- 1 Why Cantonese Transcripts are ideal Cantonese materials
- 2 How to Learn Cantonese with Cantonese Transcripts
- 3 Download Cantonese Transcript
- 4 Who should learn Cantonese with Cantonese transcripts?
- 5 How should Cantonese transcripts be presented?
- 6 What format of materials should the Cantonese transcripts be based on?
- 7 How should you learn Cantonese with Cantonese transcripts?
- 7.1 Step 1. (Pre) Study the vocabulary.
- 7.2 Step 2. Listen to the clip once.
- 7.3 Step 3. Study the transcript.
- 7.4 Step 4. Study the transcript again.
- 7.5 Step 5. Watch the clip again, but this time, slowly.
- 7.6 Step 6. Watch the clip a third time, this time with a focus on comprehension.
- 7.7 Step 7. Fill in the blanks exercise.
- 7.8 Step 8. Short answer questions exercise.
- 7.9 Step 9. Edit the Quizlet deck.
- 7.10 Step 10. Revise your Quizlet deck.
- 8 5 creative ways to learn with Cantonese transcripts
- 9 Wrapping up
Why Cantonese Transcripts are ideal Cantonese materials
One of my top recommended methods for students to learn Cantonese is with Cantonese transcripts.
Before I forget, here’s the accompanying video with my thoughts on how to get the best value out of Cantonese transcripts.
How to Learn Cantonese with Cantonese Transcripts
Download Cantonese Transcript
If you’d like to follow along the video, please download the transcript by clicking on the photo below.
Let’s have a look at some of our options first when choosing Cantonese materials, to see why having some sort of a transcript format can trump anything else.
- Pure audio course like Pimsleur
- Appified format like Duolingo
- Mass sentences like Glossika
- Conversations course like Teach Yourself Cantonese
- Podcasts like CantoneseClass101
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not in the business of bashing other language learning products / methods, but there are limitations of each method that we need to be aware of, and these limitations are the reasons I highly recommend that learners learn Cantonese via Cantonese transcripts.
Let’s go through each one by one.
1. Pure audio course. An audio course like Pimsleur can be a quick way to get started – my understanding of Pimsleur is that it’s based on comprehensible input, and designed in a way that allows you to progress by limiting the vocabulary and structures very tightly, allowing you to build your understanding that way.
The problem with a product like Pimsleur is that you’ll find it difficult to progress beyond an intermediate level – in other words, the restraints that these lessons are designed with also mean that there’s a cap to how much you can learn.
2. Apps for learning Cantonese. I’ll be frank – I have used Duolingo before for Spanish, and I really loved the fun, game-like nature of it. The notion of having badges and streaks was a good motivator when it got tough, and it’s nice to think I was making progress even with just 10 – 15 minutes a day.
The problem with Duolingo is very similar Pimsleur – it only gets you through the basics, at most an A2 level, and stops there. To top that off, when I was doing Spanish, for example, I had to supplement my studies with pronunciation drills, grammar practice, as well as reading authentic materials. In other words, it only formed a very small part of my learning, however fun it was.
3. Mass sentences. I have explored the notion of using Glossika before, based on what I’ve heard from other students, and based on what I’ve seen on the Glossika site, I like the fact it’s predictable, reliable and again, it’s learning that’s portable.
The problem, once again, is that this is very restricted. The idea of something like Glossika is to get you familiar with pronunciation, a core vocabulary, as well as hearing and using structures, but this also ends after the 3,000 sentences are up.
To top that off, sentences that are taken out of context are not entirely helpful beyond an initial stage, because they’re too short, and they’re, well, out of context, which doesn’t allow inferencing.
4. Teach Yourself Cantonese. This is the closest to the ideal format of learning Cantonese. There’s a Cantonese transcript, there’s a translation and there’s audio included. I actually recommend using Teach Yourself Cantonese to kickstart your Cantonese learning.
The problem (can you detect a recurring theme here?) is the same – there isn’t continuity. After you’re done with the course, you’re left to your own devices again, wondering, “where do you go from here?”
5. Cantonese Podcasts. I personally think podcasts are effective for learning, because they’re slightly whittled down from real materials, but not too much so that it’s too easy to understand.
But the notion of having materials designed for foreigners is something I generally tend to frown upon. If properly designed, scaffolds to learning Cantonese can be helpful, but there’s so much beyond the world of whittled down language in real life that they also stop being helpful after a certain point in time.
Do you see the recurring problem?
All of these materials are great up till a certain point, but they DO NOT contain authentic Cantonese!
Once you’re done getting the basics down, it’s time to get your feet wet with native materials and learn from the perspective of native speakers.
I can already hear some Cantonese learners groaning, “but we’re foreigners, there’s no way we can use native materials that quickly!”
That is, if you use them presented in native format.
But if they’re properly re-presented, native materials with scaffolds (explanations, vocabulary lists, exercises and the like) are much better than materials designed for foreigners, with scaffolds, mainly because of two reasons:
- They’re authentic – what you learn here you’ll likely be able to use / encounter in real life.
- They’re much more readily available in bulk – materials designed for foreigners, well, need to be designed for foreigners, whereas native materials are everywhere. This includes Cantonese as well, yes, compared to the paltry selection of foreign Cantonese learning materials, there’s giant vault of native materials!
Once again, I’ll reiterate – I’m not discounting the utility of these products.
As a matter of fact, I’ve used some of these products, both as a student and as a teacher, and they’ve given me great pleasure in learning with them.
But all of these products to learn Cantonese have limitations, in the sense that once you’ve graduated the initial stage, you’re on your own.
This is where learning Cantonese with Cantonese transcripts comes in.
Who should learn Cantonese with Cantonese transcripts?
One of the first questions I want to answer is which learners should start learning with Cantonese transcripts.
Before I dive into it, I’d like to draw up an estimate of the learning journey of a language learner.
In other words, how much time is spent relatively on each stage of learning?
If we conceptualize learning to take part in three stages, basic, intermediate and advanced, here is what I surmise to be the breakdown of time spent in each stage.
The breakdown might seem a bit strange to some people, but that’s because of how I define “finished” here.
After finishing with studying a language at a more advanced level, your language studies, in theory, come to a stop. Beyond that point, you’re no longer learning Cantonese, you’re simply “maintaining it”, or learning, but in a much less consistent, focused way.
Next, let’s have a look at what I mean by “basic”, “intermediate” and “advanced”.
A basic level is the easiest to define. If you’re still working on Cantonese pronunciation, learning basic Cantonese grammar, acquiring a basic vocabulary in Cantonese, and you’re still exerting effort to make sentences, that’s a basic level.
The difficulty is separating the intermediate and the advanced stages.
To me, the only difference between an intermediate and advanced stage is vocabulary. Once you’ve passed a certain threshold of vocabulary, everything you read and hear will make a lot more sense (it becomes much faster to comprehend texts and real life audio material without translating). You’ll also find it much faster to tap into your vocabulary, not to mention the fact that you have a much better intuitive feel for each word, including perhaps cultural connotations, and common collocations.
So what’s the cutoff point?
Again, I don’t know.
But if I had to give a number, borrowing Bartosz Czekala’s rule of doubling vocabulary size at each level, and approximating an intermediate level to be around B2 – C1 level, then somewhere around 6,000 words seems to be reasonable.
An easier way to tell is perhaps to ask yourself whether you’re at an advanced level or not.
An advanced level is where you can understand most of what you hear, what you read without too much strain, you can express yourself at a good pace with well chosen expressions, and dance around the language when dealing with thoughts you don’t know how to express precisely.
If you’re at an intermediate stage, Cantonese transcripts are definitely suitable for you. (They could still be useful at the basic and advanced stages, but less so for different reasons.)
How should Cantonese transcripts be presented?
Next, let’s have a look at how Cantonese transcripts should be presented.
Ideally, there’s a Cantonese transcript (characters), with Jyutping annotations (or Yale if that’s what you prefer), and a translation to your native language. The transcripts should accurately reflect how Cantonese speakers talk in real life, they should include elements like pauses, hesitating, particles when appropriate.
To top that off, a vocabulary list highlighting useful words would be useful. There should be some separation between essential and non-essential words. If available, audio recordings of each word by a native speaker would also be helpful to reinforce those words later on
Those are the essential components.
Ideally, there should also be exercises to reinforce what is presented in the clip, such as listening exercises, and comprehension exercises. This would be a good opportunity to practise listening and writing skills.
What format of materials should the Cantonese transcripts be based on?
When choosing native materials, I’m also quite pedantic on choosing certain formats of materials over others.
To be more precise, I recommend choosing from one of these seven formats of presentation, the starred ones more so than the others:
- *Cartoons / Dubbed anime
My preferred format for teaching Cantonese in the past at an intermediate level and beyond has always been with documentaries, because they’re not too difficult, there’s a mix of speakers, and you can clearly distinguish between how the narrator speaks and how Hong Kong people talk in everyday life.
They also expose learners to a variety of topics, and for those who want to extend their studies, they broach some pretty thought provoking topics, allowing you to understand Hong Kong society better.
Pretty hard to beat!
Next to that, however, I also like working with dubbed anime and cartoons. I like to think of them as the simplified versions of dramas and films, because the pronunciation is clearer, the language used simpler, and the dialogue doesn’t feature as many aspects of speech such as cultural references, double entendre, metaphors.
Interviews are also great, for similar reasons as documentaries.
Some people might wonder, “why are dramas and YouTubers so low on the list?”
If you’ve studied Cantonese for a while now, or you’ve learned another language past an intermediate stage, you’ll know from experience that dramas are exceptionally difficult to understand, and listening to YouTubers doesn’t help beyond a certain point.
Allow me to explain.
Dramas tend to feature actors using language in very colloquial ways that don’t register unless there are subtitles, and even then, you might have to pause and go back to make connections that you might have missed. The vocabulary you’re exposed to will be quite large, even for something as easy as romance or family themed dramas, because you’re never sure what slang, cultural references, coined words will pop up in dramas.
This is discounting the more difficult to understand dramas, police dramas, medical dramas, sci-fi dramas – these are close to impossible to follow along without subtitles unless you have massive exposure via reading, which is more difficult in Cantonese, with the additional barrier of characters.
Based on what I’ve heard, many people say that listening to native YouTubers, in this case, Cantonese, talk about different topics can help. The YouTubers they usually mention are those who are lifestyle type YouTubers, they talk mainly about, well, lifestyle, and culture.
I’ll agree that they’re fun to watch, but I would argue that the value of listening to this category of YouTubers is minimal. The main reason being you’ll probably know many words mentioned in the clips already, and the biggest takeaway of a YouTube clip is something that’s the hardest to replicate – native speech patterns.
How to hesitate, how to emphasize, how to clarify, how to change your mind, filler words, or at an even higher level, associated words in a context, specific collocations – these are exceptionally difficult to use, and I feel your time is better spent with other clips instead.
How should you learn Cantonese with Cantonese transcripts?
Alright, I hope I’ve convinced you that Cantonese transcripts is hands down, the best way to learn Cantonese. Or perhaps you’re not, but at the very least, the above presentation should convince you that there’s at least some value in learning with Cantonese transcripts.
So once you have your hands on a Cantonese transcript, what should you do?
Next, I recommend that you follow this ten step process to make the best use of the transcript.
I just want to clarify – you can reap a lot of the benefits if you simply go up to step six, but if you want to get that extra kick out of the learning process, I highly recommend completing everything up to step ten.
Step 1. (Pre) Study the vocabulary.
Go through the vocabulary, have a look at new words you don’t know, play the audio recordings if they’re available.
At this stage, you’re doing some prep before going through the Cantonese transcript. You want to do this for a few reasons:
- You want to lay a good foundation for remembering vocabulary later;
- You want to get an idea of what the clip is about without it spoiling too much for you.
Step 2. Listen to the clip once.
Here, you want to listen without pausing, and without the transcript.
The objective of this step is for you to practise your listening skills and see how much you can understand without the help of the transcript. Remember to use visual aids if it’s a video – in real life, you’ll be able to combine what you see with what you hear, there’s no need to handicap yourself.
Step 3. Study the transcript.
At this step, you want to study the transcript without consulting the translation.
Your objective is to practise your reading comprehension skills here (you can read the characters if you’re comfortable, or the Jyutping if you’re not), and see how much you understand without the translation.
Step 4. Study the transcript again.
This time, you want to fill in the gaps in your understanding by referring to the translation whenever you’re stuck.
Your objective is to go for a full understand and make the associations between the Cantonese transcript and the English translation.
Step 5. Watch the clip again, but this time, slowly.
After you understand the transcript in full, you want to go through the clip a second time, with a focus on pure listening skills.
Your objective here is to match what you hear in the clip to what you hear on paper, in other words, this is a listening strengthening exercise.
Step 6. Watch the clip a third time, this time with a focus on comprehension.
Your job this time is to try to understand the clip (you can go through it slowly), but with your understanding of the transcript, you want to try to understand it without translating it back to English. Do your best to feel the clip from a Cantonese perspective.
The objective here is to tie in everything you’ve done so far: pre-studying vocabulary, reading, reading comprehension, listening, and use all of these to try and understand the clip how a native speaker would, instead of going through the extra hurdle of an English translation.
Step 7. Fill in the blanks exercise.
This is a stronger version of step 5 – in the previous step, you concentrated on associating sounds to words, but in this step, you’re actually tasked to write down what you hear, either in romanization or in characters.
The objective of this exercise is to practise your listening skills and see how well you can hone in on individual words.
Step 8. Short answer questions exercise.
This is a stronger version of step 4 – in the previous step, you studied the transcript and the translation together, but this will task you to really put your comprehension to the test – whether you’ve fully understood everything you’ve read and heard.
The objective of this is to practise your comprehension skills, and also your writing skills – ideally, you want to write down your answers (romanization or characters), and improve the flow of your expression. It’s like they say, “what you write down, you’ll remember”.
After you’re done, check your responses to the standard answers to see if you’re right. Don’t be alarmed if they don’t match the answers – perhaps you’ve interpreted something differently, or perhaps you’ve touched on a part of the question not covered in the answer. Have faith in yourself.
Step 9. Edit the Quizlet deck.
You want to customize your vocabulary deck to hone in on the words you feel are important.
The objective of doing this is simple – you want to learn only words you feel are the most important to you – there’s only so much processing capacity in our brains, and we want to prioritize the distribution of that processing power to the most important words.
Step 10. Revise your Quizlet deck.
You can use Quizlet, or any other SRS software to do this, obviously, just remember to test yourself from English to Cantonese. This is the surefire way to reinforce your memory.
The objective of this is to expand your vocabulary and move those new words to your permanent memory.
5 creative ways to learn with Cantonese transcripts
But that’s not it, folks, you can actually repurpose these Cantonese transcripts and use them for different purposes!
Here are five more ways you can learn Cantonese with Cantonese transcripts, apart from the traditional ten step process we just discussed.
1. For listening practice. It’s important to understand a variety of accents and voices, intonations and pace, and you can rewatch different segments of the clip to get accustomed to different speakers’ voices and accents.
2. For reading practice. The real difficulty for learning Chinese is in learning Chinese characters. Whether you like them or not, they’re a necessary component to furthering your understanding of Cantonese, because learning Cantonese beyond an intermediate level is impossible without knowing how to read.
Try to read the transcript without the Jyutping and see how many words you don’t remember. You might want to consolidate them by writing them by hand, or via an additional deck.
3. For accent training. Pronunciation is one of the major things that causes learners to stumble, and the reason is because it tends to be neglected in comparison to other aspects of learning.
At this stage, you might very well benefit from mimicking how speakers speak (not everyone, just the speakers you feel comfortable listening to) – you’ll unconsciously register intonation patterns, and other speech patterns while doing so as an added benefit.
4. For learning Cantonese speech patterns. One of the reasons that render Cantonese a difficult language to learn is because of irregular speech patterns. I’ll probably talk about this in a future post.
But long story short, Cantonese speakers make many mistakes when it comes to word choice, locution, among other speech patterns. This is more prominent in some people than in others, but it is a widespread phenomenon I have yet to witness in a different language.
You can study the clip over and over again to identify the intent behind each speaker when they speak. Are they expressing something? Or are the hesitating? Are they going off on a tangent? Are they clarifying? Are they ascertaining something someone else said?
5. For identifying new structures and fixed expressions. I’ve mentioned this before, but Cantonese isn’t a grammar heavy language. That doesn’t mean, however, it doesn’t have structures worth learning, but they’re impossible to cover in the scope of a grammar book unlike a language like Korean or Japanese, because the line between “grammar” and “vocab” is quite blurry.
One of the learning objectives of a learner with Cantonese is to be able to pick these patterns and fixed expressions out easily when reading and listening. If you hear or read something new, you should be able to immediately determine whether it’s new vocabulary or a grammar construct. Of course, afterwards, you want to revisit it several times to consolidate them.
This category of words should take the highest priority in learning Cantonese vocabulary.
Alright, that’s it for today!
To recap, today, we talked about a few things:
- Why it’s ideal to learn Cantonese with Cantonese transcripts
- At what stage one can start learning with Cantonese transcripts
- How a Cantonese transcript lesson should be laid out ideally
- What format of materials are most suited to be studied
- How to study with a Cantonese transcript (the ten step process)
- Additional ways you can repurpose those Cantonese transcripts
This post is meant to be a guide of all sorts, and also a reflection of how you might want to take your Cantonese moving forward, so please come back to revisit this at a later stage if you ever feel lost or don’t know what to do next – with Cantonese transcripts, and everything we’ve discussed here, you won’t be lost for long!