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Monthly Archives: November 2012

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.

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I played with Y, my current roommate, for an hour on Sunday. I had played with J before, so I tried some of the stuff learned with him on Y.

Me lei ka? — Lei tsi hai hak1 sek jyun4 tsi bat1.

Make me say “no”:

Lei tsi hai ngo5 ke hak1 sek jyun4 tsi bat1? — Mhai6. Lei tsi mhai6 nei5 ke hak1 sek jyun4 tsi bat.

Pointing to Y’s girlfriend that’s reading on the bed:

Lei tsi hai keoi5 ke hak1 sek jyun4 tsi bat1? — Mhai6. …

I couldn’t think of a good way of introducing want/have/give/take with Y (I struggled for about five minutes making him say “What do I have? — You have a black pen”), so I did about 20 minutes in English:

What do I have? — You have a black pen.

Do I have a black pen? — Yes, you have a black pen.

Do I have a red pen? — No, you don’t have a red pen, you have a black pen.

Do you want my black pen? — Yes, I want your black pen. — OK, I give you my black pen. — Thank you! — You’re welcome!

What do I have? — You have a red pen. — Do you want to take my red pen? — Yes, I want to take your red pen. — OK, take it!

Can I take your red pen? — Yes, you can take it!

What do I have now? — Now you have a red pen and a black pen.

What do you have now? — Now I have nothing! You have everything!

Do you want a pen? — Yes, I want a pen. — Which pen do you want, the black one or the red one?

(I use two fingers up for “the”, instead of one for “a”)

I want the red pen. — OK, I give you the red pen.

Do you want my black pen, too? — Yes, I want your black pen, too.

What do I have now? — Now you have nothing, and I have everything.

Back to Cantonese :)

Lei ko me lei ka? — Lei ko hai ngo5 ke hak1 sek jyun4 tsi bat1.

OK, learning that questions are sometimes formed by using forms like “do you have/not have x?”; also, Cantonese has placeholder question words, just like lojban does. Not a coincidence I presume :)

Lei ko hai mhai6 ngo5 ke hung4 sek jyun tsi bat1 — Lei ko mhai6 lei5 ke hung4 sek jyun4 tsi bat1; lei ko hai ngo5 ke hung4 sek jyun4 tsi bat1.

I do the sign that we had used for “have” before in the English game.

ngo5 jau5 mat1 je a? — nei5 jau5 yat1 zi1 hak1 sek jyun4 tsi bat1.

Introducing word classifiers. Cantonese uses classifiers for different objects, so for round objects, go3 is used, for stick-like objects, it’s zi1. I’m thinking of using signs for the classifiers, like using the “stick” sign for zi1, forming a ball with the hands for go3, etc.

nei5 jau5 mat1 je a? — ngo5 jau5 yat1 zi1 hung4 sek jyun4 tsi bat1.

ngo5 hai mai jau5 yat1 zi1 hak1 sek jyun4 tsi bat1 — Hai. Nei5 jau5 yat1 zi1 …

ngo5 hai mai jau5 yat1 zi hung4 sek jyun4 tsi bat1 ? — Mhai6. Nei5 mou5 hung4 sek jyun4 tsi bat. Nei5 jau yat1 zi1 hak1 sek jyun4 tsi bat1.

For “mou5”, Y makes the sign for “not” and “have” from the English game before.

I now make the sign for “want” learned before during the English game.

Ngo5 soeng2 jiu3 nei5 tsi hung4 sek jyun tsi bat1.

I very quickly take his red pen :)

I do the “again” sign.

Loeng(?) zau6 la

I do the “thank you”, “you’re welcome” signs.

Mgoi1 — Msai ha he.

Now I have two pens.

Ngo jau5 mat je a? — Nei5 jau jat1 zi hak1 sek jyun4 tsi bat1 tung4 maai4 jat1 zi hung4 sek jyun4 tsi bat1.

Nei5 jau5 mat je a? — Ngo5 mat1 je dou1 mou4.

Nei5 soeng2 m4 soeng2 jiu3 ngo5 tsi hung4 sek jyun1 zi bat1 — Soeng2 a. (bei lei la).

I do the “again” sign:

zoi3 lei4 gwo3

The second game was short, after we (C and her brother J) had played German for about 40 minutes one late evening.

J taught me a nice mnemonic for “me1 lei ka?”: one Cantonese joke goes that the Americans are called like this because when they arrived, they asked “me1 lei ka?” all the time. mat1 and me1 have the sign Chinese character.

Me1 lei ka? — Tsi hak1 sek jyun4 zi2 bat1.

Me1 lei ka? — Tsi hung4 sek jyun4 zi2 bat1.

Me1 lei ka? — Hai nei5 ke hak1 sek jyun4 zi2 bat1.

Me1 lei ka? — Hai ngo5 ke hung4 sek jyun4 zi2 bat1.

I do the “again” sign (he knows it from the German lesson before), he says “lei tau zi”.

We do a list: hak1 sek, hung4 sek.

Make me say “yes”:

Hai mai ngo5 ke hak1 sek jyun4 zi2 bat1? — Hai, hai mai nei5 ke hak1 sek jyun4 zi2 bat1.

Hai mai nei5 ke hung4 sek jyun4 zi2 bat1? — Hai, hai mai ngo5 ke hung4 sek jyun4 zi2 bat1.

Make me say “no”:

Hai hung4 sek jyun4 zi2 bat1? —M’hai; i ko m’hai hung4 sek jyun4 zi2 bat1. I hai hak1 sek jyun4 zi2 bat1.

Hai mai nei5 ke hak1 sek jyun4 zi2 bat1? — M’hai; i ko m’hai ngo5 ke hak1 sek jyun4 zi2 bat. I hai nei5 ke hak1 sek jyun4 zi2 bat.

All the time, inbetween J was practicing the German pieces he had learned earlier :)

I ko me lei ka? — I ko hai ngo5 ke hung4 sek jyun4 zi2 bat1.

I ask for the mobile.

I ko me lei ka? — I ko hai hak1 sek din6 waa2.

I ask if it belongs to C (my girlfriend that’s watching the game).

I ko hai hoi ke hak1 sek din6 waa2?  — I ko m’hai hoi ke hak1 sek din6 waa2. I hai ngo5 ke hak1 sek din6 waa2.

Yesterday I visited my girlfriend’s parents, and then played some LH with her (C) and her brother (J). Both speak reasonable English. I asked them whether to play English, German or Cantonese, and to my surprise they chose German :)

As expected, they had trouble pronouncing the German “R” (no such sound in Cantonese), and also to distinguish between “N” and “L”, which I have noticed in English already, when Carrie told me she wanted to take a lap because she was tired. This seems to be a Cantonese feature, as B from yesterday clearly said lei5, while the jyutping dictionary says it’s nei5.

Generally, Cantonese speakers have problems with forming English words that Europeans could not imagine, on par with the level of difficulty Europeans have when trying to pronounce Chinese words. This always reminds me how strange English pronunciation really is. For example, say words like “rural” 20 times to know what i mean :) In German, the word “Stift” proved difficult for example, and J could not say “acht”, he was either saying “chacht” or “aht”.

Was ist das? — Das ist ein schwarzer/roter Stift.

Was ist das? — Das ist ein Stein.

J could not figure out what “nochmal” that I was doing always to indicate to repeat something means, and it was driving him mad :)

Ist das ein schwarzer Stift? — Ja, das ist ein schwarzer Stift. etc.

Ist das ein Stein? — Nein, das ist kein Stein. Das ist ein schwarzer Stift. etc.

Was ist das? — Das ist mein schwarzer Stift. etc.

Was ist das? — Das ist dein schwarzer Stift etc.

In between, I say things like “Du fragst ihn, er antwortet”, with signs.

Was ist das? — Das ist sein/ihr roter Stift/Stein.

Here I introduce TQ Full, and propose to use it, as they are slowing down considerably after the first half hour of good play. It’s 11pm. We play another 20 minutes of Cantonese, covered in the next post.

 

When I was trying to learn Cantonese numbers, Y suggested that I learn them using the clock. I found this a great idea, and put my alarm to five minutes in the future. Cantonese has an interesting way to tell the time: They don’t use the minutes, but for example say 1:3 for 1:15. So they read the minutes according to the hour dial. This way, 2:55 would be 2:11. Because of that, it of course makes sense to trigger me every five minutes: it is natural, progressing by one degree every time, and it gives me constant practice, while not disturbing me too much. Of course, during a conversation, this is quite distracting, and every time I turned it off, I forgot for the rest of the day, or at least many hours. But it helped.

Here’s an overview of times: CantoDict Time Sheet.

After relocating to Hong Kong on November 5, I have now lived there for over a week, and only yesterday played my first game in Cantonese. Shame on me :)

I have been concentrating on learning a typing system for the script (called Cangjie), and picking up some (few) Cantonese words and phrases here and there. My main problems with the language are the tones (of course), because as an European speaker, I am used to modulate the sound according to sentence structure and meaning, so this regularly overrides the Cantonese tones; another major challenge is that Cantonese is the first language I learn that is not at all related to Indo-European, so there are no similarities in words that usually facilitate word retention for me.

I’ve been living with Y for over a week now, and yesterday evening we did a short session in Cantonese with his girlfriend B, and then a short English session. Both speak some English, B more so than Y. I have been speaking with Y a lot, and would guess that he understands something from 30 to 70% of what I say.

Another challenge will be to transcribe the Cantonese here :)

First, I started with B only.

I had a black pen, she had a red pen.

Mat1 je lei? — Hak1 sek bat1.

Mat1 je lei? — Hung4 sek bat1.

Mat1 je lei? — Tsi hak1 sek bat1 hai lei.

Mat1 je lei? — Tsi hung4 sek bat1 hai lei.

Mat1 je lei? — Tsi hak1 sek bat1 hai ngo5.

Mat1 je lei? — Tsi hung4 sek bat1 hai nei5.

Make me say “yes”:

Tsi hak1 sek bat1 hai mai nei5? — Hai6 ja, tsi hak1 sek bat1 hai ngo5.

Tsi hung4 sek bat1 hai mai nei5? — Hai6 ja, tsi hung4 sek bat1 hai ngo5.

There is some discussion (in Cantonese :) whether the following is correct, they decide it is.

Tsi hak1 sek bat1 hai mai ngo5? — Hai6 ja, tsi hak1 sek bat1 hai nei5.

Tsi hung4 sek bat1 hai mai ngo5? — Hai6 ja, tsi hung4 sek bat1 hai nei5.

Make me say “no”:

Tsi hung4 sek bat1 hai mai ngo5? — M’hai5 ngo5 ka.

Ok, I was trying to say “Is this my red pen? — No, this is not your red pen; this is your black pen”, but this seems a bit strange in Cantonese (as it is in English), so it’s not Obviously! enough. Better use “Is this a red pen?” or “Is this your black pen? — No,… not my black pen, … your black pen”.

Tsi hak1 sek bat1 sin(4) hai ngo5.

No idea what this is saying :)

At this point, B left for a short time, and Y took her place. This is a little bit confusing, because he of course uses different ways of expressing the same things. For starters, he uses a different word for “yes”.

Tsi hak1 sek bat1 hai nei5 ka.

Tsi hung4 sek bat1 hai ngo5 ka.

Make me say “no”.

Tsi hung4 sek bat1 hai mei ngo5. — M’hai6. Tsi ….

Because of the aforementioned confusion “but this is not a red pen!!”, we did a short English game.

They would rather use “this” instead of “that”, so we switched to this.

What is this? — This is a black pen. (me)

What is this? — This is a red pen. (Y)

What is this? — This is a rock. (B)

B, the better speaker, always says “yours black pen” :)

What is this? — This is my black pen. etc.

Is this my black pen? — Yes, this is your black pen. etc.

Make me say “no”:

Is this your black pen? — No, this is not my black pen, this is your black pen. etc.

Or you could say: No, this is not mine, it is yours. (I tell them this because of B’s using “yours” all the time)

I shortly give them “want, have, give, take”, in part so I don’t have to riddle them later in Cantonese :)

I use the “is” sign with a “D” right hand for “do”.

What do I have? — You have a black pen. etc.

Do i have a red pen? — No, you don’t have a red pen, you have a black pen. etc.

1:00am, B has to go to sleep, so we finish for the day, after about one hour of play.