Monday, September 2, 2019

Interesting Cantonese: A Basic Introduction to Cantonese

Interesting Cantonese

Susanna Ng

Ming Man Publications Limited (Hong Kong)

Date published
First edition came out in 2005, but many since then

Cantonese romanization method: 

Sticker price
$225 HKD 

Audio format:

What this book is good for
Building vocabulary, learning common phrases

This book is ubiquitous in English-language bookstores across Hong Kong, and for good reason. With over 3,000 vocabulary words and expressions, it is a thorough catalog of Cantonese required for everyday life. 

The book labels itself as "For Beginner & Intermedia Level," though it doesn't really offer any of sort of graduated curriculum that helps you build sentences or ideas of increasing complexity. Instead, it covers phrases and words thematically, beginning with "Daily Conversation," moving on to "Interesting Cantonese," and finishing with "Improve Your Cantonese." An appendix titled "Names of Places in Hong Kong" is very helpful for anyone wanting to improve their ability to give directions or communicate with cab drivers.

Each part is split into further chapters, with "Daily Conversation" being the most diverse in terms of topics, such as Eating, Drinking, Money, Transport, Time, etc. Improve Your Cantonese actually deals head-on with grammatical issues like verbs, tenses, etc. but more through lists than through gradual introductions of sentence structures. For example, the verb chapter is really a list of standalone verbs, each one followed by an example sentence in English, the romanized form of the Cantonese, and then the Chinese characters.

For example, on page 230:
I write down your name.
Ngóh sé dāi néih go méng.

One amazing aspect of the book is the 4 CDs it provides (though you need to have a CD drive, of course). The CDs include recordings of ALL the Cantonese vocabulary and phrases in the books, making for an excellent repository of spoken Cantonese. However, the English translations are not read aloud, so if you are listening to this while you drive or work out, you are listening more for sound acquisition than for pairing meanings between languages; for the latter, you need to be looking at the book as you listen.

I find Interesting Cantonese to be a solid reference material for people who either want to learn some quick phrases (the first and second parts of the book) or for those who already know basic sentence structures and want to plug in new vocabulary (part three of the book). However, it lacks the series of dialogues or reading passages you might look for in a well-rounded primer in an intro language curriculum. The book could also use an index, as it can be difficult to rediscover entries you only vaguely remember.