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How do I even begin to learn Cantonese?


I have a background in Japanese since I went to Japanese school as a child, so I have a better idea of how to learn it. But I have no idea how to even begin to look at Cantonese, a language I never heard until this year.

For learning: Chinese (Cantonese)
Base language: English
Category: Language



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    Hi Noli,

    First off, please keep in mind that any of my suggestions below relate to my personal experience and methodology, thus this may or may not work/suffice for others.

    With that being said, here's a bunch of resources and steps I have used, or still use.

    As with any language, I guess your best starting point would be the basics of all basics, i.e. greetings, introductions, common words along the lines of 'thank you/please', and so on...

    As you may know, Cantonese is a tonal language, therefore your pronunciation (read: intonation) of individual syllables will alter the meaning of said syllable. A decent place to read up on this for free can be found here:
    Moreover, since Cantonese in its written form is expressed through characters, you will have to learn a romanization system to help you through your journey (this is essential in so many ways). Where Mandarin has its official Pinyin system, Cantonese is a little more difficult, as there is no 'official' system. However, I would suggest you stick to the most common ones, which are, for one, the Jyutping, or alternatively, the Yale system (since you are a native English speaker, I think you will find the Yale system to be the most appropriate).

    From there I would suggest getting into basic grammar, in the shape of sentence structures, to help you express simple ideas and form basic sentences. You could have a quick google for 'cantoneseclass101' as well as the 'popupcantonese' podcasts. Both will slowly ease you into things and will help you pick up basic grammar notions along the way. Cantoneseclass101 works on a premium subscription model, however I've found the free membership to be more than sufficient, just use a secondary email address perhaps since they enjoy to send you promotional emails quite often to get you to upgrade.

    [Continued below]


    Get a teacher who will say simple sentences to you slowly and tell you what they mean. Then practice each by having your teacher ask you questions. Over and over. Slowly. When you feel like you're getting that sentence pretty well and can answer the questions easily (and understand them ;-) ) move to another sentence. Don't worry about the theory of the tones and the spelling and this and that -- listen and mimic your teacher, who will be speaking slowly, clearly and a little exaggerated. If you want to read, get your teacher to write out the simple sentences you did in class, and (ideally) something that uses the same words but tells a different story, so you really have to understand it. My teacher on this site is amazing for this sort of thing -- it is a real talent and rare to find someone who can stick to it, but she does.

    1) Tone exercises. There's 9 tones.
    2) Pronouns
    3) Simple verbs and simple daily sentences PLUS grammar
    4) advance words

    If you choose to learn how to write Traditional Chinese writing while learning how to speak Cantonese, then you will focus more time on learning how to read and white in traditional writing.

    If you choose to learn how how to read and write Simplified Chinese writing while learning how to speak Cantonese, then this will be about same pace as above. Maybe faster.

    Both ways, you have to learn how to use the keyboard. Mandarin uses pinyin, a system that I love because I can just pick out the characters.
    Cantonese uses thecrazy numbers like shui5. <--I hate using this.

    If you choose to focus on speaking Cantonese, then it will be a lot easier.
    Just uses your best listening skills and muscles.


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