At some point in time of your studying of a language, you have to ask yourself, “How can I take this to the next level?”. With Cantonese, usually non-Chinese learners do not focus on learning how to read and write Chinese in the beginning because of its perceived complexity. But it is what is needed to take your Canto speaking and overall knowledge of the language to the next level and beyond.
One issue with this is that most reference and learning material that is made for the non-Chinese Cantonese learner is mostly if not completely without any written Chinese. This seems fine for most learners because they just want to be able to speak and converse with people. The KOMK has met a few foreigners that can speak some Canto but lack any real knowledge in written Chinese. Keep in mind that the original point was that, reading and writing takes the learning to the next level and beyond.
When being able to read and write Chinese, you start to see the words for their correct pronunciation and start to stop thinking about how it you would write it out in English romanization with the correct tone and pronunciation. You keep double guessing as to whether you wrote it correctly so that you do not sound silly and have to find the correction. Understanding how to read and write truly changes how you see the language. You’ll start to ask people as to which character they are referring to and the understanding of words and meanings of them every time you see them keeps vocabulary more solidified in you memory as well. And Chinese people will be even more impressed with your skills if you can read and write along with speaking.
Canto -vs- Mando
Some people struggle to decide which Chinese language to learn and the KOMK went through this struggle and still does at times. Only because over the years, Mando has been heard and used in the streets of Mongkok more and more due to the influx of Mainland tourist to Hong Kong. It seems that more Mainlanders are also taking up jobs in restaurants and shops that give the Mando accent to their Canto and Mando has a bit more of a status in Hong Kong nowadays.
Cantonese is of course greatly different than Mandarin and the way in which you approach learning Canto is different as well. A part of this is because of the culture of Hong Kong is different than it is in Mainland China. While the people are all Chinese, just the way about going through life is different in Hong Kong as it would be if your city was a British colony for over 100 years. Also, because of Hong Kong’s size as Hong Kong is actually a very small city in terms of livable square kilometers. When taking a small place and packing over 7 million people into that space, you will get a very unique style and flavor of a place and its people. So the language of the people, of course, grows and develops based on how people are living and what they are experiencing in their daily lives.
The diaspora of Cantonese speaking people is also greatly different than in the past as well. Back in the day, it was Hong Kong and Cantonese people that were moving overseas to different cities and forming the vibe and feel of China-towns all over the world. Nowadays, when in Chinatown in NYC or SF, you often do not hear much Cantonese being yelled on the streets. It is often Mandarin or different provincial dialects of Chinese and this shows that the movement of the people has been changing dramatically over the past few decades. So Cantonese is mainly used in Hong Kong, Macau and a bit in Canton province. I only say a bit in Canton, because in the travels to Canton over the years, less and less people are using Cantonese due to the Chinese government’s push to make Mando more used in provinces like Canton.
With this surge in Mando usage outside of China, one could make the argument that Mando would be more practical to use as you would have a larger base of people to communicate with which would help you to learn the language easier. So it would be best for someone that is wanting to learn a Chinese language to understand what is the reason to learn the language. Do you want to live in China or Taiwan? Do you want to hangout with the KOMK in Hong Kong and speak Canto? Defining your reason to learn the language is important as it will guide you towards your GOAL of becoming proficient in the language.
Cantonese is an amazing language and to learn it would open many doors along the way. Languages are only difficult if you think that they are difficult to learn. This challenge is something that you are accepting and is amazingly enjoyable, so keep it fun over everything and keep moving forward. Even if it’s one word at a time.