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James Mar
Comic Creator / Cartoonist , Illustrator
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Cantonese vs. Mandarin

Mandarin seems like the Chinese language to learn in America.  Even among some of my Cantonese speaking friends or relatives, when they want their baby to learn Chinese, Mandarin is their choice.  China is the future, people say.  I used to expect most US chinatown communities to primarily be Cantonese speakers but seems like either Taiwanese people or Mainlanders are flourishing in this environment as well. 

Growing up in America, my primary language is and remains English.  Both my parents speak Cantonese but were too lazy to teach beyond their firstborn.  They taught me a few basic words here and there but that's it.  As a kid, I was forced into attended a weekend Mandarin Chinese school for a little bit but I didn't learn or retain much from there.  I just remember an unfinished workbook and goofing off.  Besides, an extra day of school?  My American sensibility was too spoiled for that.  Do I regret it?  I do wish I picked up more from it and it would be great if I became semi-fluent.  But I don't regret enjoying my childhood either.  I'd rather watch cartoons or play Computer/Nintendo games all day. 

From high school to college, I was also forced into studying a second language.  I studied French cause a second language was mandatory and I wanted to learn something different from my bros (who chose Spanish and Latin).  I think I've forgotten most of it, there's too many conjugations involved. 

After college, I wanted to learn some Asian languages for fun.  When it comes to languages, there are three that interest me: Cantonese, Mandarin, and Japanese.

Cantonese because that's where much my culture and heritage lies.

Mandarin because it's popular and the Chinese standard.

Japanese because it's products and culture are so influential. 

The furthest I've ever gotten is by listening to the the first level of Cantonese, Mandarin, and Japanese from Pimsleur.  Basic stuff, but it helped me understand much more than I used to.  Even knowing a few more words and phrases makes me feel better.

I often watch many movies in these three languages as well.  Movies haven't really helped me learn languages very well.  The only things I learned from watching Cantonese movies are words like "POK GAI!!!" or "SIK SEAHHH!!!".  In terms of learning resources, Cantonese seems the scarcest.  Japanese and especially Mandarin are more plentiful.  Unfortunately for me, Cantonese is the language I want to learn most.  I'd feel guilty if I was better versed in the other two languages.  I'm not very good at learning languages anyhow, my memory isn't the sharpest.  The Cantonese tones are the toughest.  The only way I could ever learn is through repetition, continual and consistent listening and speaking.  And without the time, discipline, or even resources to learn I don't know if I'll ever pick it up...  At least I'm pretty good at English.

Speaking of Cantonese vs. Mandarin, here's a trailer of a great movie series with a related North vs. South premise.  From studio Cathay:

The Greatest Civil War on Earth

Video: http://www.cathay.com.sg/classics/civilwar.wmv

I really love Leung Sing Bo's comic tones and mannerisms.  I agree with the idea that comedy is funnier in Cantonese than Mandarin.  The "sequels" The Greatest Wedding on Earth and The Greatest Love Affair on Earth feature the same cast and premise but are unrelated.  I've still been waiting a long time for Panorama to release Greatest Love Affair on DVD.  The first two were quite enjoyable.  Who knows if its release will ever happen.  Who the purchases and watches these types of movies other than hardcore movie fans or really old people?  What an unfortunate trend.

over 13 years ago 0 likes  11 comments  0 shares
Photo 22998
Don't think about learning it.... just learn it. you could learn both if you wanted. But start with something... a word a day and you'll know 1000 words in 3 years... seems far away - but with 1000 words you could really speak pretty well... can you imagine being able to converse well in 3 years? That's not bad.
over 13 years ago
Mariejost 26 dsc00460
I know your pain and confusion--but I just grabbed the Pimsleur Cantonese course and jumped in. (I am not Asian and didn't grow up hearing any Asian languages as a child, so you have it over me there.) Don't dismiss the "easy" stuff. Mastering the easy stuff, all of it, perfectly, is the perfect platform for future study. You say the tones are your weakest point--well, that is just what Pimsleur stresses, correct tone production. Sure, you won't learn much more than travelers' survival Canto from Pimsleur, but that forms a great platform for future study. It seems that there are free podcasts from ITunes for students of Cantonese. I was directed to the Naked Cantonese series. There is also a website called Cantophilia (or something like that) that is geared mostly towards advanced beginners and intermediate students that uses video clips from tv and movies with related instructional materials. If you've already got the basics, I think there is more out there than you would think, but it seems to be on the web and not at Amazon.com.
over 13 years ago
Photo 73131
I could learn a word a day, and then forget it two days later. :P I still do have resources I haven't totally exhausted in mastering. I just haven't made it a priority to do. Sometimes, I'd get bored with it or wonder if I'm learning the most practical lessons. It's one of those things I want to do eventually.
over 13 years ago
Mariejost 26 dsc00460
Yeah, learning a language has its boring grind aspects, I certainly can identify with that. I just keep at it, 30-45 minutes a day, 6-7 days a week. Every time I watch a Hong Kong film or listen to some Cantopop song and can recognize more words, I know I am making progress. It may seem like a snail's pace, but the progress is measurable month by month. I also keep the ultimate goal out in front of me--I want to be able to listen to Leslie Cheung singing a song and understand the lyrics as he is singing them. It took me 6 years to reach that point in Spanish (flamenco's don't pronounce words like any language course), but I made it! With Cantonese, I don't have to learn the standard language and then learn a highly idiosyncratic regional variant to reach my goal. I don't have to memorize hundreds of irregular verbs (in 2 modes and about 18 tenses), irregular adjectives, 52 ways to say the same thing--all different depending on which country or region you are in. All of that time I can spend on actually learning how to speak and read and write. I so love the simplified grammar in Cantonese. I can do this, I know I can do this. Last night I understood an entire phrase in a movie and was able to give my husband the literal translation versus how it was rendered in the subtitles (which gave what was said an entirely different character than what the subs could communicate). It is tiny milestones like this that give me the ability to soldier on. Also, I am in love with the look of Chinese characters. I love learning to draw them and I love how they look on the page of a book or on a scroll or painting. So much inspiration to learn how to read them. I just wonder why it took me so long to discover this marvelous language?
over 13 years ago

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April 9, 2008