My first 3 months with Spanish – My goals vs what I actually did

I talk a lot about my monthly goals over on my YouTube channel but have never written about it over here before. 

Therefore, I thought it would be useful to reflect and write about my first 3 months learning Spanish.

If you are just starting out learning a new language but not quite sure where to start, I hope this post will offer some ideas of a good way to get started, and how to set a series of progressive goals to push yourself without overstretching.

In this post you will read:

Why setting goals is important

What were my monthly goals during my first 3 months learning Spanish?

Did I achieve my goals, what did I actually do?

Tips for beginners starting out in a new language.

Why should you set goals?

 

Setting goals, in my opinion, is a massively underutilised tool when it comes to language learning. It helps you carve out a path and break the process down into smaller steps, but without goals, it can seem like you have an unscalable mountain to climb. 

It helps you do all of the planning in one go, keeps you on the straight and narrow, and makes sure you can keep on making progress in the language. 

Without setting goals, there is a big danger that can creep in. This can be summed in two words: Decision fatigue

But what is decision fatigue? Ever wonder why Mark Zuckerberg wears that same famous grey shirt every day? It's for the same reason. 

The actual process of making decisions and finding the right plan of action takes a lot of time and energy. Time and energy that could be better spent on other things, like actually learning a language! By taking out the need to make decisions and wearing the same grey shirt every day, this frees up your time and energy to do things that actually matter to you and make the whole process a lot easier.

By setting my goals ahead of time, I know exactly what I am doing and exactly what I am going to do ahead of time. All that is left for me to do, is to keep on plugging away and actually do the things I said I was going to do. 

 

Monthly Goals

 

In this next section, I will cover my monthly goals that I used to get started with Spanish and quickly progress onto interesting and authentic material.

Everyone's interests vary and what may be enjoyable for me won't necessarily be enjoyable for you. But, by being specific and showing you exactly what I did, I hope that you can find some inspiration to help set your goals and carve out your own path to fluency. 

 

Month 1 (Nov - 30 days)

All of my goals have one thing in common, they are purely input based. For me, input is the main driver of learning and as long as I keep on exposing myself to a variety of content in the language, it is impossible not to make progress across the board. Vocabulary, grammar, comprehension all improve simultaneously while you sit back and enjoy rich and interesting content.

Apart from when I first start, I can't understand interesting content, so what now?

Typically in month 1, I like to find any solid beginners course and work though. With Spanish, there are many courses to choose from, so I would simply pick one you like the look of. The main thing here, is to make sure to pick a course that is full of dialogues. 

Here is a video where I cover some of what I think are the best options available for Spanish beginners today: 

To find my Spanish resources page referenced in the above video, click here.

For me, I chose Spanish Uncovered. This course offers as compelling a story you can hope to get from a beginners course, with good length chapters and clear audio.

I aimed to complete 1 chapter each day, with a total of 20 chapters, and then leave 2 days for review. This gave me a total of 22 days.

As this would give me a solid base in the language, I figured the next best thing I can do is to improve my vocabulary. Therefore, I also bought a book of 8 Spanish short stories for beginners.

I aimed to complete four out of eight of the stories in this first month, giving myself 2 days per story.

This gave me a total of 30 days making up the rest of my time for the month, my month 1 goals are summarised below:  

 

Spanish Uncovered (20 chapters) - 22 days

(4/8) Short Spanish Stories (8 days):

3. El Caballero (Knight) (2 days)

6. Ferrg, El Dragón (Dragon) (2 days)

2. La Criatura (Creature) (2 days)

7. Tierras Desconocidas (Unknown Lands) (2 days)

Watch Extra

Extra is a sitcom-style TV show made for college Spanish students with lots of body language, Spanish subtitles and the language isn't too fast either. I figured starting off in Spanish would be the perfect time to enjoy this cheesy but funny sitcom as a way to ease myself into an immersion environment.

So what did I actually do with month 1?

As far as my focused study time went, everything pretty much went off without a hitch. The one that caused me the most trouble was actually extra.

And the reason might not be what you are expecting. It wasn't because the show was too hard, too complicated or even too long. The whole series is only 13 20 minute episodes long! 

The reason is simply because I got distracted. My girlfriend had just bought me Skyrim on steam and I also managed to find my favourite anime (Hajime No Ippo) dubbed in Spanish completely for free on Youtube.

Where I said I was going to going to be watching extra I spent my time running around as Sangre De Dragón (dragonborn) slaying dragons and screaming "eso es Ippo!" at my TV.

An important note, wherever possible I try to align my immersion with my more focused time. Because of my time playing Skyrim, I decided to pick all of the fantasy-based stories to read first. 

But having said that, I did eventually complete my goal of watching Extra with a bit of a binge towards the end of the month.

 

Month 2 (Dec - 31 days)

With my first month out the way I finally started to get a decent grounding after having finished Spanish Uncovered. Therefore, it was time to push onto the next stage.

For my month 2, I decided to select an intermediate course, again, built around dialogues. The one I chose,Spanish Conversations, is split into 20 Chapters all revolving around story.

Again, taking a similar approach to before I gave myself 22 days, going through 1 chapter a day with 2 days for review at the end.

After that, I decided to go through the rest of the four stories I hadn't read yet from my short story book. I gave myself 1 day per story, and from then on trying to ease myself into native content.

Thanks to the new feature that allows you to import YouTube videos into LingQ, I figured now is the perfect time to import short and interesting videos to study for the rest of the month. I hoped, this would broaden my vocabulary and help me start getting used to native speakers at full speed.

The break down of my month 2 goals is shown below: 

 

Spanish Conversations (20 chapters) (22 days)

 (4/8) Short Spanish Stories (4 days):

1. La Paella Loca (1 day)

5. El Cofre (1 day)

4. El Reloj (1 day)

8. Laura, La Mujer Invisible (1 day)

 

YouTube Videos:  

History of Mexico (3:01) (1 day)

10 things you probably didnt know about Skyrim (7.56) (2 days)

6 tips to learn any language faster (6.35) (1 days) 

Veganism in 2015 vs 2018 (7.17) (Conversations review days, 2 days) 

 

Month 3 (Jan - 31 days)

Going into my third month of learning Spanish having now completed Conversations, I started to pick up a bit of speed. Now, is the time to throw away the stabilisers and start cycling through the masses of native level content that Spanish has to offer.

To do this, I decided to start by reading a book. But with a relatively small vocabulary, where do I start? 

In the end, I chose The Linguist written by Steve Kaufmann (available on LingQ completely for free). The book is split into 63 chapters, all of which are very short, and the book comes with full audio.

What's more, is that because this is a non-fiction book about a very specific topic, language learning. This limits the range of vocabulary used quite significantly which makes it a great choice for anyone looking to start reading authentic content in their target language.

In general, I think that non-fiction books tend to be a lot easier to understand than fiction. Where a non-fiction book will try to simply get a point across, fiction books try to use very poetic and artistic language to draw from all their life experiences to paint the most colourful and vivid picture they can for the reader. The end result is very dense language, that is very hard to understand for a learner. Also, because this is a translated book and not in the original language, this too lends itself to be more easily understood by the learner.

Additionally, to keep on the theme of language learning and to give me a bit of a break between books, I gave myself the goal of going through a TedxTalk I found on YouTube on the theme of language learning.

 

Here are my goals for month 3:

 

The Linguist - LingQ (63 chapters) - 2 to 3 Chapters a day (30 days)

How to learn a language and contribute to society (10:42) (1 day)

 

So to my surprise, The Linguist was nowhere near as difficult as I had originally thought. Due to the huge amount of repetition across the book, short chapters and engaging content, I found myself finishing the book in just under 20 days. Much less than I had originally planned. 

From there, I went through the TedxTalk as planned and set off to start next months book ahead of time, to read Leafstorm and step into the exciting world of fiction.

This turned out to be rather more difficult than I had first anticipated, which lead to an overall very hazy understanding of what actually happened in the book. But more on that later.

For my next post in 3 months time, I will go over the next stage of my learning and how to fight your way through the seemingly endless intermediate plateau, come out the other side (hopefully) having successfully and enjoyably learnt a new language. 

 

General tips and advice for beginners 

 

Starting out learning a new language can be very intimidating, especially if this is your first time. Hopefully, you can now see that with the setting and accomplishment of a series of short goals becoming progressively more difficult, this can help bring structure to your language learning and help keep you on the right path. 

This is just what I did in my opening months learning Spanish, and not what you have to do. The important part is not the deadlines nor the materials I chose but rather the ability to break down a big task into smaller steps and keep improving. If you can manage this, by setting progressive and attainable goals, then you will be well on your way to being fluent in Spanish before you know it.

How I learned Cantonese in 2 years

Introduction

 

Cantonese is perceived as a difficult language, with lots of cultural references, tones, characters, the spoken and written divide and so on it can be hard to even know where to begin.

And even if you do get past the beginner stage, Cantonese just doesn't have as many resources available as some other languages, right? How can you start? And how can you break past the beginner stage, through the intermediate plateau and attain fluency?

Lucky for you, Cantonese isn't actually as difficult as many people perceive. With the right plan of attack anyone can attain fluency, and it doesn't even have to take decades to do so.

In this post I will break down step by step, exactly what I did with all the nuts and bolts. I will go into detail on each stage of my learning to achieve fluency in Cantonese after only 2 years. Accompanied by personal insights, resource advice and regular progress videos throughout.

I want to stress that this is what I personally did to learn Cantonese. I go into a lot of detail so you can put my advice to the test, find out what works for you and throw away what doesn't. 

So if you are learning Cantonese, then you are in the right place. So get ready because this is a big one.

For ease of reference, I have also added a table of contents for you to flick through the relevant sections as you need.

Core Principles

In this first section, I want to go over a couple of core principles and ideas that I will be referring to throughout the rest of this blog post. 

 

Focused study time - Focused study time is where the bulk of my learning happens. Every day at the same time, usually before work, I work through whatever I need to do in order to achieve my goals for the month. Typically this is input based, free of distractions, and I spend about one hour each morning

 

Dead Time - This is all of the spare 5 minutes you have throughout the day. Making use of these pockets of time really add up, and is a great way to keep contact with the language throughout the day.

 

Immersion - Any fun contact I have with the language in my downtime. 

Goals - Every month I set one big goal of what I want to achieve. Then in my focused study time, I set off to achieve this goal. Some examples are, complete your beginners textbook by the end of the month, finish Remembering The Hanzi in 3 months, or finish reading the book I am on by the end of the month. 

The idea behind monthly goals is to keep a good variety in the resources I use, while using them long enough to actually make progress. Also this helps keep a good pace and makes sure you keep progressing onto more and more difficult content.

 

Language Dialogues - Whenever I talk about resources or textbooks, with a few exceptions, the majority of the time I spend is listening and reading to the dialogues. I may spend a few minutes flicking through and reading over the explanations, but the large bulk of my time is spent listening and reading.

 

Focused and diffuse mode - In order to maximise my efficiency and focus during my study time, typically I break my hour session up into three sections of 20 minutes.

Between these sections I have 5 minute breaks, usually doing some routine activity to let my mind relax, such as washing up my dishes from breakfast or brushing my teeth. It is important to keep your phone switched off and keep yourself away from distractions in these times otherwise 5 minutes can quickly turn into half an hour.

 

A typical hour of study looks like this:

 

Step 1: 10 minutes - Listen to dialogue over to try and get a sense of what it is about.

Step 2: 10 minutes - Listen to the dialogue while reading the transcript to see what sounds and words I couldn't pick up with my ear alone.

5 minutes - Break

Step 3: 20 minutes - Read through the transcript slowly looking up all the new words you don't know using the word list for reference if available.

5 minutes - Break

Step 4: 10 minutes - Listening and reading along with the dialogue to try and understand everything. If I forget a word go back to the word list or previous notes for reference.

Step 5: 10 minutes - Listening to the audio by itself to make sure I can understand and pick out the sounds without the help of a transcript.  

Jyutping - There are a few different romanization systems for Cantonese, the two most common being Jyutping and Yale. Throughout this post, I will use the word Jyutping to just mean Cantonese romanization. For more details on what resources use which romanization, please see my resources page.

Now I have laid some of the groundwork, let's get started and see what your first few months learning Cantonese will look like.

Road Map

0-3 months - Beginner (3 months)

One of the hardest parts when you first start to learn Cantonese is that all words will just sound like noises. This is completely normal and to be expected for beginners of any language, especially in ones that are distant from your mother tongue. 

Trying to learn everything at the same time, in my experience, is overwhelming and will slow down your initial progress. Not feeling any progress in the early stages can be incredibly demoralising, which is why it's important to feel a sense of achievement and accomplishment early on.

Therefore, the most important aspect when you first start out in Cantonese is improving your listening comprehension. By focusing on listening first, you can get used to the sounds of Cantonese as well as improving your ability to parse words, learn new words, get used to the tones, and improve your pronunciation all at the same time. 

This is why I suggest using your focused time to work through dialogues to improve your listening comprehension and leaving characters to a later date.

 

But what should you use?

 

The two options I used when first starting out were Cantoneseclass101.com and Teach Yourself Complete Cantonese

 

The teach yourself book offers a solid place to start for beginners with decent length dialogues that build on previous chapters, and vocab lists. It is for this reason I recommend starting out with teach yourself in your first month. 

 

 

When you first start out, make sure you pay special attention to the tones. Jyutping indicates which one of the six Cantonese tones is being used by a number next to each word. 

 

For example:                        nei5 hou2

Uses the 5th and 2nd tone. Doing a lot of listening while reading the jyutping will help you pick out the tones and get used to them as they are being used in speech. In turn, this will also help you internalise the tones and use them correctly when it comes to speaking.

 

For more detail on how to deal with tones, see my full guide.

 

3-month progress video:

If you aim to complete half of Teach Yourself in your first month, in month two you can switch to Cantoneseclass101 to get some variety and cover some of the same ground in a different context.

Stay away from the vocabulary lists as they mix up standard Chinese with spoken Cantonese, and make sure to spend your time with the dialogues and not the lengthy podcasts.

Also, because the dialogues are quite short, with some repetition you should have no problem grasping what is being said. Therefore, I recommend skipping most of the beginners content and starting at the lower intermediate level. 

In your final month, you can go back and complete Teach Yourself Complete Cantonese.

For your dead time I recommend using flashcards, my preferred choice is Anki. Only take the most useful words and phrases you want to be able to say and add them to your flashcards. Being selective is key and will help you retain the most important information and actually use it in conversation later.

Context is important because not only is it easier to remember new words if they are surrounded by words you already know, but also adding isolated words you run the risk of knowing a bunch of words without any idea of how to use them.

I recommend English on side 1 and Cantonese on side 2, because this recall mimics what you have to do in the heat of conversation. This will help you to gradually build up your active vocabulary for when you start to speak. 

For immersion as a beginner you will understand little if anything from TV dramas. Therefore, do anything you can to make it fun. I liked watching TV shows with English subtitles as this kept me interested in the culture and kept my motivation high. This also has the added benefit of letting you learn the plot for a wide range of shows, and then when it comes time to watch TV without English subtitles later down the line, you can start by re-watching the shows you are already familiar with. This will make the transition off English subtitles a lot easier. 

4-9 months - intermediate (6 months)

After you finish your beginner resources it's time to take the dive into more authentic content. This will be extremely hard at first, but I want to reassure you that this is completely normal and it is a necessary step to take in order to keep pushing forward. 

The two resources I recommend the most are Cantonese Conversations and Living Cantonese. My personal favourite is Cantonese Conversations as it offers unscripted conversations between Hong Kongers at full speed with full transcripts.

This is great for improving your listening comprehension as is allows you to get used to all the normal stutters, fluctuations of pace and speed of native speakers. It helps you get used to the rhythm of the language as it is spoken at full speed. 

But seeing as we are diving into the deep end here, we need a slightly different strategy to before. Whereas before we tackled the dialogues as a whole and worked through to understand everything in one session, here there is much more content and it is at a higher level so you need to split it up in order to make it more digestible.

What I recommend is splitting each dialogue into parts of roughly 1/3. Go through one third each day and on the fourth day, go over the whole dialogue together and try to understand everything. 

As you are splitting it up, even though the material is at a higher level, now it is in much more digestible chunks. Additionally, the fact that you are going over the whole dialogue on the fourth day builds natural repetition into the whole process. This is great for helping you retain more information.

Like before, I recommend setting monthly goals and switching between Cantonese Conversations and Living Cantonese in order to keep things fresh and interesting. 

Keep going and before long you will start to get more and more used to full speed speech and your listening comprehension will continue to improve.

7-month Progress Video:

When you pick up more momentum and start to learn more and more words, you can split the dialogues into halves instead of thirds, and eventually tackling dialogues as a whole.

Just remember, this is a long process of getting used to the language, and things can't be rushed. If you try going for bigger chunks of dialogue and you find it overwhelming, keep calm and keep on listening and reading until it becomes normal.

Now you are starting to form a base in the language and your comprehension is improving it is time to start putting what you have learned to use. 

For getting my speaking practice, the main place I used was Italki. This is because I found booking online tutors the easiest way to make sure I get regular speaking practice week after week. Alternatively, you can look in the language exchange section if you are tight on money, and also try out the free app hellotalk

When you first start out there will be a lot of repetition going over the most basic topics. Because of this reason, little and often is better. Speaking for about 30 mins 3-4 times a week is ideal as it is long enough to stretch you, yet not so long you run out of things to say while your brain turns into jelly.

Once you are more comfortable and you start to get the basics down then you can increase the time from 30 mins to an hour for 2-3 times a week. This is because as you get better and continue to improve you need to go for longer amounts of time to make sure you branch off and start talking about new topics. 

Get your teacher or partner to write down the words and phrases you struggled with, tried to use, or that came up in conversation that you didn't understand with example sentences. Then you can pick the most useful ones to add to your flashcards. Usually after each lesson my teacher sends me a list of about 15 words/sentences and I only ever add around 5-8 to my flashcards.

Remember, you don't have to learn every word right now, you will see the word again. If not, then perhaps it wasn't that important to begin with.

This is great because you are taking the most relevant and useful words for what you want to talk about, studying them in a controlled and efficient manner using flashcards and recycling them again in conversation later.

But in order to continue improving you still need to keep the focus on improving your listening comprehension, as this is the biggest barrier when it comes to communication. 

By this point, you should have watched a few Hong Kong dramas and your listening should be improving day by day. So if you think you are ready, then make the switch to watching simple content without English subtitles.

Good ones to start with are Kung Fu based films/dramas with lots of action. This way you can get a lot of visual clues and even if you don't understand it is still entertaining to watch. 

I personally really enjoyed the drama "a fist within four walls".

Remember, it is perfectly normal to understand very little when you are first starting out so just relax, spend time with the language, and enjoy what you do understand. These things take time and if you keep on putting in the time as the months go by you will slowly start to understand more and more. 

Additionally, I watched the Cantonese dub of some simple anime to help get the ball rolling such as "Dragon Ball" and "One Piece"

Towards the end of my ninth month, I went on holiday to Hong Kong in order to put my Cantonese to the test. Also, I wanted to improve my spoken level as much as I could before I set out to learn the writing system.

9 months - 1 year - Decoding Chinese Characters - Heisig (3 months)

By this point, you should be starting to understand more of simple TV shows and dramas as well as being able to converse on a variety of simple topics.

This is the perfect time to start learning characters as you can carry on to improve your listening and speaking skills by having fun. Additionally, in order to get past the intermediate stage, it becomes harder and harder to progress if you cannot read, so not learning characters now will only slow you down further down the line. 

In my opinion, the most efficient and effective way to learn Chinese Characters, especially with a ground in speaking already, is to use a book called Remembering The Traditional Hanzi by James Heisig

For a more detail on how to learn Chinese Characters effectively, see the following post.

In essence, you go through associating each of the basic elements of a character as well as characters themselves to a single English keyword. Then by combining the smaller characters and primitive elements to make bigger characters, and learning in a logical order, you can conjure up mnemonics to help you remember characters at a surprisingly fast rate. 

(Here is a free spreadsheet I created containing all 1500 characters in Heisig, with their keyword, frame number and Jyutping)

I recommend also looking at the Jyutping as reference for each character. This allows you to pair up the characters with spoken speech as well as helping you avoid mixing up characters with similar keywords. Not only this, but it also helps you spot when one of the components tells you the pronunciation of the character.

But what do I mean by this?

Take a look at the following example with the meanings taken from Heisig's book:

金 (gam1) - Meaning gold or metal

同 (tung4) - Meaning same

銅 (tung4) - Meaning copper

If you don't know how these characters are pronounced then you have to conjure up a mnemonic by yourself, linking the primitive meanings of "gold" and "same" to the meaning of "copper".

But if you use the jyutping as an aid, this allows you to spot something new.

Notice the character for "same" and "copper" are pronounced exactly the same. This is because 同, in this scenario, acts as an indicator telling you how to pronounce the character. 

The left half gives you the meaning of metal, and the right half the pronunciation "tung". 

This is incredibly common for Chinese characters, and using the Jyutping to help you understand the etymology of the characters will make them that much easier to remember when you need to. Also this can help deepen your understanding of how Chinese Characters work.

If you would like to learn more about how Chinese Characters work, then check out my post here

As you should be starting to understand more from simple tv shows, now would also be a good time to re-watch some of the shows you previously watched with English subtitles.

Re-watching the shows now with Chinese subtitles will help you keep up your listening and help you figure out a lot from context as you already know the plot. 

Additionally, with the Chinese subtitles, you will get more exposure to the characters you are learning and help reinforce what you have learnt.

If the opportunity comes up to speak then go for it, carry on booking lessons on italki if you want to, but this is not necessary if you are struggling for time to keep up with the characters.

As long as you keep regular contact with the language through your immersion, then your spoken level won't drop. So for me at this stage, my preference was to focus as much of my time and energy as possible on learning the characters.

1 year - 1 year 4 months - Building a reading core (4 months)

Coming from Heisig, you have learned how to recognise and write 1500 common characters from standard written Chinese.

But in order to make the jump to Cantonese, first, you will need to learn a few of the most common Cantonese only characters. Lucky for you, there are only about 200 of these total, and even more lucky the vast majority are so rare you will hardly encounter them.

I made a frequency list here, which I recommend going down and learning the first 20-30 characters. This should be more than plenty to get you started and should only take a few days with Heisig mentality. 

Now you have learned a lot of characters, what do you do with all that knowledge? How can you make sure character ability transfers to reading and writing skills?

This is one of the hardest stages. Looking at a text at this point you know a lot of the characters, have some sort of sense of what they might be saying, but can't zero in on anything.

At this stage, the most important thing is to practice lots of reading in context. 

Use your focused study time in a similar way to before, focusing on dialogues, but this time choose resources that come with the full text in Cantonese and put the emphasis on improving your reading comprehension. 

My personal favourite choice is a book called Wedding Bells. At a solid intermediate level, this book follows the story of a woman from Hong Kong who meets and falls in love with a Japanese man. 

Having just come from learning Heisig, the first chapter will be very hard. However, every chapter you progress onto will become exponentially easier than the last. This is due to all of the stored knowledge of the characters from Heisig starting to link together.

But if you find this book too difficult at first, then I recommend going back to Teach yourself Complete Cantonese and having a read through some of the dialogues in that. If you used this book starting out, then you will already be somewhat familiar with the dialogues. Also, they are kept short and simple so this should be good for helping to build you up for more difficult content. 

So how exactly should you study to improve your reading? As your listening will be well beyond your reading skills at this point, I recommend the following steps:

Step 1: 10 minutes - Read the dialogue over a few times, to see what words you can understand. If you don't know the word, then do you recognise the meaning from Heisig or do you recognise any of the components? Trying to recognise as much as you can and looking at words in context will be a big help in improving your understanding as well as helping you retain much more information. 

Step 2: 10 minutes - Listen to the dialogue while reading the transcript. This is to see what words you already know and can pick out with your listening, then by reading and listening together, you can pair up the sounds and words you already know to the written characters.

5 minutes - Break

Step 3: 20 minutes - Read through the transcript slowly looking up all the new words you don't know using the word list for reference if available. For looking up characters on your phone, Pleco offers a feature that lets you draw out the characters with your finger to be able to look up unknown characters more easily. 

5 minutes - Break

Step 4: 10 minutes - Listening and reading along with the dialogue to try and understand everything. If you forget a word go back to the word list or previous notes for reference.

Step 5: 10 minutes - Reading the text by itself to make sure you can still understand everything without the help of the audio.

 

First learning how to read Chinese is difficult because everything is still relatively new for you making it very hard to retain information. 

Therefore, in order to help you retain more information, I recommend a method known as sentence mining. 

So what is sentence mining?

Sentence mining, in short, is finding lots and lots of sentences with some written form in Cantonese. This can be books, comics, texts, subtitles or sentences from your teacher on italki

By transferring sentences to review into Anki, you can build up your reading comprehension quickly with a very high retention rate. This will help you build up a solid base during the initial hard stages when otherwise everything just seems to fall out your head.

When looking for sentences to add, you want to look for the following things:

     1) Have a written down form to eliminate guesswork

     2) Be written by or corrected by a native.

     3) Be in spoken Cantonese using traditional Chinese

Here you want to aim to get 1000 sentences built up in your deck across the four months in order to build up a base. This means roughly 7-10 sentences every day.

When you first start out, as the sentences will be quite short you can put the entire transliteration in Jyutping on the backside of the flashcard. However, as you move onto more complicated and longer sentences, this becomes extremely hard to find and pick out the words you want on the backside of the card, as illustrated by the pictures below:

Therefore, after you have got your feet under, I suggest only adding new words on the back of the card for reference. 

At this point, you can carry on speaking with your tutor or language exchange partners and get them to send you a list of all the new words with example sentences as well. 

Additionally, now is a great time for you to be using the language exchange app hellotalk. To see what Cantonese input tools I recommend, see the resource page here, listed under other at the bottom

Using this app is a really fun and light way to practice reading and texting in Cantonese. Using all of the in-app features as well as utilising the dictionary app pleco, you will be able to get in a lot of practice and improve your Cantonese through texting. 

All of the extra character knowledge will start to come together, and the extra exposure through reading will start to boost your spoken level as well.

Here is a video I shot with my friend Lucas a.k.a The Cantonese Guy, after about 1 year and 3 months of learning.

For your dead time, you will have lots of reviews on Anki to do. So this should be taking up all of your dead time. 

If you start to get sick of reviews on Anki and the count starts to get too high, then take a break for a week. Don't make any new cards. Focus on reading, watching videos and speaking, and let your reviews die down a bit before you pile on more cards.

The most important thing is to not get overwhelmed and keep the process fun. If you find that you don't like flashcards when the reviews get too much, this is completely fine. 

One great thing you can try is watching videos on Youtube with Cantonese subs. Some examples of channels are listed on my Cantonese Resource Page under the Youtube section

Remember, although you are adding sentences to Anki this is just a crutch to help you understand your input. The main emphasis still needs to be on listening and reading to the whole language. So don't feel like you have to add every single word, being selective, not relying on Anki too much and enjoying your listening and reading is by far the most important thing and this leads me onto your next and final stage of learning.

1 year 5 months - 2 years - Mass Immersion (8 months)

By far the longest stage of your learning, but the good thing here is it is also the most fun.

By this point you should have built a pretty solid base in all of your skills and if you are anything like me, starting to become extremely bored with Anki. 

At this point, stop making flashcards altogether. Anki has served its purpose in getting you over the initial hurdle.

Now, all that is left is to swim in a sea of rich, authentic and interesting content. Do whatever you want, integrate Cantonese into your life as much as you possibly can.

Watch Cantonese dramas, make friends and go out to socialise, watch youtube videos, text on hellotalk. And the most important thing of all, read lots of books!

Here I would replace all of your focused study time with extensive reading, and just try to cover as much ground and enjoy as many stories as you can.

Out of all of the things that I have done to learn Cantonese, if I had to attribute my success to one thing, it would be reading.

Read whenever you have the chance. In this day and age with modern technology, it's easier than ever. You can take your favourite stories or books with you wherever you go right in your pocket!

Reading in any language is by far the most efficient way to pick up new words. What's even more, is that Cantonese actually has a few fiction novels published with movies based on the books.

So by reading the books first, you learn all of the relevant vocabulary and plot lines in much more detail and in a richer context than the film. Therefore, when it comes time to watch the film after, you will be boasting almost 100% comprehension!

This was huge for me, and it will be for you too! Before this point, I was watching dramas and odd videos being able to follow the general plot and what was going on, but some details were always lost. 

But after reading the book first, everything was clear, everything was easy, everything was finally falling into place.

 1 year and 7 months video:

Now you might be thinking, it's all well and good telling me to read in Cantonese, but my friends told me Cantonese is never written down.

How am I supposed to find these books anyway?

Easy. Simply check my first and second post here on top Cantonese literature. 

Alternatively, if non-fiction is your thing and you are interested in reading about Cantonese history or language learning methods in Cantonese, then you can check out my own Cantonese resources for advanced learners

From here on out, all that is left to do is the slow and gradual process of spending lots and lots of time with Cantonese every single day. As the hours and months go by, you will get more and more used to Cantonese, and if you keep on reading on a variety of subjects your vocabulary will continue to increase exponentially. 

And then, if you keep this up until the two-year mark then congratulations, you are now a fluent speaker of Cantonese!

Conclusion

 

And that's it. Learning Cantonese has had a lot of ups and downs for me, but I speak truthfully when I say it has been one of the most rewarding and enriching experiences of my life.

You have a whole new culture, a whole new world to explore, tons of TV shows to watch, places to travel and friends to make. I will never forget my time travelling around Guangzhou or Hong Kong and seeing the look of joy and shock on people's faces when I started to speak to them in Cantonese.

If you follow the steps in this guide, you will be well on your way to fluency before you know it. Just remember, this is specifically what I did to learn Cantonese. There are a million ways to learn a language and this is merely one of them. You need to experiment and find what works for you, try out the methods in this guide, take what you like and discard the rest.

As you keep on spending more time with Cantonese, listening, reading and speaking. Gradually, what seemed foreign to you at first will start to become normal. What seemed alien, will start to feel comfortable. And over time, you will only get more and more confident speaking Cantonese until you eventually reach fluency.

When that day comes, remember this post, come here and give me a comment, and share this post with your friends.

Top myths in language learning – part 2

There are a lot of misconceptions out there when it comes to language learning, some more damaging than others. Therefore, today I am continuing with the second blog post in my series about top language learning myths.

 

I need someone to teach me the language

Whenever the topic of language learning comes up people usually ask my why I wanted to learn Cantonese. When I mention that my girlfriend is from Hong Kong a lot of people react in the same way.

"ohh, so your girlfriend is from Hong Kong, now it all makes sense. She must be a really good teacher"

The idea that your partner or your friend should teach you a language, let alone the idea that they are obligated to is something I always have a hard time wrapping my head around.

I mean really think about this for a second. Think how many new words there are to learn, how many hundreds if not thousands of hours of input you need to be able to get yourself up to a decent level. Now imagine if the only source you had for all of this is one single person.

This would take forever to learn the language, assuming you even learn anything at all. If you look at most successful polyglots out there today, they all have one thing in common. They say language learning is a auto-didactic process. This means that they don't rely on any one person to teach them, they themselves put in the time.

You don't need an expensive tutor or a girlfriend to help you learn a language, all you need to do is put in the time yourself. Listen and read basic material, and then ramp up the difficulty from there moving onto progressively more difficult and interesting topics.

When it comes time to speak, of course you need to find someone to practice with, but the bulk of the learning happens from input. This means as long as you have an internet connection, you can learn a lot more from your bedroom in most cases than you ever could by waiting for your partner or friend to teach you.

 

I just can't learn a second language

This is something I hear a lot from "I am too old to learn a language" or "I just don't have a language talent like you do".

This is by far one of the most damaging mindsets you can have. Defeating yourself before you have even started. Lucky for us, you don't need to be a rocket scientist, memory expert or child to learn a language. Anyone at any age can learn any language, it's just a matter of time and exposure. Sure, some people might be faster than others, but it doesn't really matter. The only thing that matters, is that if you stick with it for a long enough period of time, then you will learn. The only way for you to fail essentially is to give up!

 

I don't have time to learn a new language

Have you got kids or a family to look after? Full time job? Other commitments you need to look after? Just don't have the time to learn a language?

It is more about making time for yourself than having it. We all live busy lives in this day and age more then ever. We all have friends, families and jobs to take into consideration. The key here is being smart and about prioritisation.

If you have other things going on for you right now that you prioritise, then that´s absolutely fine. But assuming you do actually want to learn a language in this decade, then you need to make language learning a priority.

Once you do that, you will be surprised at how much time you can create for yourself. Between pockets of dead time throughout the day, making most of commute and travel time as well as carving out regular focused time each day to focus on your learning, the minutes soon add up to hours and before you know it you have already managed to scrape together enough time to be able to start having your first conversations. 

If you start small and easy, make sure you can commit every day and then once you are comfortable you can always keep adding more on top later. 

Personally for me, to make sure nothing gets in the way I like to do my focused learning first thing in the morning after I wake up. That way I am clear headed, fresh and completely free of distractions, and all I need to do in return is get out of bed a little bit earlier. 

 

Conclusion

 

These are just a few of the myths floating around when it comes to language learning. If you have any more that you want to share, or you disagree with any of the ones I have on this list then please leave me a comment and let me know.

More Cantonese Literature

It has been quite some time since my first post on Cantonese literature and since then I have made some interesting discoveries that I want to share with you.

If you are not at the level where you can read books yet then I highly recommend you check out my page of Cantonese resources.

以讀不回死全家!

以讀不回死全家 (ji5 duk6 bat1 wui6 sei2 cyun4 gaa1), which roughly translates to "all those who have already read and not replied will die", is a thriller suspense novel set following a class of high school kids.

Things are pretty normal in class when suddenly all the students get added to a group by the same name of the book. I won't reveal any more than that as I don't want to spoil the book.

But what I will say is this, the book is a very good read and got me hooked right from the first chapter. It has mature themes with lots of strong language and the entire book is written in Cantonese.

What's more, is that because this is a thriller book, then all of the chapters are kept very short in order to keep the suspense and the pacing high. This works out ideal for learners who want to break the book into easily manageable chunks.

 

《那夜凌晨,我坐上了旺角開往大埔的紅van》

那夜凌晨,我坐上了旺角開往大埔的紅van (naa5 je6 ling4 san4, ngo5 co5 soeng5 liu5 wong6 gok3 hoi1 wong5 daai6 bou3 dik1 hung4 van)  or "Lost On a Red Minibus" in English is a book published on Hong Kong golden quite some time ago.

This is a little bit different to the other books on this list however, as the book is not entirely in Cantonese. Rather all of the narration is done in standard written Chinese, and the dialogues themselves are written in Cantonese with lots of colloquialisms and strong language. 

This book is absolutely massive, boasting over 400 pages long and completely free online. It's about a man who get's on an overnight minibus from Mong Kok heading to Tai Po. After the minibus comes out of a tunnel suddenly the passangers on the bus can not get into contact with the outside world and there seems to be no one on the street apart from the 17 people who were on the bus.

Definitely worth sinking your teeth into if you are looking to improve your comprehension of both Cantonese and standard written Chinese simultaneously.  

北韓包膠 (bak1 hon4 baau1 gaau1) - Not a ebook like the others, this book is a travel log in North Korea and pokes fun at just about everything. A funny read if you are at the level where you can manage large without the aid of an online dictionary. 

我的你的紅的TAXI (TAXI) (ngo5 dik1 nei5 dik1 hung4 dik1 TAXI) - "Unfamiliar drivers turn out to be the most valuable listeners. The narrow carriages have become the most open private space".

When working as a taxi driver a university student and the author of this book listened to a wide range of stories and compiled 55 of the most interesting ones into this book. 

Think of this book as a book of short stories, only taken from real Hong Kongers.

That's all for today. If you know of any more Cantonese literature around that I am yet to include in either of my posts then please leave me a comment or send me an email and I can include them in the next one!

Top myths in language learning – part 1

Whenever the topic of language learning comes up, usually it is not long before some myths start to follow.

Sometimes these feel more like excuses than myths or anything that would actually prevent them from learning and range from reasonable and fairly well grounded, to going completely against what the literature has been saying for the past few decades.

In this post, I want to go over some of the more common myths that I have heard relating to language learning, dispel them and offer some concrete advice in return.

 

The only/best way to learn a language is to live abroad

This is by far the most common one I hear out of all of them. Almost every time the topic of language learning comes up, a few sentences later someone always says "If only I could go to where the language is spoken, I would be fluent in no time".

Sometimes I feel like this is more of a romantic fairy-tail than reality. Imagining flying off into the clouds, to a distant land and somehow absorbing an entire language through osmosis.

So what does that mean for the rest of us? If we aren't prepared to pack up our bags and move, we should just give up on even trying?

Lucky for you this is far from the case. This might of been true pre-internet, or before we lived in such a multicultural society, but nowadays you can learn a language wherever you are in the world right from your laptop.

Assuming speaking practice is what you need then there are countless services online, free and paid, you can use to get the speaking practice you need in order to get yourself to fluency. Not only that, if you live in a major city, you have access to people from all around the world right at your doorstep!

Just last weekend I was hanging out with some of my friends from Hong Kong here in Bristol, and spend the whole Sunday chatting in Cantonese and learning (failing) at how to play Mahjong.

But let's take this back a second, if we could go to the country where our language is spoken, that would be ideal right?

Well yes and no.

If we are already at a comfortable intermediate level then more exposure and speaking is what we need Going to the country offers a great way to surround and immerse with a new language, and practice it on a daily basis.

If however, you are a complete beginner, then going to the country where the language is spoken straight off the bat may not be the best idea. Moving is very stressful, you have to deal with a new culture, new city, moving house, visas, bills and all of this in a language you haven't even started learning yet?

This whole experience can be very very stressful, and you will most likely just end up finding the other expats living in that area, spend your whole time with them and live inside your English speaking bubble the whole time.

It doesn't matter if you are surrounded with the language, the fact that it is too high level for you makes the input incomprehensible. And if you can't make out what is being said then this is not an efficient/useful way to learn.

And this provides a good segway into my next point.

 

We all need to watch TV/Movies in our target language

Whenever you talk to a native speaker about their own language, they almost always say the exact same thing.

All you need to do is watch more TV, you'll be fluent in no time.

Sometimes they even go as far to say as it's ok to put the English subtitles on, once you watch enough you will start to understand and then you can just turn the subtitles off afterwards.

This is terrible advice!

Like with the last point, movies and TV for a beginner learner of a new language are extremely hard to understand. If you try to watch without subtitles you will be quickly lost, bored and fed up.

But if you watch with subtitles then you will spend the whole time reading English and not even paying attention to what is coming into your ears.

So what then?

Look, I'm not saying TV/movies are always bad. Used as a supplement around your other studies to increase contact with the language and the culture, sure, that is an excellent idea!

At the intermediate and advanced stages where you can understand enough to pick up the plot, go ahead, spend whole weeks binge-watching TV shows if you want to.

But as a beginner learner, we need a different strategy.

It is very important that when we learn a language, we pick material that is at the right level for us, and that we have some way of understanding. This is what is known as comprehensible input.

If you want to start with native materials, then I recommend looking on Youtube. You can find a lot of very short videos, some even less than 1 minute long, with subtitles in your target language.

Search the CC for a topic of interest, and download the subtitles for a transcript to the entire video. Once you have done that, you can take your time and read slowly through the transcript looking up all the unknown words before you listen, and with enough repetition of listening and reading, eventually, even the hardest text becomes comprehensible.

Another good alternative is to start off with a good beginners course based on dialogues like I did with Cantonese.

Then if you still want to watch TV on the side, start with something that you are already familiar with and has a relatively simple plot. Then, if they are available, put the subtitles on in your target language and just try and enjoy as much as you can picking out the little bits of vocabulary you actually recognise.

A good example of this for me was to watch my childhood favourite anime dubbed into Cantonese, dragon ball. I have watched it enough times to know the plot, and with all the fight scenes it's entertaining even if I don't have a clue what they are saying!

 

We need to master the basics

This is something that I think has partly been drilled into us from our days at school. We spend hours learning words and structures to try and master them and pin them down so we will never forget them.

It seems to be every week, that a new course comes out "master the basics".

Through personal experience I have realised is that this is quite far from the truth. We never "master" anything. The idea that we need to stop and master everything before we move on will hamper you in the long run and lead to you spending way too long with your beginner resources.

In reality, some words we remember and some we forget. After enough time passes eventually we will forget everything. So we relearn it, and relearn it until eventually it starts to stick.

Where this is damaging is when we are so called "mastering the basics" we are not learning anything new. We are simply trying to pin down the few words that we have learned to try and stop us forgetting, which we innevitably will anyway.

However, if you move onto harder & harder content, all of the so called basics will get so much repitition in natural language, that they will stick over time. All this while being exposed to new words as you go. Every now and again when you forget you can always go back and refresh in the future.

 

Need to master the grammar first

Similar to "mastering the basics", another common belief is that we have to master and learn grammar rules.

Typically in school, a teacher will tell us a rule, and then have us practice it in production over and over again until we eventually get it right.

The fact that teaching is still done in this way is surprising, especially considering we have had research suggesting we learn in directly the opposite way. Something we now call comprehensible input.

In addition, learning and understanding grammar can be difficult in our mother tongue, let alone a language that is completely alien to us.

I always use the metaphor of trying to start with the inside of the jigsaw. Sure you can get a few pieces linked together, but you are making it a lot harder for yourself without putting all of the edges in place first.

If on the other hand, we expose ourselves to lots of input and natural language, we gradually build up our base and comprehension. We learn patterns through repeated exposure building up a natural sense of the most frequent words and structures, simply because we have heard them so many times.

 

 Conclusion

 

There are a lot of myths floating around today about language learning, way too many to be covered by a single post.

Therefore, in the coming weeks I will release a part 2 to address some more of the most common myths and misdirection when it comes to language learning advise.

Is the myth you were thinking about not on this list? Stay tuned for the coming weeks to see if it ends up in part 2, or leave me a comment below this post to let me know!