We are very pleased to have the chance to speak with Olly from I Will Teach You A Language, who we first met through his Youtube video about learning Cantonese. As he can actually speak 8 languages, we are happy to invite him to share with you some tips about learning Cantonese. Cantonese is considered to be amongst the hardest languages to learn in the world and, whilst many foreigners can speak fluent Mandarin, those speaking fluent Cantonese like Olly are relatively few. Surprisingly, Olly is not even living in a place such as Hong Kong where Cantonese is spoken, so we really wondered about his secrets for mastering such a difficult language.
Hi Olly, here are some things we’d like to know:
(1) Why don’t you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and how you can learn 8 languages?
Thanks for inviting me! When I was at school in the UK, I had a terrible experience with languages. I took French and German classes at school, just like everybody else, but I had no interest at all. Why was I learning these languages? What was the point?
It wasn’t until a few years later that I started learning language on my own. I was 19 years old and my girlfriend had just left me! I was feeling heartbroken so I took the quite extreme step of leaving the UK for a while. I bought a one-way ticket on the Eurostar to France, and went to live in Paris for 6 months.
Although my French was terrible, I started studying by myself because I was desperate to stay, and not to go back to London like a failure! I think it was this determination that helped me learn French at that time. Your first foreign language is the first. Every language after that, whilst certainly not “easy”, is certainly less of a mystery.
Now that I’ve learnt seven foreign languages, I’m not an expert, but I do know how I work best and how I learn. That’s what helps me pick up languages quickly these days, and what helps me teach others to do the same.
(2) How long have you been studying Cantonese and Mandarin? In your opinion, which one is more difficult to learn?
I studied Cantonese for 1 year, from 2013-14. I don’t speak Mandarin, in fact, but I know a lot of people who do, and the consensus is certainly that Cantonese is harder. Not only do you have more tones to learn, but Cantonese is a spoken language, meaning that there is very little useful reading you can do to help your studies.
(3) We know from your video that you don’t live in Hong Kong, so how do you practice speaking Cantonese?
I use tutors on iTalki.com on a regular basis to practise speaking Cantonese. Without iTalki.com, I would never have been able to get to the level I have! If I lived in a big city like London or New York, I would go out and find Cantonese people to meet up and do language exchanges with regularly, though, because I really like that face-to-face interaction over coffee! 🙂
(4) Is Cantonese grammar and Mandarin grammar the same?
There are variations and differences, but the two languages have predominantly the same grammatical foundation.
(5) Have you used any Apps and/or tools to help you learn Cantonese? Which resources have you used the most?
The problem with apps in general with Cantonese is that the written form and the spoken form are often confused. I used CantoneseClass101.com, which I thought was pretty good, but even they often confuse spoken and written Cantonese, which is very frustrating.
The app that I used the most (and still do for all my languages) is Flashcards Deluxe. It’s a flashcard app which you can use to store and review vocabulary.
(6) What are your top few tips about how to learn Cantonese?
It’s essential that you start working with a native speak right from the start, mainly because pronunciation is such a challenge. Whether you decide to take classes or learn from a textbook, you need to make sure you are pronouncing the tones correctly, and only a native speaker can help you do that.
After that, you need to be speaking with a native speaker on a regular basis. Since there’s a huge lack of general study material and also material for reading, the only option left for you in order to get your exposure is speaking.
(7) We believe you can speak 7 other languages. What are some of the biggest mistakes you have seen people make in learning Cantonese or any other new language in general?
People focus too much on method and not enough on building successful language learning habits. There are
hundreds of methods out there, and they will all work… unless you don’t actually study every day!
The single biggest thing you can do right now to improve your language learning is to figure out how and when you can study better, and commit yourself to doing it. Once you’re studying regularly, you’ll start to notice how you learn, which will enable you to make better decisions about learning in general.
(8) How do you avoid forgetting some of the languages you speak, especially as you don’t live amongst people speaking them?
It’s a challenge, especially when you get beyond 2-3 languages. I try to speak regularly on Skype with people I know, and try to dedicate time each week to meeting friends who speak various languages.
It’s also a good idea to try to take advantage of the various 5-10 minute breaks you have throughout the day to get a bit of exposure to each of the languages you speak. I’m by no means great at this, but I’m trying to improve!
(9) We know you are offering a language course here. Can you kindly tell our readers a little bit more about how your course helps people learn a language?
Sure. As I said earlier, if you want to become fluent in a new language, the biggest challenge for you is not the language itself, but it’s how effectively you can study. But with so many methods and so many materials out there, how do you know what to do every day?
My course is called Language Learning Foundations, and it teaches you the specific techniques and study routines that I use to learn to speak a new language quickly. It’s a 10-part video course that is perfect for busy people, and it shows you exactly how to study efficiently, covering topics such as:
● How to find native speakers to talk to
● How to study when you’re really busy
● How to plan your week
● How to understand native speakers
● How to stay motivated
(10) If, for some reason, you forgot how to speak Cantonese, how would you get started to learn it again?
I would schedule time every day to chat with native speakers, and keep it up for as long as possible! I’m not a big fan of watching movies in a foreign language to learn it, but they are very useful for reactivating a language, so I’d watch Hong Kong TV Dramas every night, starting with Triumph in the Skies(冲上雲霄） – my personal favourite!
That’s great, thanks Olly for taking the time to answer our questions and share your tips about the best ways to learn Cantonese.
We hope that our students and followers at Learn Mandarin Now will find it all that much easier to study and become natural, fluent speakers of Cantonese after reading this!