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How to Learn Cantonese in Hong Kong: Part 2

So, if you read Part 1 and felt any of what I was saying then Part 2 should be helpful as well.
In this post we will talk about those damn TONES, ways and things to practice on and what can you now do with your Cantonese to help you for future learning.


Tones have to be the most difficult thing to work on in my opinion. Unless you have someone that is really patient to sit with you while you go through the tones in a drill like manner, you really just need to sit and try to make the most correct tone as possible and always. This will be from mimicking what you hear and repeating it over and over.
Why are tones so important?  Keeping in mind that Cantonese is a tonal language. The tones make the words. Even if you say the correct word per se, if your tone is wrong then you’re actually saying a completely different word.  I’ll give you an example. I was sitting with a nice girl a long time ago and she expressed to me that she wanted to improve her English. So I eagerly said that I will ‘teach’ you. Now, the word for ‘teach’ and the word for ‘have sex’ have the same pronunciation yet have very different tones.  I said it in the wrong tone and let’s just say that she never became my student nor did we have sex.  It was a bit awkward.  Nonetheless, as I mentioned in Part 1, you will have situations similar to this and I always remembered the proper tone for both words there after.
Drill books are available but are quite scarce.  It can be difficult to really find a lot of good resources for learning Cantonese.  Especially since Mandarin is so widely popular to learn these days by foreigners.  So when starting your journey down the Pearl River Delta of the Cantonese language try to focus a lot on tones from the beginning in order to have some great tones down the road…..or river.

Very old school tones drill book.

Ways and things to practice on

How to practice?  From the gate in my own journey to grasp Cantonese, I always put myself in a situation where I had to use the language. Obviously from the name of this site, I’m in Mongkok. I have lived in Mongkok for 12 years now and had made it from day one to always speak to everyone I cross paths with.
When you get up in the morning and go outside to do what ever it is that you do, speak Cantonese. Even if the only sentence you can say is ‘Good morning!’.  It is a start.  If you go to 7-11 to get your can of coffee, ask the clerk how they are today. They will enjoy that short exchange immensely and it will start to build from there.  Don’t get that morning newspaper from 7-11 where you don’t have to ask for it.  Go to the news stand and ask for that newspaper.  Learn the words that you normally use everyday first. Those are the words that are most important to you and those are the words and sentences that you can remember and practice the most.  Soon those words/sentences will become instinctual and you will be moving onto the next group of sentences and vocabulary that you use frequently.

One tip:

What I did for at least the first 3 years of my learning was that I carried a Cantonese dictionary around with me at ALL times.  Everywhere I went I would pull it out to see what the words were for what I was looking at.  Try to find one that also has the Chinese characters for the word as well.  That way you can ask someone who is sitting next to you on the bus (pretty girl/handsome guy, whatever you’re preference is) and get a native tone and possibly make a new friend.

This book is published and produced by Chinese University
This book is published and produced by Chinese University

Also, frequent the same places for your daily necessities.  For example, go to the same restaurant for breakfast or other meals for a while.  Very soon all of the staff will quickly know your name and your life story and will be your teachers of Cantonese.  Knowing more people is very important to learning Cantonese.  You can’t just hang around other foreigners all the time and expect to get some good Cantonese.  They are not learning it most likely and won’t be able to help you with your studies.  I’m not saying don’t hang out with them at all, just open your social circle a bit to take full advantage of being able to learn this amazing language from the large amount of native speakers that are all around you.

Use what you have now and it will help for the future

Using what ever bit of Cantonese that you have now all the time will help you a great deal in the future.  But keep in mind that it is only a building block.  You have to constantly be going after more and more Cantonese.  The language, like many languages, is very deep and complex.  There is no end to learning a language.  I’m a native English speaker but there is so much English that I don’t know.  The same is true for Cantonese.  Being in Hong Kong, there are soooo many colloquial expressions that it would take a lifetime to learn them and then to use them.  The language is perpetual in its growth.  New words and phrases come up all the time, so you have to keep your ear to the street.  The future of your Cantonese is dependant on your work ethics to keep learning it.  Even after a long time learning, even when you feel bored with it, even when you feel that you have enough to get around town and order some dishes at your local cha chan teng.  Keep going forward.

Lastly in consideration of your future learning, think about learning to read and write Chinese.  This will add a whole new dimension to your learning and you will surely move into a higher level of learning in terms of language learning.  Keep in mind though that the Chinese written system is complex and it truly takes a lot of dedication and a serious time commitment to get to a good level.  But it’s great!  More on reading and writing in a separate post.

Keep going and don’t stop moving forward.  Consistency is truly the key.  The more consistent you are, the more you will learn and in turn the more you will be able to talk to anyone about anything and all of Hong Kong will open up to you in a whole new and forever exciting way.