Language


I actually bought this book online a year ago from America. Learnt tons of swear words, slang, daily conversation words, rude sayings and tons of informal words. I’m also told the book is up to date and doesn’t contain out of date phrasing. Contains Chinese characters and Yale Pinyin. Much of the content isn’t even slang, very common and useful. Not really a Dictionary of Cantonese Slang, but rather a Dictionary of Cantonese with over 500 pages and 195megs!

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Dictionary of Cantonese Slang

I know tons of foreigners that think that if they kept listening to Cantonese, they will eventually pick it up - no matter if its the radio and it all sounds like gibberish.

I have probably done around 80% input (listening) to about 20% output (speaking). This means, you don’t speak your way to fluency…. you listen your way to fluency. You can’t output what you haven’t inputted.

In my journey to learn Cantonese as fast as possible, I have learnt the most important principle in learning languages - You need to understand the input, which is one of Stephen Krashen’s principles of 2nd language acquisition.

  • Repetitive listening to content that doesn’t make sense will not mean you will eventually get it.
  • Listening to incomprehensible content very loud and clear will not mean you will understand it better
  • Listening to incomprehensible content super slow over and over will not make you understand it better

So how can you understand the input? Take a look at Stephen Krashen as he explains the most important factor in learning languages.

The fastest way to learn Cantonese is by

  • Learning as much vocab as possible. You can’t speak what you haven’t learnt, and you can’t guess your way through conversations as you’ll just look stupid when you do the wrong thing.
  • Forget the grammar. You will notice it naturally after huge input. You’ll simply notice that’s the way they do it.
  • Understand what you are listening. My method is to translate each “new” word into Jyutping, then into English and listen over-and-over to the Cantonese until it becomes natural.
  • Learn the tone number with every new word and memorise it. Otherwise, you’ll sound like a broken record.

To the know-it-all foreigners and to to locals that preach Cantonese has no grammar, the big news is that CANTONESE HAS GRAMMAR. Though for all learners, I suggest you don’t learn it until you are quite good. You don’t need to learn it because you’ll never speak smoothly when sentences need to be filtered through a wall of grammar rules. You’ll start figuring out that time and verbs go in certain places. You’ll notice the ending particles after you listen to them being said in context.

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.

Mohammad

I came across an article (少數族裔不懂中文搵工難 - siu2 sou3 zuk6 jeoi6 bat1 dung2 zung1 man4 wan2 gung1 naan4) in Yahoo about Ethnic Minorities finding it difficult to find work in Hong Kong. The article describes a young man Mohammad, which I previously met briefly last month.

He tells the story that he can speak fluent Cantonese but cannot read or write. He only studied to Form 5 and constantly gets rejected for jobs when he writes a Pakistani name and gets phone calls when he writes a Chinese name. Also when people call him up, they recognise that he has an accent and rejects him because he is not Chinese.

I met a group of ethnic minorities who want the government to cater for their poor language needs so that they can enter the civil service without needing to pass Chinese. They claim that they get discriminated because they can’t pass the Chinese test. I met a person who claimed he couldn’t get a promotion in the civil service because of non-existent Chinese reading skills. Its 11 years since 1997 and instead of learning to read Chinese, he’d rather complain for 11 years that the Government discriminated him. On the other hand, he said he would need 7 years to learn written Chinese properly. To me, its pretty obvious if he didn’t spend 11 years complaining that he couldn’t get promoted for poor Chinese, he could have already mastered Chinese and been promoted.

Regarding this article, Mohammad quit his previous job because he wanted to take leave to act in a documentary about race discrimination. When his boss didn’t allow him to, he decided to quit. This is the real world, and obviously he doesn’t have his priorities straight. I couldn’t imagine asking my boss for random leave so I could act in a TVB series. One has a commitment to their job and why would it be any different for Mohammad, just because he wants to act in a race discrimination video.

Many Chinese people get rejected for jobs all the time. Even I know many who don’t get phone calls either. Even I applied for work and been rejected, I don’t believe its discrimination because I’m a Westerner. For Mohammad who is a Form 5 Graduate, demand for jobs would be quite competitive in today’s economic market. I’m sure there is a huge pool of job seekers who can speak and write both Chinese and English. So it makes more sense for Mohammad to find his own competitive advantage. I’m sure not many employers would want to hire sub-par employees.

I don’t deny there isn’t discrimination in Hong Kong as I’ve been a victim of it in Australia and Hong Kong. Though I think that one should only blame themselves for their own language limitations. I see many job postings relating to my previous/current experiences on JobsDB, which I believe I could do well. However, due to having Written and Spoken Chinese requirements, I know that I am not suitable. Instead of complaining that I was discriminated because of my foreign name, I took out my copy-book and practiced several pages of Chinese.

I live in Hong Kong and I am seeing an increasing trend of Chinese parents only speaking broken English to their children.

Obviously the parents think English equals Money, so they try to create some dodgy fake English only environment for their kids to help give them some head start or advantage.

Perhaps I’m too extreme, but to me it just falls short of a form of child abuse.

Its actually none of my business, but does anyone else feel sickened by this?

I should be learning the language, instead I spend too much time reading about the language. To be more specific, reading about how people learn languages and opinions on language study. I regularly surf various language forums throughout the day reading about how people become fluent and getting involved in various debates. At the end of the day, I can spend 4-5 hours reading about something I already knew or information that simply doesn’t improve my Cantonese. You can see that 140 hours per month is spent on meaningless discussions.

I followed a lengthy discussion on Chinesepod.com - Is Steve Kaufmann right? I read every comment, even checking Steve’s blog for any posts and comments. This consumed around 3 hours of my time, in which I gained nothing. This type of time wasting happens on a daily basis. For the last 4 days I had very limited Internet access being in Guangzhou for Chinese New Year with my wife’s family. I was able to learn a large amount of Cantonese and spent the majority of my time in “oral Cantonese” discussions. This time would have probably been spent reading/writing in English on language blogs/forums when in Hong Kong.

Even at this very moment typing this post, I am watching TVB, however, my brain remains in English because I’m typing in English. My thoughts are constructed in English while I write and read English. Its like an addiction, if I have a computer in front of me, I can’t help but check/participate/and debate on various language forums. As I can’t read no more than 40 Chinese characters, I am forced to browse using English as my Internet language.

Why not turn off the computer? I would learn faster if I didn’t have the Internet, however, the Cantonese Dictionary has become a vital component for my continual improvement. I need to know definitions in order to understand what I’m hearing, and so why I continue to use the Internet. You can’t simply just listen to new words and eventually work out the meaning that easily.

I’m sure many other people fall into the same trap. The intention is to learn the language, but instead you are spending the time reading posts about languages as is the case if you have read this post.

I found on RTHK, a programme about promoting better pronunciation of Cantonese in Hong Kong. I’ve noticed my listening skills improving greatly, as I was able to understand much of the show. After watching the programme, I corrected some of my pronunciation mistakes. I hope you enjoy.

Part 1: 06:11min Part 2: 04:35min Part 3: 05:38min Part 4: 04:27min
PART 1 PART 2 PART 3 PART 4
 

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