I’ve been in Hong Kong for about three weeks now, and while I’ve been doing some Cantonese learning almost every day, I find out that I’m too disorganized. I’m now checking out Benny’s “Language Hacking Guide“; Benny is a workist that learned an amazing number of languages in several years, and especially his organized attitude is what I’m hoping to emulate until it becomes a habit. One of his tips is to do a language blog, which I’m already doing :), so I’ll use this blog to share my progress and pitfalls over the coming months.
So, where am I today? As expected, the English disease has affected me greatly; everything around me speaks at least enough English to be able to talk about necessary things, so there is no urgent need for me to learn the language. I’ll have to change that. My next flat mate, while Cantonese, is a fluent English AND German speaker, I hope we can find a regular time to tandem German/Cantonese. I have been doing three or so session’s with the brother of my girlfriend, and two or three with my current flatmate and his girlfriend, but that’s not nearly enough.
It turns out that being gun-shy about speaking has not been easy for me to get rid of. While I can overcome it during a set-up WAYK/LH-session, I stay mum on the street, when encountering people in the shops, etc., or switch to English much to quickly.
I’ve also noted that other old habits die slowly: While trying to become a good WAYK/LH-teacher, I’m still doing common mistakes such as having the urge to write stuff down. This occurred to me when I noticed that my posts here turned more into “trying to find out what was said in a recorded session, then feed it to anki”, than to document what I have done, from a game leader perspective.
That said, I’ll try different approaches over the coming weeks, trying to become more organized, and then see how it goes.
Among the tools I’m using so far are:
* Anki. While an amazing Spaced Repetition program, I’m using it wrong, relying too much on single words that are out of context. However, I tried to get rid as much as possible of EN/Canto translations, using pictures where possible, and even adding SignWriting (sign language put to black+white) where possible. However, this is difficult for stuff like “I want your dragon fruit” :)
* I’m trying out MemRise now, creating short levels about one topic, that I plan to feed not only with words, but with short exercises. The Guardian Chinese Challenge is a great example of this done right. I’m also trying to get more Chinese characters, using MemRise.
* getting regular partners for WAYK/LH. I’d prefer 6-7 times a week to 1-2 times a week. I could “pay” with English lessons, and am trying this with my girlfriend’s brother.
* CantoDict for translating Chinese characters that I encounter into jyutping and English.
* I also tried Cantonese101.com, but not sure what to think of it, it’s hyper-commercial and translates all the time.
* http://www.nciku.com/ for getting a Chinese character that I can’t type via CangJie (in which I developed a decent skill by now: slow, and maybe 60-70% of characters I can type). There’s also a IME pad for writing characters directly in Windows 7 (which I’m using at the moment because of a new laptop, I miss Linux!!), but it’s buggy.
* http://www.scj2000.com/cjselfstudyv1/index.htm for training CangJie
* http://www.visualmandarin.com/tools/dictionary/ for getting stroke order of characters (unfortunately Simplified Chinese, so does not always work for Traditional Chinese, which Hong Kong uses)
* Wiktionary for getting CangJie for a character.
I’m re-reading Barry Farber’s “How to learn any language”, and am heeding his advice to do all learning methods at the same time :)
So, what can I do now in Cantonese? Not much, as I’ve been jumping too much from one thing to the next, and my usual method of linking a word to a word I already know (works nice with Indo-European languages) does not work at all for Cantonese. I’m also having trouble to create mnemonics for Cantonese, because the words are often very short, and have not found a good way to memorize the tones. I tried using Lorayne-style pegs, which kind of works, but is much too slow to remember it during a conversation. For this, I use the letters TNMRLŠ for 123456, and use a mental image of a mountain for these: eg. T=1 is a tiger on top of the mountain, M=3 is Karl Marx resting in the middle, L=5 is Lenin trying to get up to Marx, Š=6 is a lake of shit surrounding the mountain (graphic images help memorization :P ), and R=4 is a rat digging down into the shit. This way, I tried to remember the tones by associating them with these images, but that did not really work. I tried a different technique too, forming words out of tone-letters, so the tones for “go1 leon4 bei2 aa3” (no idea why I tried to learn this) is TRNM, which in my German/English brain translates to “TüRNeMo”: all doors in Colombia have doors in the shape of Nemo, the Winsor McCay great hero (I’m not much into the Pixar movie).
So, I’ll concentrate on some real-life goals in the coming weeks, trying to hold a simple conversation with people I encounter, in specific circumstances, while building up the language with as much WAYK/LH as possible.