Monday, September 2, 2019

A guide to CantoBlog

Who is this blog for?

Anyone with an interest in studying Cantonese, from casual learners to academics interested in sinophone studies. 

What does the blog cover?

CantoBlog is still in its early stages, but you can expect to find:

  • Reviews of available Cantonese learning materials (books, courses, apps, etc.)
  • Explorations of Cantonese YouTube channels
  • Trailers for Cantonese films
  • Cantonese music playlists


One of the challenges I’ve found studying Cantonese is that resources are harder to find than for, say, Mandarin. There’s also no big standardized test like the HSK (for Mandarin) or TOPIK (for Korean), meaning test prep companies have little incentive to publish oodles of books about the topic. 

It also means there is incredible variation between various books and courses regarding what is “standard” Cantonese. However, that only forces you to recognize something that is true about languages in general: they are alive, and no standardized test can prepare you for the incredible amount of variation you’ll encounter on the street, on TV, or online.

What's the fastest way to find the best resources for me?

First, figure out what you are looking to get out of Cantonese. A lot of teachers talk about speaking, writing, listening, and reading as the pillars of learning a language. However, we all have different needs. I study Hong Kong film, so developing my listening skills are more important to me than speaking. To help people with different goals, I try to use labels/tags to make finding applicable resources easier.

What romanization system do you use for Cantonese?

I tend to use the Yale system of romanization on this site, though I will also use Jyutping if the resource I am reviewing uses it. I use Yale because that is what is taught at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and I like how the the "h" helps you internalize low tones. I also think there is something to be said for conceptualizing different tone + syllable pairings as wholly unique units rather than thinking of syllable first and then tacking a tone on. For example, I have an easier time appreciating sei and séi as different words than sei3 and sei2.

Is the focus just Hong Kong Cantonese?

For now, yes. Cantonese is an incredibly rich language with incredible variation across southern China and the global Chinese diaspora. However, my own background studying Cantonese is rooted in Hong Kong, so that has impacted what sorts of study materials I have used or sought out. But if you happen to know resources related to other variations of Cantonese, please let me know!

What is your background with Cantonese?

I began studying Cantonese in Hong Kong in 2014. Since then, I’ve used private tutors, group classes, and private study. All of these had their pros and cons, and I think different learners will gravitate toward different methods. 

I already spoke Mandarin before starting Cantonese, which made it a lot easier to pick up the basics. I know people who learned Cantonese from scratch—it’s doable—but I think it’s slightly harder. That being said, Mandarin speakers are faced with a separate difficulty: understanding the grammatical and lexical differences between Mandarin and Cantonese. Certain habits need to be broken; otherwise, you’re just speaking Mandarin with Cantonese pronunciation (and I say this as someone who did this a lot in the past and occasionally still does).

Are you still learning Cantonese?

Yes. The process never ends. That also means I am still prone to mistakes. If you notice one, I’d appreciate your feedback. 

And who are you exactly?

I'm a doctoral student at the University of Michigan researching Chinese-language film, but my emphasis is on Cantonese film produced in Hong Kong. You can learn more about me here