Only my closest, language-loving friends know this, but I’ve been dabbling quite a lot. Since my last project to learn Polish, it’s been sort of a bit of this and a bit of that…Kazakh was a bust (I admitted I was dabbling), and my serious Icelandic project lost steam because our plans for a family trip are ruined by coronavirus.

For the past month, I’ve been actively dabbling in Hebrew. I actually started a while ago, trying out the language on Duolingo, but I gave up because the sentences often had no audio. (Since Hebrew doesn’t write vowels, audio is very important.) Since I finally forked out for Glossika a month or two ago for Icelandic, I thought, why not give Hebrew a try again?

Around a month later, I took my first Hebrew lesson online.

And here I am, making it official. I’m properly studying Hebrew!

I’ll still be working on my other languages — I’m still very much in love with Polish, and I’m having fun learning Taiwanese Hokkien with my friends. But hey, it’s my focus.

But why?

Continue reading

Hong Kong International Airport

When people and blogs talk about reasons to learn Cantonese, they talk about travelling to Hong Kong, or perhaps Macau and Gwongdung. They talk about the golden age movies and martial arts flicks from Hong Kong, and 90s Cantopop. Oh and there are almost as many native speakers as German.

If you are passionate about these things, you already have very good reasons to learn Cantonese. And you should absolutely go for it! But things have changed over the past decades, and Cantonese-language culture has grown and evolved, especially online.

And I am here to tell you that, whether you already have plans to learn it or have merely entertained the idea once or twice, now—mid 2020—is a better time to learn Cantonese than ever before. Now is the time to take action and make those dreams of understanding a completely new culture come true.

Continue reading

Surprisingly, my review of Glossika was the most viewed page on my blog. Sadly, my favourite language learning resource was retired a while ago and replaced with an online version that I was initially doubtful about. Some part of me clung to the older version out of nostalgia…and the other part refused to pay for something I’d already paid for. (I was, and still am, a broke student above all things.) I intended to write this review after playing with the system for a bit. However, I thought it wouldn’t be appropriate, since I was using the free version, without full access to its features. Thanks to the global pandemic, I snagged myself a year of Glossika during a big sale for an unbeatable student price. So here we are.

First things first, money matters: the one-off payment for the old book-based courses is no more. Glossika’s website (also called Glossika AI), like everything else in existence, is a subscription-based service. You can get access to all languages for $30/mo, or $25/mo if you buy a full year. Students can get it for $13.5, or $11.25 if you pay for a year. Is it worth the intimidating price (and the sheer fact that it’s a subscription)? I’ll try to tell you my experience so far.

What I used Glossika for

I used Glossika AI for at least a year (I think) before I paid up. Glossika offers a 7-day free trial. Thankfully, the man behind Glossika, Michael Campbell, is keen on preserving minority languages. Therefore, you get unlimited access to certain languages like Catalan, Welsh, Taiwanese, and Kurdish, for free; the only limitation is that some features, like recording your voice, are out of reach.

Continue reading

If you’re a follower of the Cantonese-centric part of my blog, you might have heard about the Cantonese Conversations project elsewhere. It is an initiative that Olly Richards and I, among others, took a while ago to create a set of Cantonese learning materials that are completely organic and natural, in order to fill the gap of listening/reading materials on the intermediate/advanced level. It is a package of video/audio recordings of native conversations, together with a written transcript, Jyutping transcription and my English translation.

It came out officially a few months back, and recently I’ve been working on putting out a revised version, particularly focusing on proofreading the Jyutping. And that got me thinking: if I assume correctly, the majority of users will be reading the Jyutping instead of the Chinese script. And there’s a troubling thing about Cantonese: not only does it lack standardisation, but it is also undergoing a number of pronunciation changes. What that means is if you listen to us native speakers, there will be multiple ways of pronouncing the same words. We hardly even notice the differences, even though they tend to sound drastically different to foreign ears.

In the Jyutping transcriptions inside the package, we aim to

  1. represent the recording as accurately as possible,
  2. expose the reader to different pronunciations, and
  3. limit the number of varieties to make sure readers can still recognise them as the same word.

And quite often, these goals came into conflict, and we had to try and strike a balance. So halfway through the revision process, I thought I’d take to my own blog to explain some of the most common divergent pronunciations, so that it is still possible to recognise the words under different guises. The following pairs of sounds are often called ‘lazy sounds‘ (懶音 laan5 jam1) by native speakers. Chinese teachers will tell you one of them is right and one is wrong, while younger people would say one is newer and one is outdated. The fact is that they’re both in use, so I suggest you use either one yourself, but make sure to get acquainted with both of them. Here we go!

Continue reading

I can’t believe it’s been one month! The time really zoomed by. For a three-month challenge like this, I find it appropriate to give monthly updates, so here I am. Spoiler warning: the progress isn’t exactly ideal.

The Hurdle

I’m a music student, and this month was a month full of my friends’ graduation concerts, which, for me, entailed rehearsals and concerts every day and evening. I also had to finish a musical composition within the past month. It was really hard, but I’m not going to let this become an excuse to slack off. So as I so happened to have written before, despite my plans for intensive study, I reduced my learning activities, but made sure they were consistent. It’s more important to do something every single day than do a lot on one day.

So here’s a quick run-through of my project progress!

Continue reading

Collage of scenes from Pavia. Photo from Wikipedia

Aaaaand so, I’m back. From the craziness of university. But more craziness is coming on.

I never liked these ‘three months’ challenges, especially how overused this particular length is. But it just happens so that I’m going to Italy, for the second time in my life, in (a bit less than) three months.

The Italian language was always on my radar: after all, it’s the one language that’s most closely associated with music. I read Italian words on a daily basis in my musical scores – which is why I often joke that I have a wide (if highly specialised) vocabulary base for someone who doesn’t speak the language at all.

And around a month ago, I was notified that I was accepted at an international festival for composers near Milan, and immediately decided this was an unmissable opportunity for the polyglot side of me as well. After all, I’ll be there for two weeks, unlike my last trip, which was shorter and more touristic. So off I go!

Continue reading

It’s been a while since I wrote something about my own language learning hobby, rather than my more educationally minded column. And fairly recently (around a week ago), I made a decision that might sound like a big deal or a dumb idea to many, but a small change in direction to me.

I started ‘dabbling’ in Kazakh.

That doesn’t mean much to my daily life, to be honest. Since I’ve pretty much been feeling on holiday for a year, I’ve long had a ‘main’ language I’m working on, then some others I ‘toy’ with. Before this, I was maintaining a 50-day streak in Hebrew on Duolingo. I also listened to 5 days of Glossika GSR in Lithuanian, just because I’d bought the package during a sale. In short? My other toys are going bye-bye for now.

Why Kazakh?

Before I talk about ‘dabbling’, let me reveal my reasons for trying out this language, and you’ll easily see the fun of dabbling in any language. Beware: all my reasons for learning any language are incredibly specific to myself.

Continue reading

Like it or not, Pokémon Go has taken the world by storm. At least where it’s available anyway. Even though in Hong Kong we’re still impatiently waiting for it to arrive, this album has gone viral among my friend circles. What it is is an ever-growing list of Cantonese-based puns on Pokémon, created by an Asian-American. Some of them are so culture-specific that learners or lovers of Cantonese might not get them! Since Pokémon and Cantonese are two of my biggest passions, I thought why not take the good stuff that’s there, and share the fun with more of you guys? You never know, you might learn some cultural fun facts 🙂

Disclaimer: these pics are used with permission from the owner Annie @pokemonyc. The game itself belongs to Nintento/Niantic.

Continue reading

I can’t believe it’s been eight whole months since I took my TISUS test, switched Swedish from “learn” to “improve” mode and picked up the language I’d been intended to try out for a year – Polish. (In fact, my Polish Glossika package had been lying around in my hard drive for quite a long time.) Fast forward to two months ago, I was attempting to test out my Polish skills for the first time with the surprisingly numerous Polish participants at the Polyglot Gathering. And around a month ago, I stepped foot on Polish soil again, spending entire evenings with friends I made in Berlin. Did it work? Yes and no. I think it’s about time I reflected on what I’ve done so far, how far I’ve gone, what I’ve done right or wrong and how I’ll go forward.

A difficult language

I have a confession to make. Why did I start learning Polish? When people ask me this, I usually bullshit things like Chopin. But the real motivation I had was to take on the “most difficult language of the world”. But what makes a language difficult?

Continue reading

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.

En-Pl sample

Sample sentence from Glossika English-Polish, Fluency 3.

Continue reading