If you’re one of the two people who have been reading my blog since its inception, you might remember how it all started out – with a series of travelogues from Germany. Okay, I’ve always planned to make it predominantly a language blog, and I never managed to complete the series, but guess what, it’s #throwback today, so why not…write a language post that’s also a travelogue in Germany?
So…we’re here! YES, I just came back from Berlin to Lund, from the unforgettable annual Polyglot Gathering that I’d been looking forward to for months. Heck I’d been wanting to go since the first one, two years ago, but was only unable because I lived in Asia! So the moment I knew I was going to be an exchange student in Europe, my reaction was “yes! POLYGLOT GATHERING!”, above all. I don’t know whether I’ll ever be living in Europe again (no matter how much I want to) or whether I’ll get rich enough to afford an annual flight to Berlin, so before I departed from Lund, I firmly told myself – I had to have the most fun possible.
It’s finally time to open the Pandora’s box of Cantonese! Despite having lots of colloquial and expressive stuff planned, I suddenly had the idea to start with something simpler, but extremely useful in daily life: units. The world appears to be divided into metric VS imperial when it comes to units, and you might wonder how we make our measurements in Hong Kong. In a way we are like the UK: depending on situation, we use a mix of both, plus our traditional units. But there is a general trend: my generation is educated in the metric system, so the other systems might end up going out of use in the future, for better or worse. But for now, let me tell you how I and people I know measure things. And believe me, the Chinese names of the ‘western’ units are just as easy!
In my Bel Canton series, I attempt to break down Chinese into the substituent components so that you can understand what’s going on behind the scenes and find it easier to remember the structures and vocabulary. However, not every character translates so well word-for-word into English, which is why I have to create my own conventions for this break-down. Here are my principles:
I always follow the Cantonese script first with Jyutping romanisation. Pronunciation may differ slightly from speaker to speaker, but I romanise my own pronunciation, which I can promise at least all Hongkongers will understand. I don’t have the so-called “lazy sounds” that my teachers basically purged in school but you might see in other materials. They should not be considered wrong, rather just variations or even shifts in the pronunciation. More on that in another post.
each word in the English translation/break-down (i.e. separated by a space) corresponds by default to one Chinese character.
What comes to mind when you think of Chinese? Time and time again I’ve heard people saying things like “it’s a picture for every word”, and many a language’s version of “it’s all Greek to me” points to Chinese instead. It’s always this exotic, unknown tongue in a faraway land. In the first article in my new Bel Canton section, I’ll start with the mother of Cantonese – Chinese, breaking it down to you how it’s actually composed, and showing you why it isn’t as mystic as it appears to be.
But before I talk about the structure of Chinese languages, I’d like to briefly describe the structure of the Chinese language family so as to clear up some ambiguities concerning what I’ll be discussing.
The Chinese language family
You won’t believe how many times I’ve had this conversation, but the linguistic status of Chinese languages are pretty much still undefined, especially among Chinese-speaking communities themsleves. The confusion usually comes from the unity in writing: despite the many tongues existing in China, everyone writes the same way, with (mostly) the same set of characters, and can understand one another through the script, even if they don’t share the same speech. This has a long history: for a long time China has used classical Chinese as the written standard, from which the spoken languages deviate, pretty much like Latin and the Romance languages. It isn’t until a century ago that they decided to reform the written standard according to Mandarin, the language of government at the time. Hence to this day, the other spoken languages are still labeled dialects (方言). That’s putting aside the political subtext which clearly influences this choice of terminology, since dialects are subordinate to a language, but this is not the right place for that. Nevertheless, it is indeed said that it’s the “square characters” – our logograms, as opposed to alphabet – that has given us mutual intelligibility in writing and thus engendered a tendency towards unification throughout Chinese history.
Update: due to the release of Glossika AI, which replaces the now-defunct Glossika packages, this review is now outdated. A review of the new system has just been published.
Well I was preparing to begin writing in my new section on Chinese, but an important incident changed my mind: I’ve just completed the entire Glossika GMS course in Polish, all 3000 of the sentences! So, in addition to sharing my sense of achievement and joy on my blog, I’ve decided to also write a brief review on what I thought about and what I got out of this course, seeing as it isn’t one of the most well-known method out there, and there aren’t that many reviews from people having completed it either. So let’s delve in – and allow me to start by introducing the method, in case you haven’t heard of it.
What is Glossika?
Even though you can get a comprehensive introduction to the product on their site, I’ll briefly summarise it from what I know. Glossika, founded by the amazing polyglot and linguist (read more if you don’t know the difference) Michael Campbell, is based on input – a lot of it. The basic idea is to drill a set of 3000 sentences into your mind, in 3 ‘fluency levels’ from simple to complex, each containing 1000 sentences, and the brain will gradually figure out the language.
I said it’s the ‘basic’ idea because the method does not demand you to follow any strict pathway. On the contrary, it’s probably among the most flexible learning materials out there! When you buy it, you get a ton of files. First is a PDF for each level, complete with translation, romanisation (etc, depending on the language), phonetic transcription (more on that later), a complete index and some additional professional advice. These sentences form the basis of the entire course. I got the English to Polish package, so each sentence comes with the English version, the Polish translation, simplified spelling (to ease certain learners into the scary-looking Polish spelling, I suppose) and IPA, as in the sample below.
Sample sentence from Glossika English-Polish, Fluency 3.
Having stepped into independent language studies for a while now, I’m starting to rethink this question. Nowadays with the rise of the online polyglot community, click into any language learning blog and they’ll tell you to turn your back on ‘traditional’ learning methods and learn by speaking, a lot. This sets up some sort of dichohtomy and tells you that if you failed using ‘traditional’ methods, then you gotta go the other way and speak. Probably because language studies in school worked perfectly for me (I gotta say, I still cannot comprehend how bad it could be in foreign school systems, even after reading so much about it), I never felt strongly about this dichotomy nor a necessity to choose. As a relatively introverted person, I even feel naturally a bit inclined against the latter: socalising and interacting people drains my energy. That led me to contemplate on the issue: how does speaking to people help me, particularly in an early stage? They say speaking is one of the basic skills in a language, but I always like to break things down even further. Continue reading
Hejjjjj guys! It’s been a while – indeed, it’s been at least two months since I last posted here. If you didn’t see that post (which I won’t blame you for: I’d be glad to have any actual followers, considering the young age of this blog), my computer got brutally manslaughtered, and being some sort of OCD who hates typing and doing any actual work on mobile devices, I put the blog on hiatus. Oh, and a month-long trip was also part of the reason (or excuse). Anyway, after lots of troubles, I’ve managed to get myself a shiny new laptop to type on a day or two ago, which is now perfectly set up to revive the productive side of me. But before I delve into what I’m going to do, allow me to update you fellas a bit on what I’ve done and been doing: Continue reading
Oh well, just as I was pumped to start writing a lot again, life tripped me and forced yet another hiatus onto my blog. A bit more than a week ago, I brutally murdered my laptop – more like manslaughter maybe – by soaking it with liquid. In a very embarrassing way that I really don’t want to talk about. But you can imagine. Anyhow, since I absolutely hate typing long articles on virtual keyboards (both of my devices’ screens screw up a lot!) it seems like I’ll have to give the blog another rest, at least until I get a replacement (it’s too costly to fix stuff in Scandinavia) or a Bluetooth keyboard maybe. Meanwhile you’re welcome to read all the (few) posts that I’ve written painstakingly! Continue reading
Hot on the heels of my successful Swedish exam (i.e. sitting it…again we’ll get the results later), I’ve decided to do a brief summary of the Swedish learning resources I (honestly) liked the most in the 3 months I’ve learnt it. Each person has their own method of learning and hence preferred resources and materials, but if you happen to be a learner like me, or you just need a good list to get started learning Swedish, varsågoda! By the way, you’ll soon realise that I’m a big fan of electronic means of learning!
Colloquial Swedish: although I’d done some vocab (and other stuff that I don’t remember) beforehand, my Swedish studies didn’t really take off until August, when I found more time to go through this book quickly. (Thanks to writing this post, I now have a sure response when people ask how long I’ve learnt Swedish – fluent in 3 months! I kept saying “several” or “4 or 5” months before.) I don’t like to dwell on this kind of textbook too long, especially the exercises, because I’d rather move on to ‘authentic’ materials as soon as possible, just like Steve Kaufmann. But this gave me a solid foundation to build up on, and particularly helped me find out similarities and differences to German.Continue reading
Hej everyone!!! I’m so sorry I’ve been off the blog for almost an entire month. In my sprint challenge announcement post, I pledged to write at least one article in Swedish every week. And guess what? I failed miserably: not only did I not write more than one Swedish article, but I also didn’t write anything else either. It was the stress of the looming test date/deadline telling me to focus on maximising my vocabulary and boosting my fluency, and ultimately I just let my inner sloth take over and convince my rational self that I didn’t have the time to write that much. In fact I didn’t manage to write one single essay before my test, which might have been bad – who knows?