The Cantonese podcast for fans of linguistics, language lovers, and Cantonese learners. This episode with our guest Adam discusses using a foreign language in the foreign country, Hong Kong Chinese prescriptivism, language attitudes, studying linguistics, and language features around the world.
Show notes and links available on the Cantonese page. Transcript below.
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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.
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!
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!
I’m not even kidding. I’m not a wealthy student; travelling in western countries does take its toll on my wallet. It would’ve been a shame not to do it though, so during my year abroad, I did my fair share of excursions around the European continent, be it for immersion, events or just sightseeing. And to mitigate my financial stress, since last year, I started exploring newer ways of travelling alone: instead of forking out for hotels and airbnb, I tried lots of hostels and Couchsurfing hosts instead.
…which is why I’ve recently been answering a lot of questions like “is it risky to couchsurf?” “is it awkward to share a room with strangers?”
A while ago, my friend Fiel from Between 3 Worlds wrote a great post on why hostels rule; while I couldn’t agree more with his reasons, I feel like it’s only half the story. I think it’s now my turn to answer some of these questions, drawing from my one year of ‘cheap travelling’ experience.
What Couchsurfing is about
Before we dig deeper, some of you might not know exactly what Couchsurfing is yet. While it’s originally the name of the biggest site of its kind, it’s evolved to mean home-sharing communities, where travellers get to sleep at hosts’ place (supposedly) for free, be it on couches or beds of all sorts. This is where most people scratch their heads: why would people even share their homes? What is it all about?
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.
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.
Thanks to my slow (albeit steady) publishing schedule interspersed with other topics, even the next polyglot event of the year has ended. But fear not! With my thick online face, I shall continue to document my favourite excursion of the year until I’m done! Unbelievable as it was, we’d come to the last day of the main event, and I’d come to my last chance of recovering my voice. Yes, it was still lost…I did get one good sentence out, but afterwards it got worse again. So bad that I skipped breakfast to grab a couple of lozenges at the one and only Hauptbahnhof. Hoping for the best. But let’s get back into the last day of fun!
Phew! It’s taken a bit longer than expected to get the third (official) day of the event documented here! That’s mostly due to me setting off on my final journey in Europe and spending more time with my private travelogue than this. But if you’ve been reading the past two installments, the bulk of this will be similar: more talks on different topics. I’ll try to recollect what I found interesting in each talk concisely, and highlight more of the special activities unique to the day!
By the third day I’ve becoming totally hooked on the lozenges I got from my friend. Thankfully it doesn’t really hurt anymore to speak, but I still have that sexy, coarse voice with a very limited volume – I won’t be shouting at the speakers from my seat any time soon for sure. Again, it was simply impossible for me to get to the first talk in time, after all the gettting-up-procedures and a chatty breakfast. Not even when it was Richard Simcott himself’s talk on language difficulty. The thing is, while we all have high expectations on the talks by these big-name polyglots, they’ve for the most part already said all they have to say on other media, so in these talks they kind of just summarise certain advice and ideas for us. Same for this: we’ve all discussed hard and easy languages, and what makes them hard or easy, but the point is it’s our own circumstances and motivation that make a language easy or hard, in addition to the intrinsic complexity of the grammar and vocabulary.
The minute this post hits the interwebs, I should be landing on good ol’ Asian ground, ready to drag my limp body along in the devastating heat through the streets of Hong Kong, my homeland. My exchange year is officially over; I am back. The word ‘back’ starts to sound funny – I’ve spent exactly 359 days away from Hong Kong, almost a full cycle on the calendar, and mildly surprisingly, I have – my subconscious, probably, has – begun to call another place ‘home’. When I say ‘I’m back’, I feel like I’m once again arriving at the busy Lund Central and Clemenstorget from a short flight, with either piercing or refreshing wind hitting my face, not the pressing humid air. For better or worse, no, I never felt truly home sick once. Been there done that; I’m way over it. There’s just too much to see, too much to do.
But there’s the problem. However long a year, or just a term may sound to you, it feels ridiculously short in retrospect. Depending on how much you fell for your new home, a lifetime might not even suffice. A lot of us try to do too much at once, cramming all the plans of our dreams into the calendar; which is completely understandable, but that way, we tend to miss certain things that we never realise we should have done until it’s too late. Throughout my year, I’ve been very open to shaking up my routine and lifestyle, so overall I’m pretty satisfied with what I’ve done; yet still, there are so many things I wish I could have done earlier. So, contrary to my usual style and theme, here are 10 things I suggest you consider doing if you’re going on an exchange:
After killing the time – both mine before the actual gathering and yours for reading my previous post for Day 0 – the actual gathering was about to begin. To be fair, though, Day 0 already contained enough socialising to be considered an essential part of the event. I met tons of polyglots I knew, and even more that I didn’t. It’s pretty magical that we polyglots, or language learners – probably a weird geek among our ‘normal’ friends – get to meet so many other weirdos just to geek out together. To not feel alone in the quest for polyglottery and cross-cultural communication. To help each other spread the message that…one language is never enough.
For better or worse, I already started staying up a bit before Day 1. Thankfully, the event starts late on the first day to accommodate people just arriving that morning. At 10, we were all done with our first breakfast socialising session – complete with cornflakes, very German Schinken and very German bread, and sweet, sweet coffee – and gathered in a full room for the greeting. Indeed we really have these people to thank for this – such a huge event, along with accommodation, meals, extra activities (to be mentioned later!)…it’s a huge annual effort and probably heavy pressure. But I was soon put under pressure as well as I had to choose talks to go to. As a lingophile, virtually all of the talks captured my interest. Fun fact – I’m one of those who can never make choices. So here I’d have to choose ones that were more immediately helpful or useful, or just choose according to my new friends’ preferences or the speaker, and hope that they’d upload the video recordings soon enough. Because last year’s talks didn’t finish getting uploaded until last week. Seriously.