“Is it hard to learn Cantonese?” This is the question that we will answer today. You might have heard different answers, but why not discover them by yourself?
If you’re living in Hong Kong or planning to go there, speaking Cantonese is undoubtedly one of your greatest dreams. Imagine how great it is to be able to talk to native Cantonese speakers with correct Cantonese pronunciation and Cantonese tones. Think also of the benefits you can get when you’re fluent in Cantonese. No wonder why many language learners are eager to learn Cantonese.
Cantonese is one of the Chinese languages. The Chinese language is spoken mainly in Hong Kong and Guangdong Province in Southern China. You might also hear about other Chinese dialects, such as Mandarin, which is spoken in Mainland China, and other Chinese communities worldwide.
Why Does Learning Cantonese Seem Hard?
If you’re a language learner and you want to learn a new language, you have definitely searched for the easiest language to learn. That language with simple grammar, and easy writing system, and no difficult pronunciation are what we really want. So, it’s not surprising that you already knew that Cantonese is not an easy language to learn because of what you might have read online. There are actually a lot of articles and lists that put Cantonese as one of the hardest languages to learn.
The US Foreign Service Institute (FSI), a department of the US government that prepares officials for overseas assignments, is well aware of the challenges of teaching English speakers a foreign language. Because of this, they came up with a list of the “hardest languages” to learn for English speakers, and Cantonese is second on the list. But, what really makes Cantonese seems hard? Here are the reasons that most Cantonese language learners say:
Cantonese Is A Tonal Languag
Tonal languages are languages whose tones and pronunciation affect the word’s meaning. Cantonese has nine tones. For foreigners, you might not notice the difference between the tone at first, but when you’re learning Cantonese, this is definitely one of the areas that you really need to focus on.
Because of its tonal system, Cantonese can be challenging even for those who are fluent in other Chinese languages. Cantonese has six tones, whereas Mandarin has four, with pitch and contour determining the meaning of a syllable.
Spoken Cantonese Is Different From Written Cantonese
Another reason why Cantonese is considered hard by many language learners is that the spoken and written form is different. Other languages have a similar case as Cantonese, like the Japanese language. In Cantonese, your words are not the same as what you write.
Many Cantonese learners begin learning the spoken form to be able to communicate with other people. They will just slowly learn the written form later on, which is a smart move. But, some Cantonese language learners gave up or never bothered to learn Cantonese because traditional Chinese characters
No Official Standard Romanized System
When it comes to the Chinese language, Mandarin is indeed the most popular one. One of the reasons why many people easily learn to speak Mandarin is the standard learning system.
Mandarin is easy to learn because it has a standard romanized system that’s used in learning. Mandarin speakers use the Pinyin romanization system to make language learning easy. This is a problem for Cantonese learners. It has no official standard romanized system.
It Has Distinctive Sounds
Another reason why Cantonese seems hard is because of its distinctive sounds. There are sounds that both Mandarin and Cantonese share, but there are actually a lot of distinctive sounds in Cantonese compared to other Chinese languages. There are also lots of sounds that don’t mean anything in other languages but have meaning in Cantonese; that’s why it’s crucial to learn each character’s correct pronunciation.
It Uses Traditional Characters
Writing systems are one of the hardest things to learn in learning languages. The Cantonese language is also called Traditional Chinese. This is due to the fact that Cantonese uses the traditional Chinese writing system. On the other hand, Mandarin is called simplified Chinese because it uses simplified characters and has fewer tones.
For beginner Cantonese learners, learning the writing system is a challenging factor to learn. Learning Chinese characters is difficult for people speaking European languages because it’s far from their native language. It can also
You must know and remember each character’s name in learning the Cantonese writing system. Cantonese features tens of thousands of character logographic writing systems. Because a reader of Cantonese cannot sound out syllables in a text as we can with phonetic alphabets, this adds a new challenge in language learning.
It Uses A Few English Loan Words
Since English is a universal language, many language learners rely on English loan words as a foundation for learning other languages. Of course, it’s good to start from something that you’re familiar with or something that you can relate to your prior knowledge. Unfortunately, Cantonese has few English loan words in its vocabulary.
Due to the close political links with the United Kingdom, Cantonese has borrowed some words from English, particularly the Hong Kong dialect of Cantonese. However, you will have to study most the Cantonese language from scratch.
What’s The Easy Part Of Learning Cantonese?
If you’re new to learning a language, everything seems like a difficult language to learn. For example, for English speakers, learning east Asian languages like Japanese and Chinese can be too challenging. Still, once they get a hold of the different techniques in learning these kinds of languages, they can eventually learn easily.
Given the reasons given above on why Cantonese seems hard to learn, there are also easy parts to learning Cantonese. Here are the easy parts of learning Cantonese:
Cantonese Grammar Rules Are Simpler
Are you struggling with strict grammar rules? Well, I know this is one of the challenges language learners face. But, what if I tell you that for you be able to learn Cantonese, you don’t have to deal with the tenses of the verbs? Cantonese grammar is pretty straightforward and has no gender in a language like the Romance languages. You also don’t need to study a verb conjugation chart.
Cantonese grammar is possibly the most straightforward aspect of the language. The word order is s-v-o, and the verbs do not alter depending on the tense or subject. There are a number of standard grammar principles that are simple to learn and implement.
Cantonese Expressions Are Direct
Some languages have different forms of speech. They have different ways of speaking if they want to be polite, casual, or formal. Cantonese does not work this way. Cantonese speakers are direct in expressing their feelings. Many Cantonese language learners are trying hard to sound more polite by adding words but little did they know, it makes their sentences more complicated or wrong. There’s no need to add polite words such as “Please.”
Is Cantonese Hard To Learn? Here’s What I Think!
If you ask a school dropout if studying is hard, you’ll probably get a “Yes” answer. But, how does this relate to learning Cantonese? Of the number of people who tried to learn Cantonese, many of them gave up. Some of them wrote their experiences about their language learning journey online, which you might somehow read somewhere.
But of course, learning a language starts with you. If you don’t have the eagerness and passion to begin, you might end up seeing learning Cantonese as a burden that you wouldn’t want to happen.
There are no shortcuts to learning a new language. In learning Cantonese, you must undergo the whole process because that’s when you’ll appreciate the Cantonese language and culture.
At the end of the day, nothing compares to the feeling that you have successfully learned Cantonese despite the hardships and struggles you have experienced. Nothing feels more rewarding than knowing that you are able to begin another chapter of your life talking with Cantonese speakers. All you need to have is passion and patience in learning the Cantonese language because if you’re serious about it, these hard things wouldn’t be a hindrance.
Effective Ways Of Learning How To Speak Cantonese
For someone who is really passionate about learning Cantonese, hearing that it’s the hardest language to learn won’t stop you. If you really wanna improve your Cantonese language skills, you’ll find a way and motivation to learn. This is what will set you apart from other language learners. So, here are some effective ways to help you speak Cantonese like native speakers.
Focus First On Speaking Only
There’s this viral video on Facebook and Youtube where a man named Carlos Douh shares his experience in learning Cantonese. One of his techniques in learning Cantonese is to practice speaking and focus solely on it.
As said above, most Cantonese learners focus more on speaking Cantonese rather than developing all the language skills like writing. A Cantonese learner wants to be a fluent speaker first before learning how to write Chinese characters. According to Douh, this will amaze the locals every time you speak Cantonese fluently, knowing that you’re from another country. Of course, being able to talk to the locals is what language learners really want.
Learn Romanization System
Another thing way to learn Cantonese effectively is to learn with the romanization system, not by ear. Learning romanization by ear can be challenging, considering it is a tonal language. Of course, for a foreigner, you might not notice the differences between these tones; first, that’s why it’s important to learn about romanization.
In linguistics, romanization is the process of converting text from another writing system to the Roman script or a mechanism for doing so. In Cantonese, they use different romanizations, unlike Mandarin. Mandarin uses Pinyin as the standard romanization. Here are the romanizations used in Cantonese:
- S. L. Wong
- Guangdong Romanization
- Cantonese Pinyin
- Sidney Lau
- New-French Latinization of Cantonese
- Spanish Romanization
- Cantonese Bopomofo
Many Cantonese learners find it confusing which romanization to use. Since we have different native languages, we should choose a romanization which will best work for us. Carlos Douh used Yale romanization. The Yale romanization system, which was created for native English speakers and took into account the sound and six tones in Cantonese, was devised for them. So, first, research what romanization to use before learning Cantonese.
Learn The Cantonese Structure; Speaking Is The Key
In learning Cantonese, you don’t have to be pressured to learn the Cantonese structure. You’ll gradually learn the structure upon learning how tones and sounds work. By practicing your speech with native speakers, you may master the basic sentence forms. Knowing that Cantonese grammar is pretty straightforward, you’ll easily get it.
Learn Basic Vocabulary Through Writing Them Down
It has been proven that writing down what you have learned is one of the best ways for retention. This is also the same in learning Cantonese vocabulary. Whenever you hear or learn new words that you’re unfamiliar with, try to write them down and ask for help from native speakers, This way, you’ll also develop your listening, reading, and writing skills.
Get A Tutor
Getting a tutor that is a native speaker is still one of the best ways to learn a language, especially for languages like Cantonese. Native-speaker tutors will teach you all the essential knowledge and skills that you can use to learn Cantonese.
Since they use their language daily, they will teach you up-to-date skills and knowledge. They can help you with tones, grammar, and even how you say it. You’ll immediately get feedback and ask for clarification. Most importantly, they will give you proper training on speaking and pronouncing different Cantonese characters.
There are actually a lot of platforms like italki and Preply to find tutors. You can also do the learning session online. What’s more interesting about this is it’s cheaper than enrolling in schools or universities.
Get A Language Partner
Let’s say you already have your lessons; how will you practice what you have learned? That’s where language partners will be helpful. A language partner is someone with who you can practice the language you are learning. It’s important that your language partner is someone close to you or someone you’re already comfortable with to avoid intimidation and to be anxious. It’s nice that you can practice your Cantonese in actual conversations.
Go To Hong Kong
Cantonese is the official language of Hong Kong and Macau. The majority of people speak Cantonese as their first language in these countries, so these are the perfect places to learn Cantonese. There are many Chinese communities in the world, but most of them speak Mandarin. Going to Hong Kong and Macau is an option that not everyone can afford. Of course, if you can go there, why not? Immersing yourself in your target language is still, of course, one of the most effective ways.
Get Help From Technology
One of the problems that Cantonese language learners encounter is a lack of available resources. Since Cantonese is considered a challenging language, developing up-to-date resources is kinda critical, which not many people have dared to do it. Most of the books you can buy online are outdated and were published many years ago. Luckily, technology has gifted language learners with innovative ways to learn languages like Cantonese. An example of this innovation is the language learning app called Ling App.
Ling App is a revolutionary way to learn new languages. It helps learners learn Cantonese and other languages in a fun and convenient way. It has well-developed features that cover different language skills like writing, reading, speaking, and even grammar. It also has blog posts that you can read to learn more about Cantonese culture. If you’re worried about the speaking practice, it has dialogue and speech recognition technology. Everything that you’ll need in starting to learn Cantonese is already there.
So, stop thinking that Cantonese is a really hard language to learn. With perseverance and the right tools, you’ll be able to achieve your goal. Every language will always be hard to learn if you put that in your mind. Cantonese might be challenging to learn, but challenging doesn’t mean it’s impossible.