I’m doing German/Cantonese Exchange roughly two times a week, with two very different, but very nice learners (each time 1-on-1).

Yesterday we had a very cool session. This is about the third or fourth session with her, and she’s a German beginner. She is doing Duolingo too for some weeks now. I had forgotten my utensils, so we used a blue pen, and later on a spoon, a (cup of) coffee, and a key (all items grammatically German). The good thing about the key is that when I gave it to her, it was quite obvious to want to get it back again, so I introduced this.

Willst du meinen Schlüssel? — Ja, ich will deinen Schlüssel.

Ok, ich gebe dir meinen Schlüssel. — Danke.

Ich will meinen Schlüssel zurück! :( Gibst du mir meinen Schlüssel zurück? — Ja, ich gebe dir deinen Schlüssel zurück. — Danke!

For some reason I decided to use a past form at this quite early stage, and it went really well.

Was habe ich dir gegeben? — Du hast mir einen blauen Stift gegeben.

Was hast du mir gegeben? — Du hast mir einen Schlüssel gegeben.

Ich habe dir einen blauen Stift gegeben, und du hast mir einen Schlüssel gegeben. Wir haben getauscht.

Was haben wir getauscht? — Wir haben deinen blauen Stift und meinen Schlüssel getauscht.

We were sitting in a rather big coffee shop, and it so happened that the people sitting to my left were female, and the guy to my right male. So they became props in our game :)

Setup: Ich: Schlüssel. Sie: Kaffee. Du: Blauer Stift. Er: Löffel.

Round of Giving!

Ich gebe ihr meinen Schlüssel. Sie gibt dir ihren Kaffee. Du gibst ihm deinen blauen Stift. Er gibt mir seinen Löffel.

Round of Giving Back! :)

Ich gebe ihm seinen Löffel zurück. Er gibt dir deinen blauen Stift zurück. Du gibst ihr ihren Kaffee zurück. Sie gibt mir meinen Schlüssel zurück.

“ihr/ihren” seemed to confuse her. So we played a bit on the male side instead, where the difference is more clear.

CL: mein, dein, sein, ihr (doing the flat hand towards person sign)

CL: mir, dir, ihm, ihr (doing the pointing R fingers sign; most of these end with an R)

Er gibt mir seinen Löffel. Ich gebe ihm seinen Löffel zurück.

I think we played another Round of Giving + Back then.

Was ist passiert?

Ich habe ihr meinen Schlüssel gegeben etc.

Sie hat mir meinen Schlüssel zurückgegeben etc.

We played for an hour, until she became slightly full, then we switched to Cantonese.

We spontaneously ended up with talking about clothing (which I strangely enough have never done in the past one+ year of learning Cantonese :P ). We were mostly talking about our shirts (long- vs short-sleeved, colors, who is wearing what) and pants, and finally coats. Then about what to wear when (Right now, inside it is warm, but outside it’s cold, so when she goes out she will wear her coat. Now she’s not wearing it however). Also an extended explanation of dress code at our respective companies. Then I mused for a while whether the guy next to us could hear us talking about them, and why he left. He was wearing earphones at the end, but not sure if he did so the whole time. Thus introducing 以為 vs. 知道. He was also talking on the phone for a while before leaving, so I speculated that he talked with his girlfriend and is now heading home. The first time he left, his stuff was still at the table. Will he come back? Yeah, probably. Later, he took his stuff with him. Will he come back? Maybe, but not today.

短袖衫 / 長袖衫







I’ve been doing sessions with a 15-year old Hong Kong student, who needs to improve his English. On most weeks he comes over on Mondays and Tuesdays, and we play one hour of English, and one hour of Cantonese. It’s a medium problem that it’s after school, and he’s quite tired afterwards, but he’s very motivated, and so we both are steadily progressing.

Today were especially good sessions :) In the first hour, I spontaneously put up a jar of peanut butter, a tin of peanuts, and a spoon. The last English sessions had not gone so well in my opinion, mainly due to me running out of ideas on what to do. This changed during this lesson though :) First, it appeared to me that “peanuts” is a dangerous word for Cantonese speakers, as they tend to drop the “t”. Great reason to practice it! :) So first we talked about opening/closing the jar/tin, and about the colors. Then we went into materials: plastic, paper, metal, glass. After that, I asked him about some colors, eliciting “mainly” and “all”, eg. »Is this cookie box all blue?« – »No, it is mainly blue, but it is also white and red«. From there, we went to materials, like »Is this table made of metal?« »Yes, it is made of metal, but it is also made of plastic.«;

He didn’t know “spoon”, so we played with that a bit, then I added a fork and a knife. Cantonese speakers often pronounce “fork” as “frog”, so we practiced that a bit as well. Then I asked him how to make a peanut butter sandwich. In order to complete it, he had to tell me about opening the freezer, getting out the bread, opening the fridge, getting out the margarine, opening the peanut butter jar, using the knife to spread the margarine and peanut butter on the slices of bread. Great setup! :) Because we had tried to spread the margarine with the spoon, it was even dirtier than the knife, while the fork was untouched. So we played “Which one is dirtier?”

After about an hour we switched to Cantonese, and I tried to use many ideas from the previous English session. We did several materials, I learned how to ask what something is made of, if it’s the only material used, and some very interesting details of Cantonese that were new to me or that I had forgotten. I used a napkin and the dirty spoon for clean/dirty, mainly because the two almost sound the same, a great chance to practice to distinguish between the two!

In other news, we did a short session at a McDonald’s with nine people some days ago! We wanted to go to some quiet café, but it was full, and so we tried to get some space at McD, and while not perfect (table too long mainly, and a bit loud), it was amazing how undisturbed we were, playing about an hour without even ordering anything, with keys, pens, mobile phones etc. on the tables :) That session really whetted my appetite for doing larger groups, but I still have not figured out how to do these on a regular basis.

Hong Kong is a great place for hosting Couchsurfers. My flatmate and girlfriend put a limit to how many we host, otherwise we could have people around on a continuous basis :). Right now there are three guys from Sweden around, so we did a short Swedish/German/Cantonese session. We started with German, and while one of them (B; she’s a language lover) soaked it up instantly, the other two got pretty intimidated, and soon signaled Full. Which is kind of a success, as normally new player are very hesitant to do this :) I was going pretty fast, which might have been a factor. So I switched to Cantonese. This might seem counter-intuitive, but worked pretty well. The first of them again assimilated everything so rapidly that it almost took my breath away, definitely the fastest learner I’ve encountered so far, while the others were mostly overwhelmed by their own anxieties, but played along nevertheless. I breezed through yes/no; I/you/she; my/your/her; have/give/want in maybe 10 minutes with B, while the others mostly watched from the meadow, occasionally taking part in the game. When I overwhelmed her with a slightly difficult yes/no construction, we switched to Swedish.

I never realized how similar Swedish is to German! It felt like learning a German dialect with a simplified grammar. Would love to learn more! Maybe it becomes more difficult further in, but right now it feels like a language for free :) Definitely a break from the beautiful, but demanding Cantonese.

After the fast Swedish we did some more Cantonese. Switching languages is a great way to make people relax after they became Full, especially of course when doing it in their native tongue ;)

I am now in Hong Kong since three months ago, and while some (few) people are honestly amazed that I speak Cantonese at the level I do now, I’m nowhere near fluency, and have the feeling that I’m progressing quite slowly for the rather great amounts of time I invested. From time to time I try a new approach, to see if it brings me to my goal faster than what I’ve tried before, and some of these times I get lucky.

While being amazingly easy regarding grammar, the usual obstacles for learners imprinted by Indo-European are the tones (I can’t remember them!) and short syllables (makes it hard to apply mnemonics I commonly use in other languages: Albanian falmendirit sticks to my mind since I imagined three (German “drei, zu dritt”) men falling down shouting “Thanks” some years ago), and that it’s not related to the already familiar word pool. When learning languages like French or Portuguese, I very often encounter old friends in new guise. Not so in Cantonese (although Mandarin will be exciting in this respect, should I get around to learning it after Cantonese).

A system to learn Mandarin syllables

I was directed to Serge Gorodish’s blog Country of the Blind by a post by Benny Lewis (Speak from Day 1), who learned to speak fluent Mandarin in three months. While he did not use the mnemonics technique developed by Serge himself, he suggested to give it a try. I have tried mnemonics before, to some success, so I checked it out. Serge’s technique is an elaborate system to remember the sounds of Mandarin syllables, which awed me, and which I could never even have dreamt of developing myself. I tried to adapt it to Cantonese, because after all, they are pretty similar languages, and failed. Serge’s system, very roughly summarized (check his article for the complete explanation), goes like this: Mandarin syllables consist of an initial, a final, and a tone, and sometimes of one sound in the middle. He associates the initial (+ middle) with famous real and fictitious persons (personages), and associates the finals with locations, and uses sublocations for the tone.  This way, he ends up with 51 personages, 12 locations, and 4 sublocations, to encode about 450 different syllables (not counting tones). 苗 miao2 comes up as Marilyn Monroe (mi-)  and the lobby (tone 2) of the Keio Plaza Hotel (-ao). I tried the same approach with Cantonese, but ended up with about 150 items instead of 60 (still less than the about 630 syllables), so I asked him for advice. He very helpfully pointed me in the right direction, so I could develop a system for Cantonese that from my preliminary trials seems to work very well, and which I want to describe here.

Rethinking the system

Looking at the table of Cantonese syllables, it became clear that blindly copying Serge’s approach was unwieldy and inefficient. My idea was to instead use locations for the 20 initials, and personages for the remaining 56 finals. But then I was stuck again, I had no idea how to connect the finals with person names without it all ending in chaos. Serge again helped me out, suggesting that I reverse the finals. This worked perfectly.

The 20 initials are: Ø- (no initial) b- p- m- f- d- t- n- l- g- k- ng- h- gw- kw- w- z- c- s- j-

I use Jyutping romanization, not to be confused with the slightly different Yale system. In Jyutping, J is pronounced like the Y in Yale (within the system, and literally), while in Yale it’s pronounced similar to the J in Jackson. There are other minor differences.

The 56 finals can end in (no final sound) -i -u -m -n -ng -p -t -k, and have one of the eight following sounds before it: -aa- -a- -e- -i- -o- -ö- -u -ü-.

The -ö- and -ü- are my personal notation: -ü- is commonly written -yu- (for example in Jyutping, probably the best Cantonese romanization system), while -ö- is -eo- before -i, -n, -t and -k, and -oe- otherwise. They are written differently in IPA (ɵ vs œː), but as they are clearly distinct by never preceding the same sound, it seemed justifiable to group them both under “ö” (Frankly, I don’t hear the difference, and only a few days ago noticed that both exist :P ). Why “ö” and “ü“? I happen to be a German native, but this also works for Turkish speakers (and Austrians!!) ;)

56 famous people

So considering the eight vowels before the final sound, I created eight categories of personages. Instead of using eight different types of characters, I used four, with males separate from females, like this:

  • -aa- male actors
  • -a-   female actors
  • -e-   male musicians
  • -i-    female musicians
  • -o-   male fictional characters
  • -ö-   female fictional characters
  • -u-   male politicians
  • -ü-   female politicians

Actually, quite some thought (aka trial and error) went into this, because I did not find it that easy to find corresponding personages. One thing is that there are more male than female famous fictional characters and politicians (and my feeling was this is even the case for actors). Serge uses a similar system for Mandarin initials, and recommends to associate the first name of the person with the initial. I mostly chose the last name; I have no idea whether that is worse, but it felt more natural to me. You may notice Hitler on the following list; you see, he’s finally useful for something after all :) Even though I enjoy his follies at Family Guy, I prefer to be on a last name basis with him.

Let’s look at the first batch of personages for how this part of the system works:

-aa-: male actors

  • -aaØ (20): Leonardo (DiCaprio)
  • -aai (20): (Samuel L.) Jackson
  • -aau (13): (Arnold) Schwarzenegger
  • -aam (11): (Bill) Murray
  • -aan (17): (Jack) Nicholson
  • -aang (14): Harpo (Marx)
  • -aap (10): (Al) Pacino
  • -aat (16): (Quentin) Tarantino
  • -aak (17): (Ben) Kingsley

In the likely case that a silent “WTF” crouches up your throat, read on.

Leonardo comes to the fore for every syllable ending in -aa; Bill Murray runs the -aam section, Jack Nicholson is responsible for -aan, and so forth.

You may notice some inconsistencies here (actually, the first three are inconsistent, hmmm…) and in the following groups. Firstly I sometimes used first names instead of last, or did not use the first letter of the name to match the final). I have the feeling that this will not lead to confusion in my system, but your mileage may vary. You may want to create your own list of personages, finding the ones that are most iconic to you. Some of these you may not even know (“Nena” anyone?). If you can make them more consistent this is likely better.

You will also notice that sometimes the initial of the name and the last sound of the final are not the same, but similar. My “regular exceptions” (not sure if that’s a pun) were these: if there’s a š sound (Schwarzenegger, Shakira), use the first consonant after this. L does not occur as a final, so is used for the -Ø (no final sound). H is used for -ng, as it also does not appear at the end. As persons starting with U are surprisingly hard to find, V (hell, U was written like this in Roman times anyway!), W (hey, it’s just two V!!) and F (V can sound like this in German) can replace it. J can be used instead of I, B instead of P and C/G instead of K. Did I mention I had trouble finding enough personages? Again, I haven’t tested this system in depth yet. While from preliminary tests I have the feeling it will work fine, it’s probably safer to have a 1:1 relationship, so if you find enough persons starting with U/I/P/K, go ahead :) Yes, Tarantino is also an actor!

Choose characters as iconic as possible, they will populate your Cantonese universe for some time. For example, my blurry images of Karl Marx and Marc Twain look very similar, so they didn’t find a place in my system. I’ve added some characteristics in parentheses to illustrate how I iconicize them.

-a- : female actors

  • -ai (20): (Angelina) Jolie (as Tombraider)
  • -au (17): (Sigourney) Weaver (in Alien)
  • -am (14): Marilyn Monroe
  • -an (18): (Anna) Nicole (Smith)
  • -ang (17): (Selma) Hayek (in From Dust Till Dawn)
  • -ap (12): (Natalie) Portman (in Leon)
  • -at (17): (Liz) Taylor
  • -ak (9): (Whoopie) Goldberg

-e- : male musicians

  • -eØ (13): (Franz) Liszt
  • -ei (12): (Michael) Jackson
  • -eu (1): (Stevie) Wonder
  • -em (1) (WA) Mozart
  • -eng (12): Heino
  • -ep (1): (Elvis) Presley
  • -ek (10): Cat (Stevens) (as Yussuf Islam)

-i- : female musicians

  • -iØ (7): Lisa Lopes (as Left Eye)
  • -iu (14): (Nelly) Furtado
  • -im (11): Madonna (with cone bra)
  • -in (14): Nena (with balloon)
  • -ing (16): (Whitney) Houston
  • -ip (10): Björk
  • -it (14): Tatu (kissing)
  • -ik (17): Shakira

-o- : male fictional characters

  • -oØ (19): Leatherface (with chainsaw)
  • -oi (13): Yoda
  • -ou (14): Frankenstein
  • -on (4): Neo
  • -ong (19): Hulk
  • -ot (2): Tarzan
  • -ok (19): King Kong

-ö- : female fictional characters

  • Ø (5): Elastigirl
  • -öng (9): Helen (of Troy) (riding a wooden horse; yes, my Greek mythology is a bit rusty)
  • -ök (8): Catwoman
  • -öi (11): Jeannie (with crossed arms)
  • -ön (7): Nike (wearing Nike shoes)
  • -öt (6): Daisy Duck

-u- : male historical politicians

  • -uØ (4): Louis (XIV) (with wig and fat)
  • -ui (7): (Boris) Yeltsin (with vodka bottle)
  • -un (6): Napoleon
  • -ung (17): (Adolf) Hitler (ambassador of Achtung! and Endlösung)
  • -ut (6): (Leon) Trotski (with ice pick in neck)
  • -uk (16): (Helmut) Kohl (alternatively Qadafi)

-ü- : female historical politicians

  • Ø (4): (Rosa) Luxemburg
  • -ün (11): Nofretete
  • -üt (10): (Margaret) Thatcher

I had a hard time coming up with even three iconic female politicians, that’s why this section comes last. I added the number of initials that can be combined with any final in parentheses above. Presley, Mozart and Stevie Wonder will almost never be on stage, as their respective syllable finals -ep, -em and -eu only occur with one initial (gep, lem, deu, respectively), while my universe will be full of the much less iconic Selma Hayek and Angelina Jolie; that’s a pity! I think my group of personages is good enough to work for me, but I’m not entirely happy with all of them; so if you have some more iconic names for the list, that might even fit better with the consistency of the system, leave me a note :)

20 infamous locations

All that’s left to complete the system is to associate locations with the initials. As Serge mentions, this has to be done by you, if you wish to use the system, as you have to be familiar with these locations. Serge uses restaurants, houses of relatives and so on; I use similar locations (former workplaces, homes, homes of friends, places I’ve stayed). I did the same, but for the Ø-initial (for example used when the syllable to remember is aap, so Al Pacino has a place to stay), I use the moon lander (Yes, I’ve been to the moon). I loosely associated these places with the initials where possible (the location for d- also starts with a D), but this is not a must, as pretty soon the association in your mind will be there irrespective such beginner’s crutches. So don’t force it, but use it where possible.

The tones are encoded by sublocations. I chose some that correspond roughly with the tone itself. The first tone is the highest: the sublocation is the roof. The second tone is rising from low to high: on the stairs, in the elevator, on the escalator. The sixth tone is low: outside the building. The fourth tone goes from low to even lower: in the cellar or basement, or going down the stairs leading to it. The third tone is in the middle: the sublocation is anywhere in the building. That is, except for the toilet, which is reserved for the fifth tone.

Mind that this system is missing two syllables, namely “ng” and “m” (the “hm” and “hng” mentioned in the Cantonese syllable table don’t seem to exist). There is no -m in the male politicians section, so Chairman Mao gets to represent “m”; the only section without -ng is female politicians, so Hillary (Clinton) gets the honor to represent Mao’s female counterpart. Both will be restricted to the moon lander; ah well, I’m sure they’ll get along…


I like the title of Serge’s blog, Country of the Blind. It reminds me of the fact that we are all incredibly stupid; after all, we only recently evolved from a species similar to chimps and bonobos. Our brain is essentially a monkey neuro-system on steroids. Try to remember 9 different numbers or names by looking at it for less than a second, then looking away (actually, chimps can do this…). Try to visualize spacetime, or to change your habits to become a fully happy person, realizing that you are one with the world.

The idea behind mnemonics is that while our brain is really bad for storing long lists of boring stuff, it is really good at remembering vivid stories, and constructing web-like connections. This means to use our brain for things that it is actually designed for. Remembering random information (there were 823 pebbles on the way from the river to my home)? No way. A dragon came out of the sky and ate your mother? Hell yeah! Even generations to come will remember this (look at the bible for examples). The great thing is, these stories need not be real, they can be imagined!! (look at the bible for examples). So our task here is to use the building blocks outlined above, and construct stories that are as remarkable, as unusual as possible. The more surreal and colorful, the better. But the most important thing is that you have really imagined this story once.

Consider the following example. is jung6 (J=initial, -ung = final, 6=low tone). It means mostly “to use”. Adolf Hitler to the rescue! In my image, he’s sitting in front of (tone 6) my old university building (initial J), together with the Moon, who is injecting a needle with heroin into Hitler‘s arm. Why the moon? This system can (and should, according to Serge) incorporate the form of the character itself. I learned Cangjie, a typing system that breaks down all Chinese characters into 24 different types of elements. These can then be quickly inputted using a standard QWERTY keyboard. The character 用 is written BQ, or 月手, or “moon hand“. There are many other ways to memorize a character, Hacking Chinese presents some nice methods. In Germany, heroin addicts are sometimes called “User”, that’s why the heroin part effectively gives me the meaning of the character. Hitler gives me the final -ung. I try to imagine this scenario as vividly as possible, with me going by, and somebody asking me, “Who’s that?”, and I, with some resignation, answer, “Ah, that’s Hitler and the Moon, they’re sitting there all day, doing nothing! What can you do?” This example is bizarre enough for me to remember, but this example could be upped even more, for example by imagining the moon injecting microscopic Hitlers into his arm. The general rule is, if you don’t have the feeling that the story at hand has made a lasting impression on you, make it more crazy. Inventing such a story, imagining it, and then letting it go takes only some seconds with some practice. Just trust your mind to bring it back when needed.

Another example: I could never remember the tone of “horse”. The syllable is maa5, so my image is two dead and roasted Leonardos (di Caprio), holding hands, being eaten by a horse on the toilet (tone 5) of my aunt’s house (initial m-). Why two, and why do they hold hands? The character in Cangjie is written 尸手尸火 “dead-body hand dead-body fire“.

Last example: “to carry”, syllable tai4, Cangjie 手日一人 “hand eye one man“. I made this one up on the walk from the bus station to home, and Angelina Jolie carrying bags full of tiny one-eyed men down the stairs to the cellar in the home I grew up in (initial T) stuck. Could be more bizarre, but works.

I’ll apply this system in the near future as much as possible, to get into the habit of using it. If you find any errors, or have ideas for improving it, I’d be very happy to read about it. Thank you Serge for coming up with this!

Update 1: I have now tried the system for several days, and am really impressed with it. Some elements that are not ideal to me are:

  • some personages are not iconic enough. After some days, I forget if it’s Nelly Furtado or Angelina Jolie that act in my mnemonics
  • the roof and cellar are not ideal sublocations, as in some places, I have to make them up (because I’ve never been there, or they don’t even exist), and so after some days I have a hard time to remember in which cellar the story takes place. So maybe better use other sublocations.
  • while it’s not a great drawback, keeping the system as simple and consistent as possible definitely makes it more powerful, because it becomes faster and more effortless. For example, Harpo is a real actor, but also kind of a fantasy figure; A. Jolie appears quite often in my stories as Tombraider, a fantasy figure; I have some problems remembering the personages for -u, because they can begin with W/U/F/V; Monroe has also been a singer; these all work for me, but take an extra second to sort out sometimes, which can lead to unnecessary frustration.
  • my personal favorite at the moment is King Kong on a tree in the middle of my street (L-), with white silk stockings hanging down his ears and laughing wildly. Neatly and instantly gives me 樂 lok6, helpful during Chinese New Year. 新年快樂!!

Update 2: A year or so later :)

  • instead of using roof and cellar, I use: 1: window, 2: inner door, 3: inside, 4: outer door, 5: toilet, 6: outside. This works quite well.
  • I never became fast enough to comfortably remembering new characters “on the fly”. Maybe you need a physicists’ brain for this ;)
  • I am currently “learning” 10 new characters per day, but it became very clear to me that a mnemonic system alone is not enough to plant the complete ecosystem of Chinese Writing into my head. It can be quite helpful to “look at the character once” in its full depth, as advised by Harry Lorayne (I think), and helps to carry the knowledge over to some other task. However, it is very important to then use the hell out of the learned characters, re-incorporating them wherever you can, so you build a true multi-dimensional network of knowledge.
  • I’m not using Cangjie associations anymore (although I use Cangjie itself more than ever :). After a while, more organic sub-forms tend to emerge, so that bigger parts of the characters can be remembered as a whole.

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, but not sure what to think of it, it’s hyper-commercial and translates all the time.

* 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.

* for training CangJie

* 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.

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.