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Is it hard to learn Cantonese?


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Is it hard to learn Cantonese?? As I'm interested in it. My native language is Vietnamese, 2nd is English and 3rd is Mandarin.

Many say that Cantonese is the same as Mandarin in writing but when i read the lyric of HK's songs or any Cantonese songs, I have troubles of understanding. Comparing with reading Mandarin songs' lyric, madarin songs are a lot easier to read and understand.

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Cantonese speakers typically write in vernacular Chinese, which closely follows standard Mandarin in terms of grammar and vocabulary.

Written Cantonese is less common, and is different from Mandarin. AFAIK, you're right, and most Cantonese pop songs are actually written in vernacular Chinese (Mandarin grammar and vocabulary) and sung using the Cantonese pronunciation.

I don't know how hard it is to learn Cantonese, but knowing Mandarin should help you a lot.

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I don't think it should be too hard if you already know Mandarin, know Vietnamese (which, apparently, also has many similarities with Cantonese) and if you study hard and have opportunities to practice Cantonese.

I also think it's easier if you are of Asian appearance, as people tend to speak to you first in Cantonese.

Also, Cantonese is not simply Mandarin with an accent, if you will. If you try to learn it with this mentality, you might get frustrated. Instead, try to learn it on its own terms, as its own language, and then try to use your Mandarin to your advantage.

I think for people who know Mandarin, the biggest initial barrier might be Cantonese's unique vowels and sounds, so it's best to really do a lot of listening practice, and try to get the sounds right.

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Now I'm living in Guangdong, and it's hard for me to speak Cantonese.Because I often want to link them. Maybe it's easy to know what others talk about,but it's really hard to pronounce correctly.

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Now that I've been looking around the Web I see that there are unfortnately very little resources for learning Cantonese as opposed to Mandarin. I'm an advanced beginner in Cantonese and less than that in Mandarin.

For example, I was looking for some Talking Cantonese Dictionary but only found this website below for pronouncing Mandarin from PinYin.

I wish I could find something like this below for pronouncing Cantonese PinYin.

I believe someone posted this in another thread


Use the mouse to mouseover various tone sounds til you see the speaker icon and mouseover it to hear the tones.

Then try entering something like this in the big textbox

wo3 hen2 xi3huan1 zhu4 zai4 zhong1guo2

and Click the Female or Male Voice Button below.

Afterwards you can click the Play Button ( to repeat ) after the translation has been downloaded.

Additionally, when I hear a word/phrase in Cantonese that I want to look it up in a Cantonese dictionary then how would I do it ?

I assume I would have to convert the sounds to jyutping or Yale Cantonese ... and look it up in some hardbound Cantonese dictionary ?

Is there an online Cantonese Dictionary for me to use for this ?

It would be so nice to have the Talking Dictionary to pronounce the Cantonese PinYin .... ( accurately of course ).

So, it seems there is a wide open un-tapped market for solving this Cantonese learning problem ? I guess someone will say that the same amount of work / effort in Mandarin would serve a much larger audience and hence be much more profitable.

LA Guy

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Is it hard to learn Cantonese?? As I'm interested in it. My native language is Vietnamese, 2nd is English and 3rd is Mandarin.

Many say that Cantonese is the same as Mandarin in writing but when I read the lyric of HK's songs or any Cantonese songs, I have troubles of understanding. Comparing with reading Mandarin songs' lyric, Mandarin songs are a lot easier to read and understand.

It'll be easier than Mandarin, and I think that knowing Vietnamese should also help. I never learned Cantonese, but I did study Hokkien for a year, and it was a lot easier than learning Mandarin. Knowing one Chinese language certainly helps in learning the next one.
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Your Vietnamese background will definitely help you. I've known Mandarin speakers who've learned to speak fluent albeit dodgy sounding Cantonese simply from watching television dramas with subtitles. You'll also need to learn traditional characters, which wouldn't be too much of a problem if you have a good command of written Chinese. Some vocabulary in Cantonese are different from Mandarin though.

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  • 4 weeks later...

just to add to the tip about trying to learn cantonese on its own terms instead of using mandarin to help.

I really suggest you check out http://www.cantonese.sheik.co.uk/dictionary/ (this link is to give you the dictionary. Click on "home" at the top to go to the main page where there are a bunch of lessons).

I strongly suggest you learn jyutping (the romanization system) and the 6 tones because they will help TREMENDOUSLY.

Whatever you do, do NOT write mandarin tones down when trying to learn words in cantonese. Assuming you don't know jyutping, for the word 你 nei5 you might be tempted to put down something like "néi" or "náy" to help you remember it is a rising tone.

However, cantonese has 2 rising tones (tones 2 and 5) and 你 is not tone2 but rather, tone 5 (rises not as high as tone 2).

Just a tip because I learned the hard way growing up as a chinese canadian that the 2 rising tones were different. As a result before I found cantodict i was all messed up pronouncing most words with rising tones as a tone 2 (same as mandarin tone 2) without realizing it. I'm improving a lot now thanks to learning jyutping.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Hi all and Happy New Year !

I am doing self-study of Cantonese here in LA, Ca and I'm at the advanced beginner level.

I am only studying listening and speaking without reading and writing Chinese characters.

My goal this year 2011 is to achieve an intermediate level of Cantonese ( I got 12 months ... )

I want to be able to listen to radio and TV commercials, Soap Operas and have a better idea of what is being said ( not full understanding mind you ), right now I'm basically clueless as I can only pick out a few words and phrases here and there.

I was hoping some people can share how they can make good progress in "hearing words / phrases" and writing down the romanizations and finding the new words they hear in a Cantonese to English Dictionary.

So, I hear plenty of words / phrases on the TV and Radio that I don't understand ( of course ) but need a way to

figure out what they mean ( without a personal tutor ).

I do have some family that I can ask if I really really want to.

I do want to be somewhat independent in trying to figure things out.

Since I'm not doing any reading/writing at this point, I think some of the ANKI flash cards are NOT helpful since I really need Yale / Jyutping romanization , Audio and translation to drill with.

I do use open source software Audacity to edit audio files into mp3 and play in the car, CD and MP3 players.

So, just how do you make good progress learning vocabulary and listening skills if you're not in a Cantonese class

or using a personal tutor at this point.

Many Thanks, LA Guy

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