Monday, January 29, 2007


In my ongoing search for interesting blogs and resources, I ran into some interesting ones from other Cantonese learners.

I enjoy reading blogs from people who are interested in the same things as me. In this case, learning Cantonese. Please take a look.

Licking Cards

I took a biz trip to Japan last week. I needed to speak with one of the management employees about some schedule or another and stood off to the side while she was finishing up a phone call. While I was waiting, I let my eyes wander around her desk. Next to her computer, a slim book caught my eye. The title was "Name Card Holder". You might be wondering why on earth this would stick out at me. Somewhere in my brain, a switch was not turned to "English". What ended up happening was I was reading "Name" with Japanese pronounciation or "nah meh". なめる(or NAMEru) is the Japanese word for "to lick". So here I was wondering to myself what the hell was a licking card. I thought it could be an industrial sized stamp for large mailing parcels. Anyways, at this time, the girl finished her call and just when I was about to ask her what licking cards were, I luckily realized that it was a simple business card case. Public stupidity avoided.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Cantonese Romanization

I am really having a hard time with Cantonese romanization. Almost every book about Mandarin or Cantonese talk about the difficulty of tones and describe how one syllable can have different meanings depending on the tone used. Add to this the number of homonyms for each syllable for each tone and the number of similar syllables can reach up to the tens and twenties. Seeing it written down in English makes it extremely difficult to pinpoint exactly what the meaning is. That is why one of my criteria for choosing study materials is to make sure that Chinese characters are included to give me some sort of visual recognition to help me correlate meaning, sound, and tone. Without the characters, I can guess the meaning, but it can vary wildly if I don't have the Chinese character to let me know if mh means 'five' or 'not'.


About two weeks ago, I tried out sailing for the first time. It was much more easier than windsurfing and I began to better understand the concept of controlling the wind. Of course that doesn't mean that I didn't capsize more than a few times. I enjoyed this much more than windsurfin since I spent more time on the boat than in the water. It still wasn't easy and I have a lot to learn, but I think I'd like to stick with it. One of the problems I had was reversing the direction of the boat since it includes going directly into the wind or directly away from the wind. In either case, the sail will catch the wind and if you are not careful you can stall or find yourself in the water. When turning the boat downwind to reverse direction, it is especially dangerous since the sail will catch the wind hard and swing very quickly to the otherside. It was more than once that I got conked in the head. I thought I was doing something wrong, but the instructor said it wasn't a big deal. I was just too tall for the boat. This just means that I suck at sailing just a little less than I thought. Definitely want to try it again.


A lot of people don't like kanji or at least find it to be the hardest part of Japanese. I also agree that it is a pain in terms of trying to figure out what pronounciation to use, but when it comes to reading, I need to see the kanji. Since Japanese doesn't use spaces when writing sentences, long strings of hiragana is just frustrating since I'm trying to figure out where one word starts and another begins. A lot of students are put off by the combination of hiragana, katakana, and kanji, but the way I see it, it seems to be a more aesthetic alternative to having spaces in the sentences. In any case, with kanji, it is much more easier to see the elements of a sentence if they are included than if they were replaced by their phonetic equivalent in hiragana. Moral of the lesson? Study kanji.


I lived in a bunch of different countries and each time I try to make an effort to learn the language. It doesn't always work, but at least I try. Anyways, in order to function properly in the least amount of time, it will take a lot more than textbooks. That is why I like to keep a phrasebook around in case I need to go to the post office or order at a restaurant or something. Personally, I like the Lonely Planet phrasebooks. It seems to be the only textbook that goes beyond hotel reservation phrases. They include sections like art or sports or any number of phrases to help anyone who will stay in the area longer than a one week trip. Anyways, I study the texts at home, but take the phrasebook when I go out to make sure I can refer to something quickly in case I get in over my head....which is almost everytime I leave the house in Hong Kong.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007




For Xmas Eve/Xmas, I went to a bar with some friends and learned two things: never drink the day before you go windsurfing and how to do numbers in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is definitely a place where drinking is commonplace and drinking games are the norm. One common game involves a guessing game with dice. This game is so popular that almost every bar or drinking establishment will have a full set of dice and cups for every table. The game is easy to pick up, but I don't think I could describe the rules clearly. Anyways, the short version is that you call out how many of a certain number there are until someone thinks it is impossible. For example, if I call out 14 sixes and someone disagrees, the dice are counted and if the number of dice showing six is less then 14, I take a drink. Anyways, a lot of the times, we use our fingers to count out the numbers. 1 to 5 is the same as the US, but 6 to 10 is a bit different.

six: fist out with thumb and pinky sticking out
seven: make and 'L' with thumb and index finger
eight: thumb, index, and middle finger out
nine: index finger hooked
10: crossing index fingers of both hands

I knew about these numbers awhile back but kept forgetting it, but a couple of rounds with the die really burned it in.


A buddy of mine is a real sports nut and he suggested I learn windsurfing. I took the two day course and it is definitely harder than it looks. Day one was a real pain. I probably spent more time in the water than on the board. I obviously have a balance problem. Day two was much better. Far from good, but leaps and bounds from where I was on day one, which, by the way, I was hungover and exhausted from only three hours of sleep from the Xmas party the night before. The water was also freezing which did provide incentive to try to stay on the board. In the end, I was pretty frustrated, but enjoyed it more and more as I started to figure out how to use the wind and stay afloat. I think I'd like to try it some more when the weather gets warmer. In the meantime, I have a sailing course next week.

No Sweat Cantonese (Review I)

I made it about halfway through this book before I decided to put it aside for awhile. Each chapter was broken down in sections: vocab, conversations, phrases, grammar. This is not so bad. I thought it was a nice layout. The problem is that there were obvious holes in the lesson plans. For example, only the vocab section included characters. Everything else was romanized. Despite my loathing of any book that looks down on its students by only using romanization, this wouldn't have been so bad had there been more explanations about how the elements of the sentences were put together to mean what they mean. Basically, you had a sentence or phrase phonetically written out and its colloquial meaning underneath. There was no way a student could break the sentence apart to see how it worked so that he/she could begin making his/her own sentences. To further complicate matters, almost all chapters used unintroduced grammar and vocab that were not explained until later chapters if at all. There were also plenty of editing errors like multiple tones on one word or typos. The CD also did not always follow the format of the book. The Chinese language font used was also pretty difficult to read; too bulky and unclear.

However, there was some good points. There are little nuggets of value sprinkled here and there such as the high falling tone was not that commonplace or that the 'ng' sound at the beginning of syllables could be dropped completely. Unfortunately, all in all, this is a glorified phrasebook and not a very good one at that. I titled this as Review I because I didn't finish the book. Maybe after I've gained more understanding of Cantonese, I will go back to it to finish it. But for now, it is at the bottom of my list of things to read.

It Gets Easier

A few weeks ago, I wrote about why learning two languages at the same time can cause problems. I thought about it a bit more and in the grand scheme of things, if one wants to be multilingual, it is INEVITABLE that simultaneous language learning will occur because it is a neverending process. Improving and maintaining one's language abilities is a lifetime effort. In other words, if you reach a certain level of language A, you can begin studying language B, but work still needs to be done to maintain language A. And while the problems I mentioned before are sometimes unavoidable, I have to admit there are benefits. For example, with Korean and Japanese, the grammar is so similar that if I am learning a new concept for Japanese, I can usually easily recognize it's Korean counterpart and figure out the function and uses of that particular grammar point. Not to brag, but I believe that my familiarity with Korean is what allowed me to pick up Japanese so quickly. Then there are the Chinese characters, the backbone of Japanese, Korean, and of course, Chinese. While Learning Chinese characters probably takes a good chunk of time, once it is learned, you significantly reduce the time needed to learn any other language which has Chinese roots. It is not always the case, but there are plenty of words that share the same combination of Chinese characters even if they are not always pronounced the same. And if you are not sure what a word is in one language, you can probably easily figure it out by looking at what that word is in other Chinese character based languages. Your odds of being correct will be pretty good.

Another benefit of learning multiple languages is you learn how to learn. While each language has its quirks and difficulties, you learn what works for you in terms of study methods since you learn from your mistakes when learning your new language. Borrowing from the movie, "About a Boy", if learning Korean, Japanese, and Chinese, each take 10 units of time to learn for the first time language learner, then learning them sequentially would mean Korean would be 10 units of time, Japanese would be 6 units, and Chinese would be 4 units. People who study languages consistantly find that it gets easier as we recognize shared concepts, ideal study methods, and similarities like Chinese characters that significantly reduce the confusion and consequently, the time it takes to learn a new language. Just make sure you don't neglect a language after you start learning a new one. Otherwise, all that work will have been for nothing.