

“Heung (m) Gong” (香唔港, 香唔講) or H(m)K is the HK that won’t speak in Cantonese to you.

Heung (m) Gong (HmK), is mainly located in certain parts of Central and in the offices of foreign capital firms. HmK’ers generally speak Cantonese among themselves. You’ll hear them joke, smile, laugh, greet and talk in Cantonese. But not to you.

They’ll speak “about” Cantonese in English. But not “in” Cantonese to you. To everyone else, yes, but not to you.

Some when they speak “in” English “about” Cantonese, will claim they’re speaking “in” Cantonese. You’ll notice it after a few experiences. Don’t get fooled.

“Heung Gong” (香講) people will accept you, speak Cantonese to you and welcome you. It’s heaven. Many can’t speak English and have no interest in English at all. They’ll talk “in” Cantonese. There’s no problem, no insults, no exclusion.

Iranian American Speaking Fluent Chinese (both Cantonese and Mandarin) Started learning Chinese at 19 and now speaks perfect Chinese in both Cantonese and Mandarin, and what’s more incredible he has never been to China or Hong Kong.

I think he is naturally gifted in languages and speaking in general. He didn’t even have one “ummm” or “ahhh” in his entire video. Even in English I cannot speak for this period of time without needing to think or hesitate to some extent.

I don’t normally watch Pearl, however, I unintentionally came across a great video of Greg Smith who has lived in Hong Kong for 2 decades. After watching it on TV, I downloaded it from RTHK website, and then uploaded to Youtube for your enjoyment. Coincidentally, I think he looks like 大山 a famous Beijing Westerner.

The other day I went to MacDonald’s and ordered the usual Double Cheese Burger and Strawberry Milkshake. The 40 or so year old man took down the order and spoke Cantonese. Though after that he proceeded to say in English “Your Cantonese is bad, don’t speak it”. This suddenly shocked me and probably it is the first time in years to have someone say this to me taking me back to the very early days.

I suddenly blasted attacks in Cantonese which actually made me just as bad as he was. I lied and told the manager he said 死鬼佬 sei2 gwai2 lou2, all I wanted was the burger and he discriminated against me etc.

Now I’m feeling depressed and unhappy about what I have achieved. I used to think I was pretty good, but after watching other non-Chinese Cantonese speakers such as Michael below; I realise my vocabulary is way too elementary. Even though I can understand what’s on TV without much problems at all now, I listened to Michael’s speech and immediately needed to look up 10 sentences or phrases. If this was a real conversation, I would be incredibly annoying to the speaker for not understanding.

So seriously this year, its time to pick up my game and learn Cantonese. I’ll put up an MP3 of my current Cantonese within the next day or so. What I can say now is that I promise to master Cantonese no matter what it takes!

Michael has excellent Cantonese and has studied for 13 years in Canada. He also has advanced writing skills too - http://faailok.spaces.live.com/ which is even more impressive.

I felt burnt out after nearly 2 years of non-stop studying of Cantonese that I took the last month and a bit off from proactive studying to simply just using what I’ve got and slowly improve on what I already know.

It appears my colleagues are now using Cantonese with me all the time now, and they said my tones are 80-90% correct all the time which I’m happy with.

My writing is slowly getting better but still like a year 1 student. This will be my main focus for 2008…. I will start level 2 of the writing course I’ve started in Wan Chai in a couple of days.

I will also start on actively using Cantophilia and Marcelo’s blog (links can be found on the side menu) which provide excellent resource material.

I will get my wife to record more MP3s but at a more advance level.

Even though I understand a lot and can speak semi-smoothly, I want to build up my level so its more natural and smooth.

I was interviewed a week or so ago by Gary Choi of SBS Radio Australian Cantonese Radio station in Cantonese as part of the Happy Paradise Children’s Program.

Please let me know how I sound now? Remember this wasn’t scripted and I didn’t know the questions before answering.

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.

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