In December 2017, I was revising whether my efforts were conducive of fulfilling my original mission in the first place: helping intermediate Cantonese learners and above.
Were the tools, posts and products I produced helpful to reaching this goal?
If I had a hard look at the materials I released last year, I have to conclude that most of these materials (except for Authentic Cantonese Transcripts, or ACT for short) were really targeted towards beginners.
While I enjoy producing materials at all levels, that wasn’t my original goal.
Unfortunately, it’s quite hard to produce materials for intermediate learners and attracting readers at this level, which is why I had to start out by crafting lessons for beginners first!
However, at this point, I think it’s safe to resume my original mission of helping out Cantonese learners who really want to take their Cantonese to the next step, but find it very, very hard to do so because of the lack of materials. 🙁
And so, I decided to try out a new format, and released a pilot issue of CantoDrills, an integrated exercise including an input and an output portion that can be completed within the span of a week, spending around 20 – 30 minutes / day.
So today, I wanted spend a few minutes talking about what CantoDrills is all about, and how you can use it to really make progress with your Cantonese. (Don’t forget to check out the video below, there are some useful examples that I didn’t list in the post!)
List of CantoDrills issues
To discuss this, I would have to take a trip down memory lane to when I first conceived ACT.
Authentic Cantonese Transcripts is based on all four skills (maybe except for speaking), but has a heavy bias towards input more than output.
I wanted to create an opportunity for students to practise their output as well as input, balancing the application of relevant Cantonese structures and the usage of appropriate vocabulary, and sentence drills was the best idea I could come up with.
In addition, I believe students can benefit from an audio-only text, because it forces us to focus only on the content, instead of the visual aspect of video clips.
I also wanted to create something that really allows students to concentrate for longer periods of time, something that would help them prepare for listening in real life situations.
I determined that 5 minutes would be a start when designing Authentic Cantonese Transcripts, but that 10 minutes of continual text would safely bring students above the threshold if they can stick through the 10 minutes and do their best to understand.
So these are the purest forms of input and output I can think of that are appropriate for a B1/B2 level, and I sincerely believe that repeated exposure to Cantonese in this format will help students make measurable progress towards fluency in an accelerated timeframe.
Time: ~20 minutes / day x 5 sessions
- Try to come up with a translation without a dictionary first.
- For the missing gaps, look up the terms in the dictionary (or something like linguee.cn).
- Read over your translation again to check for flow – can natives understand it?
- Check your translation with mine and see how you could’ve worded it alternatively.
- Listen to the audio to reinforce alternative translations.
Focus: Structures, vocabulary
Time: ~30 minutes / day x 2 sessions
- On the first round, jot down as many notes as you can (English is fine).
- Look over your notes and piece together a complete picture of what you heard.
- The second time round, listen again and jot down words that could be important.
- Read over the Cantonese transcript to fill in missing bits.
- Read over the English translation and check your understanding is correct.
- Highlight any new words you don’t know to review in the future.
- Try to produce an oral summary of the passage (if you have time, write it down).
Focus: Listening comprehension, vocabulary
What level is this targeted at?
B1 – B2, those who are looking to achieve conversational fluency in Cantonese, and gain an appreciation of important social issues in Hong Kong.
How much time do I need to complete this?
I estimate it takes around 100 minutes to finish translating the sentences, and going through the sample translations; and up to 60 minutes to finish working with the passage, totalling to about 160 minutes / week (2 hours 40 minute).
Some people might find it easier to complete translations, or might work through the passage a lot quicker than these timeframes. This is a rather conservative estimate, so for most learners, it should be less in reality.
(I’ve tried my hand at doing the sentence drills in French and Japanese, and four minutes per sentence seems to be about right! If you can do it much faster than that, perhaps you’re already very familiar with Cantonese, or perhaps you can spend a bit of time checking for flow.)
CantoDrills seems a bit above my level…?
When it comes to language learning, I firmly believe there’s nothing that’s “above your level” – as long as there’s something to learn, you should feel confident in dipping your toes in the water, if not outright submerge yourself. (That said, maybe diving straight into something like Classical Chinese might be a bit of a leap, but if someone’s really interested and determined, there’s nothing to stop them from doing it.)
But, I’d like to add in my two cents when tackling the exercises in CantoDrills.
First of all, when it comes to output, no one expects that you can translate these sentences real time with a high degree of accuracy and utter those translations fluently. These sentence drills are designed to help expose you to words / structures you’re likely to encounter, and reinforce those words / structures VIA sentences. In other words, they’re tools to help you learn, not a benchmark assessment.
If I had to give an analogy, I’d liken doing these translations to writing Chinese characters to familiarize yourself with characters. Nobody expects foreigners, unless you’re studying Chinese as a language or use it professionally, to be able to handwrite characters, but you do so because it helps reinforce your ability to RECOGNIZE them.
So please don’t lose sight of the goal – the goal of doing these translations is to practise techniques like circumlocution, rephrasing, simplifying, striking a balance between English and Cantonese – no one expects you to translate these ad lib (but if you can, that’s pretty wicked!).
As for the listening component, your goal is simple: to try to focus and understand as much as you can without consulting the supplementary materials, and to learn new vocabulary along the way.
At the end of this short rant, I guess my point is: don’t look at this as some sort of a test, these are EXERCISES designed to help you improve your output and input in Cantonese!