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How hard is Cantonese?


Hwong_DsiKiem

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Demonic_Duck

OP: "I think this apple is way better than this orange. Here are some reasons to back up my claim."

Other people: "But you can't compare apples to oranges".

OP: "You're wrong, I stand by my original statement that the apple is better. Here are some more reasons."

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First of all, you are getting upset and confrontational for no reason.

What I say is the truth, and you only make up things. It is the truth, what the teacher told me, whether you want to believe it or not.
Gato posted statistics in a much older thread. Chinese kids spend considerably more time learning to read and write than kids learning most languages. This is quantifiable and objective, and it's difficult to argue that learning 3500 characters is not more difficult than learning 30.
As my French, Australian and Hungarian friends have said, Chinese has simple grammar.
And any linguist experienced with Chinese will tell you that Chinese grammar is no simpler than in most European languages. It seems easy for beginners, but difficult for advanced students.For example, John DeFrancis, a true authority on the Chinese language, stated that Chinese grammar is only about 30% more difficult than French. He was fluent in both.The concept is called Dunning-Kruger.
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Hwong_DsiKiem

I am actually not upset, but it seems like you all are and think I am being ridiculous here.

 

What I have been asking is the difficulties towards learning Cantonese and whether you think it deserves to be called THE hardest language and THE second hardest Chinese. I have not been trying to compare unrelated things.

 

I am not saying it isn't hard, I am ASKING.

 

Or you could say that I am in no position to say anything because I am too young.

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Demonic_Duck

What I'm saying is that you're talking at cross-purposes to everyone else in the thread. "Comparing apples to oranges" isn't comparing unrelated things (they're both fruits), it's comparing things which may be related but where any comparison is meaningless. What others are trying to tell you is that it's meaningless to make a claim such as "language X is harder than language Y" without adding the caveat "to native speakers of language Z".

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Hwong_DsiKiem

So you are saying, languages cannot be harder, but depends on the native speakers. So even though the French kids have the most trouble with French conjugations, it isn't a valid point to say that something can be objectively hard?

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anonymoose
Cantonese is THE hardest language and how it is the SECOND most difficult Chinese

 

Isn't this a logical impossibility to start with?

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Demonic_Duck
it isn't a valid point to say that something can be objectively hard?

Precisely. The concept of something being difficult doesn't even make sense outside of the context of human experience, which is by its very nature subjective (what's difficult to me may not be difficult to Stephen Hawking).

 

Also, to be honest I'm not even sure what you mean by "the French kids have the most trouble with French conjugations", do you mean they have more trouble with the conjugations in their own language than children from elsewhere? And at any rate, where's your source for this claim?

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Hwong_DsiKiem

The source is from my teacher. The French kids have the most trouble learning French conjugation. So I only wanted to say that even native speakers consider that hard, so I reasoned it could be objectively hard.

But since you have raised the point that difficulty is subjective and that what's hard to you may be easy to the best scientist, I wonder if anything should be told as "hard" anymore.

 

So when I get told that Cantonese is the second hardest, I could simply say "for you", and that it itself isn't hard?

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As a Spanish and Catalan native speaker, I can assure you that French conjugation is not hard at all for me. Of course it has to be studied and of course you can make mistakes, but to me it was much easier and faster to study French than to study Chinese. After a couple of years I could read novels in French, listen to the radio comfortably... I've been studying Chinese for four years now and I haven't been able to read a single novel for native speakers or understand a podcast the first time I listened to it. From my point of view, French is a piece of cake compared to Mandarin, so in my opinion there is nothing "objectively hard". 

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陳德聰
So when I get told that Cantonese is the second hardest, I could simply say "for you", and that it itself isn't hard?

Yes.

Also, some imprecisions in your English led to people thinking you were asking "how is Cantonese hard?" as a rhetorical question and not in the sense that you apparently meant: "in what ways is Cantonese hard?".

 

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So you are saying, languages cannot be harder, but depends on the native speakers.

I am convinced that this is mostly true. This is very difficult to objectively measure, though, so it's mostly speculation.

I have noticed that Chinese is easy for Vietnamese speakers, English for Dutch speakers, Mandarin for Cantonese speakers, Spanish for Portuguese speakers, etc.

At the same time, Chinese people have trouble with Portuguese, Dutch people struggle with Chinese, etc.

So even though the French kids have the most trouble with French conjugations, it isn't a valid point to say that something can be objectively hard?

I do think that French tenses are objectively hard, and only become easy if you come from a language which is similar in that respect.

But at the same time, EVERY language has something that is objectively hard. Tones and characters in Chinese languages are objectively hard. They are demonstrably difficult to acquire for adult learners. They are only easy if you come from languages which also use them.

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Hwong_DsiKiem

I wanted to ask HOW hard is Cantonese, as in really "how", but I have been misinterpreted.

I know, you're going to say I haven't been clear.

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Hwong_DsiKiem

On the tones being objectively hard, I'd just like to point out again that it is interesting considering how people over here think non-tonal languages are hard because they are clueless as to what tones they are supposed to pronounce the words in, making their sentences di-tone, if you'll excuse the expression.

And one of my friends came to the conclusion that the confusion works both ways.

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As long as the vowels (including vowel length) and consonants are correct, they can pronounce absolutely any tone they wish, and it will be OK.

If you can do anything you wish, it's not hard :)

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Most of this applies to Mandarin or Hokkien, or any other Chinese language group. I have no idea if some of them are so much more difficult than others, but I suspect that they aren't.

Taking a side road here: while I've only learned two Chinese language groups, Hokkien (Taiwanese) has seven tones (well, eight, but two of them are the same) and uses sandhi for every single syllable, except when it doesn't. Which makes the tonal system at least harder than both Mandarin and Cantonese, although of course it's possible that it's easier in other ways.

And yet it was vastly easier to learn for me than Mandarin since I already knew Mandarin.

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anonymoose

Going down Lu's sideroad, what strategies did you use for learning Hokkien? I am learning Shanghainese, and I can certainly identify with it being easier after having learnt Mandarin, but even so, it is particularly difficult because there is no standardisation - there are very few resources available, and those that are do not use any unified system for representing pronunciation, which means the only way to really know how something is pronounced is to listen to it from a native speaker, but the problem is that there is substantial variation between speakers, so it is difficult to know which pronunciation to adopt (or to know whether two different words in theory have the same pronunciation or different pronunciations). Also, I'm not sure what the situation is with Hokkien, but it seems like there are many common concepts which are difficult to express in Shanghainese. For example, just the other day a Shanghainese person mentioned the word 孤独 to me. I then asked how to say that in Shanghainese, and she couldn't think of any word to express this idea. The best she could come up with was just using Shanghainese pronunciation to say the characters 孤独, but then proceeded to say that saying it this way sounds very 矫情. This is just one example, but there has been many similar instances. It's almost like it's a bit pointless learning Shanghainese because I'll just have to revert to Mandarin whenever I want to express something beyond the mundane. But surely there must be a way to express these ideas in Shanghainese - after all, it can't be that the elder monolingual generation were never able to talk about these topics... These difficulties make learning Shanghainese quite a challenge even though conceptually it is very easy for someone who already speaks Mandarin.

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the only way to really know how something is pronounced is to listen to it from a native speaker

 

Isn't that the only real way to know how anything in any language is pronounced? Phonetic transcriptions can only get you so far, but they don't address things such as rhythm, intonation, etc.

 

I don't know very much Taiwanese, but if I had the time, this is what I'd do. I'd go through a few phrasebooks first, Glossika style. I'd make sure they had audio, and I'd run the audio by a native speaker of Taiwanese to make sure it's acceptable. Then once I had gone through those books (rather, while going through the books), I'd go out and just start talking to people, asking questions, etc. When my Taiwanese fails, Mandarin would be an acceptable way to negotiate meaning, as long as I work my way back into Taiwanese. I'd use methods like those outlines in Guidelines for Barefoot Language Learning by Donald Larson and Language Acquisition Made Practical by Thomas and Elizabeth Brewster. These techniques are especially useful for languages with few resources which are rarely or never written. But I think I'd use them even for a language like Japanese, for which abundant resources are available. In fact, I plan on doing so if I move to Japan, alongside more traditional methods.

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anonymoose
Isn't that the only real way to know how anything in any language is pronounced?

 

To start with, yes. The difference is, with Mandarin, if you know all the possible syllable variations, when you come across a new word, you can tell how it should be pronounced just by looking at the pinyin.

 

With Shanghainese, there is no standardised pinyin. In fact, there isn't even consistency on what all the possible syllable variations are. This makes it hard knowing how something should be pronounced without listening. And even with listening, there is often inconsistency between speakers.

 

That is all not to mention the tone sandhi, which as Lu mentioned was the case for Hokkien, apply to almost every syllable.

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Everything you just said, to my way of thinking, simply emphasizes the important of relying on your ears rather than your eyes. From your post, you seem to think that listening is a burden after the beginning stages, but language is primarily an oral and aural phenomenon, and the only way to get good at speaking and understanding a language is to listen to it and speak it. A unified romanization system is not necessary. I think every book I've ever seen on Taiwanese uses a different orthography. It doesn't matter, because I don't even look at the romanization. I just use my ears. The point is to imitate the sound of the language, not to try to reconstruct it from a bunch of letters.

 

Inconsistency among native speakers is an inherent part of language. I don't speak English the same way my younger sister does, and we grew up in the same house. We don't even have the same accent, not entirely. The key is to find someone whose pronunciation is acceptable to other native speakers (ask other native speakers), who you can trust not to mislead you and who won't go easy on your pronunciation.

 

I asked a Japanese friend of mine to record Assimil so that I could have natural-sounding audio to work with rather than the slowed-down crap it came with originally. He's from Tokyo and my other Japanese friends have all told me after listening to his recordings that he has a nice, standard accent, so I've been using his recordings. I've never bothered to learn any romanization system for Japanese, but my accent is very good after only a few months of self-study.  Find someone like that guy. Preferably someone well-educated who speaks Shanghainese really well. Explain to him exactly what you're trying to accomplish, and tell him to be merciless with your pronunciation. Work intensively with audio and in person with native speakers who are willing to correct you, and you'll acquire the phonological system much more quickly than you think. There's not really a need to learn a romanization system, especially if native speakers don't even use one.

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