It’s often a major challenge for many students working out how best to learn Cantonese—or deciding to learn Cantonese instead of Mandarin.
To help get some answers, we are very pleased to have with us Paulina from the popular blog My Hong Kong Husband, which happens to be one of the favourites at Learn Mandarin Now.
We understand Paulina has been learning Cantonese for some time so we asked her for some suggestions and tips.
1. We know you learnt both Mandarin and Cantonese. Which one did you learn first?
I should say I started to learn Mandarin first, but I gave up after few lessons – mostly because my husband’s native language is Cantonese. The only problem I had was there is no book to learn Cantonese in my own language so I had to use my second language to learn the third one. I regret a bit not continuing on Mandarin so I could communicate more with our further family back in Shanghai, but I know I wouldn’t be able to learn both and that’s why I chose to focus only on Cantonese. Still I can understand tiny bit of spoken Mandarin and Shanghainese.
2. If people want to buy a book(s) to teach themselves Cantonese, which ones you would recommend for learning some basic Cantonese?
I tried few of the textbooks, including probably two the most popular ‘Complete Cantonese’ and ‘Cantonese for everyone’ and I have to say I like ‘Cantonese for everyone’ better. ‘Complete Cantonese’ series contains much more material but in my opinion it’s too ‘dry’ and it wasn’t fun at all. ‘Cantonese for everyone’ is much more lighter, it’s more basic than CC, but if you want to know the basics or just use it as a base for further learning CFE should be a good book to start with.
3. Speaking Cantonese is quite hard even for Chinese people if they are not native Cantonese speakers. How can students wanting to learn best get started?
I cannot speak for myself, because I only write and read in Cantonese – my spoken Cantonese is terrible and my hearing is so bad, I can’t hear the difference in tones, but I can give an example of my husband. He’s native to Cantonese and speaks Shanghainese. His father also taught him speaking Mandarin… in a karaoke bar! And from what I heard, during the time my husband was still a kid, it was really popular to teach your kids the right pronunciation by singing. I still occasionally try to sing some Beyond or Sam Hui songs, but I’m sure I mispronounce most of the lyrics.
4. On a daily basis, do you talk to your Hong Kong husband in Cantonese or English? What is some of your favourite Cantonese slang?
As I mentioned my speaking skills are almost non-existing so we mainly communicate in English, but I sometimes write him messages on my phone in Cantonese. Like one of my favourite slangs – 煲電話粥 – to boil phone congee, which means someone talks a lot over the phone, I usually write it down during weekends when my mother-in-law is calling and she talks for two, three hours. Sometimes I joke that she uses my husband as a kitchen timer, because after those 2-3 hours she just hangs up – I guess her congee is done! 😉
5. We believe you wrote an article about Cantonese learning Apps a short time ago. We are curious which Apps you are still using, and which one is your favourite?
Honestly speaking, I don’t use most of them anymore – I downloaded them to check them out and recommend (or not). One of my favourite apps was a karaoke app. For someone struggling with pronunciation as I do, it’s perfect.
Another great one is WordPower Cantonese Dictionary – the only app that actually had a voice recorder so you can compare your pronunciation with the lector.
6. How hard was it for you to learn to read Cantonese?
Memorizing signs and their meaning is not difficult for me, I can memorize them easily, I would recognize them in the text, but it depends what I read. If I read news when they pretty much use ‘the textbook Cantonese’ it shouldn’t be much of a problem, but let’s say I want to do some research to my blog post or simply read a local blog where there’s plenty of new slang – it gets difficult. I need to follow up on sites like PlasticDaily or HKgolden forum to keep up with Cantonese.
7. In your opinion, what are the best tips to learn Cantonese?
Watch a lot of TV shows, listen to Cantonese music and pick the right book. I made a mistake of buying the first book I found on Amazon and it was much harder for me to learn Cantonese from the book I chose, because it was just pain in the bottom of my back to get through the book.
Comic books are good source to learn as well – my small recommendation is ‘My Hong Kong wife’ (I swear my blog’s name is a coincidence) by Cuson Lo. Very cute, simple, funny.
8. We know you love Hong Kong culture—can you tell us about some great sites or forums where people can go to know more about Hong Kong culture?
A lot of people would argue that HKgolden is not necessarily the best forum, but if you want to keep up
with Cantonese that is the forum you need to read. A lot of new terms and slangs come after some news like the thick toast sister meme – 厚多士. And the very first places they show up is either HKgolden or PlasticDaily. Another site you should keep up with is EVCHK Wikia which is basically like Wikipedia of Hong Kong, HK memes, situations, communities etc. – sadly, the site is only in Cantonese, but it’s a good way to practice your language skills!
9. What are your favourite Hong Kong TV shows and movies? And where people can watch them online?
I love old Hong Kong comedies and cat. III movies! I’m not a big fan of Hong Kong dramas, especially they for some reason most of TVB’s dramas end with a BBQ, but when it goes to movies – I LOVE THEM. I’m glad that you can find a lot of them on YouTube – my favourites are The Hui Brothers’ comedies like ‘The last message’, ‘The Private Eyes’ or ‘Security unlimited’. Subtitles are pretty poor, but they will surely make you laugh! I’m not sure if you can still find them on YouTube due to copyrights, but if you do – grab a bag of popcorn and hope you don’t choke while laughing!
You can also order the original DVDs with movies at sites likes YesAsia, but they are pretty expensive. Hopefully one day I will stop being so cheap and buy a bundle of 5 movies for 30 bucks!
10. If you had to learn Cantonese from scratch again, how would you go about it?
I would change small details like which book I should start with and I would speak more when I had a chance back in Hong Kong or in San Francisco Bay Area with huge Cantonese-speaking community. I can read and write, but I cannot speak and that is something I really regret. I would push myself more. I admire everyone who can and please, don’t give up – even if it’s painfully difficult!
Thanks Paulina for answering our questions and sharing you advice and 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 make a decision and eventually become fluent speakers of Cantonese after considering your suggestions and answers!