Hello everyone! In today’s post I will share a bit about my effort to learn the Cantonese language and how it is going so far.
Cantonese is a subdivision of Mandarin and is spoken in Hong Kong, Macau and some parts of China (in the province of Guangdong and some neighbouring areas such as Guangxi, as well as the majority language of the Pearl River Delta). According to Wikipedia, Cantonese is the predominant Chinese variety spoken in Hong Kong and Macau. In these areas, public discourse takes place almost exclusively in Cantonese, making it the only variety of Chinese other than Mandarin to be used as an official language in the world.
When writing in Cantonese you use the traditional Chinese characters, but pronounce them in Cantonese in stead of Mandarin. So if you want to learn how to write in Cantonese, you need to be willing to learn to write in traditional Chinese. There are various rules for stroke order in writing traditional Chinese and I am planning to learn how to write in Chinese, enabling me to read the names of places here as well as menu’s hopefully.
Some of the jobs I’ve seen here require you to be able to speak Cantonese and write Chinese, so it is something to consider if you are applying for jobs here in Macau.
The Cantonese language is a tonal language and it is very important that you get the tones right when speaking to people as different tones convey different meanings. The different tones sound like a melody to me, and being a singer I am finding the tones not that hard to cope with. The difficult part is when I listen to a Cantonese speaker who speaks fast – then it all becomes a blur to me.
Luckily there is a writing system, called Jyutping, that helps you understand the tone used for the word, and read the word in letters in stead of Chinese characters. Nei hou – the word for hello is written as 你好嗎 in traditional Chinese and nei5 hou2 (the numbers indicate the tone used) in Cantonese. You can find more on Cantonese terms and audio links here, and Cantonese phrases here.
I found a fantastic online course for learning Cantonese named CantoneseClass101. It is a great resource, and I have been learning Cantonese using their site. They have great podcasts with an English and Cantonese speaker (who can also speak English) presenting each lesson, with downloadable pdf’s for each lesson. Their site has the following difficulty levels: introduction, absolute beginner, beginner, intermediate and advanced. I am currently in the absolute beginner phase but determined to learn more. I would definitely recommend the site for anyone wanting to learn Cantonese. There is also a nice App that you can try called Cantonese by Nemo (iPhone and (Android). It sends you a word for the day and has word lists as well.
The only downside that I found is that people here often speak Mandarin in stead of Chinese and then nei hou becomes nie hou, which means “how are you” and not “hello” like in Cantonese. The language also confuses me at this stage but I will make more effort and report back in a couple of months on my progress.