Over the last three weeks I’ve finally managed to get my immersion environment completely up and running for large portions of the day. Previously, it had been continuously stymied by lectures – I kept forgetting to turn on the podcasts/TV/music whenever I was at home. I settled on hijacking some spare speakers and wiring up an old iPod mini, to just play Cantonese radio all day, even when I wasn’t at home, which solved that particular problem. Also not helping were the earbuds I was using for on-the-move Cantonese (and jazz) exposure – they got very uncomfortable to wear very quickly. They were ditched in favour of some comfy headphones – result? More exposure.
Actually, I think I’ve passed something of a turning point recently as far as Cantonese goes – up until now, I’ve been happily waltzing along just learning whatever seemed common or interesting, without ever really understanding native media in full. In other words, when I was listening to radio shows (or whatever), it sounded the whole time like “rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb WORD rhubarb rhubarb”. Every time a word I knew came up, I got totally distracted by it, trying instinctively to translate it into English… which meant that the rest of the sentence was lost. Since the massive immersion though, the meaning of these words in Cantonese has become much more tangible in my mind (simply because of the frequency), to the point where I can now hear and understand complete sentences. This process was accelerated by cutting out bits of audio I can mostly understand and reviewing them in Anki – one of the true beauties of an SRS for language study is that it allow you to focus on fractions of a whole, to divide and conquer, until you’ve covered enough fractions that you’re fluent.
I also found Cantonese dubs of Full Metal Alchemist and Death Note online which have been really motivating – I have both series in Japanese on DVD which I’d previously watched quite extensively (to the point where I could ditch the English subs). Armed with the meaning of what everyone was saying beforehand, it’s been much easier to follow the Cantonese. I’ve also been ripping the audio from these and putting them on my iPod as part of immersion (not my idea by the way). This is especially helpful, because it’s an extra chance to practice stuff I already semi-understand (unlike podcasts, which are always a complete shot in the dark).
Moving on to music, it turns out that I already know a lot of the words used in Cantonese songs too, and I’ve been singing along to them wherever possible. Some I’ve dissected for use in Anki, and this has certainly proved to be the fastest way of learning them (way quicker than just looping them over and over wholesale). Straddling the Cantonese-saxophone border, I’ve been continuing to play along to and over Cantopop songs, trying to play them by ear – and this has been a really fun way to pass time. Actually, this has a secondary benefit, insofar as it doesn’t require the aforementioned immersion environment to be switched off.
Finally, I did have a slight problem of working out what songs were best to play – if it’s too easy, it’s pointless, and if it’s too hard… it’s pointless. To get over this, I’ve been grading songs to play over, on the basis of how many key changes a song includes and by tempo. Obviously, slow three-chord songs are going to be easiest to play improvise over, whereas fast multi-key pieces are going to be harder – but this has proved to be a good way of progressing in an i+1 way. (I only mention this, because my previous self-directed drum study went nowhere, because I never worked out what would be best to play at any given time. Really, I needed a teacher.)
Anyway, that’s a not-so-brief resume of how everything has been going since last time. Did anyone else experience the “rhubarb” phase in their language learning, or am I just weird? Also, in the spirit of maximizing Cantonese exposure, are there any recommendations for Chinese-Chinese dictionaries out there (preferably online and free)? CantoDict rocks, but I’m really trying to stamp out English as far as possible…
 An immersion environment is “all <language> all the time”. You just try and make it so that you can’t escape the language you’re trying to learn, either through listening to it or reading it or talking to people who speak it. It’s pretty straightforward.
 Let it go on record that I would never, never, ever condone piracy or breaking the law in any way, shape or form… but a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do, right? 😛
 Using Audacity (free and open-source by the way) and a cable with a 3.5mm jack on each end – plug one end in the headphone jack and one in the mic jacks of your computer, then hit “record”. Simples!