What are the most difficult things to deal with when learning Cantonese?
Have you ever thought about learning Cantonese language in Hong Kong? Have you ever heard that Cantonese is a very difficult language? Are you interested in learning Cantonese and knowing about the challenges people face in learning this language? If all your answers are Yes, then I am here to help you with possible solutions to problems that are difficult to deal with. So, let’s start.
The first thing I want to mention is the tone. Cantonese is a tonal language, which is incredibly difficult for English speakers acquainted with speaking out (“I didn’t have your snack!”). Cantonese can also be challenging for people who articulate in other Chinese languages due to its tonal system. However, Mandarin consists of four tones, while Cantonese has eight, in which contour and pitch form the meaning of a letter.
It is said that Cantonese has 9 tones, while Mandarin has only 4, that is why a lot of people believe Cantonese is a lot harder than Mandarin when you compare the two. Some foreigners learn Chinese can’t even differentiate the different tones, so it makes English speakers really hard to learn this language.
Check out: Why is Learning Mandarin Tones so important
Compared to other languages, the main problems with Cantonese are the lack of borrowed words and comprehension of English, the number of tones, and difficulty and complexity of the written script, whether it is traditional or simplified Chinese.
The Cantonese have borrowed some words from the English, especially from the Cantonese of Hong Kong, because of their close political ties with Britain. However, in Cantonese, you have to learn most of the words from scratch.
In Cantonese, some words may have some logic in putting them together, the fridge(雪櫃), which is ice + cupboard. This type of vocabulary can make words easier to remember. But in terms of balance, most vocabulary is new and challenging to remember.
Speaking / Listening:
As I discussed above, it is a tonal language. Not only that, there are 6 tones in total! In terms of competition, there are 4 in Mandarin. These Cantonese tones are available in two pitch ranges, which you must differentiate between. The 6 different tones of the language include:
- Low Flat – This tone starts at the medium-low pitch and stays the same.
- High Flat – This tone is high and continues at the same level.
- Mid Flat – This tone is a medium pitch and continues at the same level.
- Mid-Rising – This tone starts in the middle and goes up to the end on a high pitch.
- Low Rising – This tone begins with a medium-low pitch and increases slightly.
- Less Fall – This tone starts at a medium-low pitch and falls further.
Also, there are many voices that you will not encounter in English. You’re going through a really tough time with the pronunciation and detection of these nuances in the language spoken initially.
Key issues in Cantonese grammar will include the use of aspect classifiers and suffixes. However, grammar is probably one of the easiest pieces of the Cantonese puzzle. Verbs are regular and do not change for subject or stress. There are no cases, and the nouns are heterosexual.
Learning the Chinese characters can be daunting!
Chinese has a logographic writing system that involves more than 5000 characters. This creates a new barrier to language learning, as the Cantonese reader cannot place the alphabet sound in the text as we can with the phonetic alphabet.
They should understand and learn the name of every single character. And It is a fiction that every Chinese language is written in a similar symbolic manner. However, Mandarin and Cantonese share numerous writing system features, as well as Cantonese speakers often use them.
Cantonese can be written in simplified or traditional Chinese. These writing systems contain primary radicals that combine to form letters, which in turn form words. The Chinese language has about 50,000 characters. You won’t learn them all, but you need to know about 8000 to get into the language. It is not difficult to understand them, but it takes time.
So I have discussed the most common issues that would face every Cantonese speaker. But how to overcome it. What’s the solution? Below are a few guidelines to follow and make the learning process easier.
Learn the fundamental structure of Cantonese by speaking.
Since you know how accents and sounds work, you can learn basic sentence structure by practicing your speech with natives.
Cantonese is not a tense language, which shows it does not distinguish between past, present, and future verbs. The structure is straightforward and requires only practice. There are no verb conjugation charts to study, and there is no gender in the language instead of romances.
Find out new words by writing them down:
When you listen to a new word that you do not understand, try to write it down in Romanization, then repeat it to the Cantonese speaker. The local speaker will know whether you are right or not. In this way, you are practicing your speaking and listening skills at the same time.
Choose to focus only on speaking:
A lot of people are excited to learn to read and write Chinese, but they would be better at just speaking, rather than being average in reading, writing, and speaking. There is no “wahoo” element if you are mediocre in reading, writing, and speaking.
If you are only good at speaking Cantonese, you can not only cheer the locals every time you open your mouth, but you can also communicate more effectively with the locals.
Learn Cantonese romanization first, not by ear:
You can use a romanization system designed for English speakers and captures the sound and 6 tones in Cantonese. Experts suggest also suggests it so you can get rid of clutter. Imagine learning English without the alphabet and learning by ear only. Who will do that, No one?
Why would anyone try to learn a 6 tone language without a romantic system? If you think about it, it’s crazy; no wonder Cantonese is “difficult.”
Recall new Words:
Once you double-check the correct pronunciation and meaning of the words with the local speaker, you can memorize them. You can remember the new words as a list on a piece of paper. It can be tried as a technique.
Cover all words except the ones at the top and move the list down by speaking the words and meanings aloud to the last word in the list. If you can’t remember a word at any time, start at the very top and try again.
Hence, I have highlighted all the pretty tricky things to deal with in learning the Cantonese language. But don’t worry. I have also mentioned the best approaches that you can use and go ahead.