This is the third in a series of posts on “How to Learn Cantonese“. This post goes into more detail on learning Cantonese pronunciation and Standard Chinese. There’s a fair amount of jargon, but everything’s explained in the hyperlinked posts. In particular, if you don’t know what an SRS is, read this post. My personal favourite is Anki, but there are others out there too.
If you’re not going to learn characters, then you’re going to have to how to read Jyutping or Yale romanisation, so as to effectively use your grammar. To do this, I’d suggest taking sentences with audio from CantoDict and creating an Anki deck. The only goal of this deck is to read Jyutping words accurately, with the correct tones. The question side is the Jyutping, and the answer side is the audio.
It therefore doesn’t matter which sentences you use, although it’s best if they’re shorter. The meaning (in either English or Cantonese) and the characters are completely irrelevant. This will allow you to read the somewhat-unintuitive Jyutping easily, without having to have a native speaker on hand.
There are also websites out there that read out Jyutping, although this (in my humble opinion) is not as good as listening to and reading out complete sentences.
N.B. Don’t worry too much if your pronunciation and/or tones aren’t perfect before moving past this stage; massive immersion should iron out any deficiencies after a while. I actually ignored Cantonese’s tones altogether to start with (to work on vocab and pronunciation) and I can hear and say them just fine now. Spend maybe a week or so of solid work on this part and then start to move on.
Characters #2 and Mandarin
At some point in your Cantonese career, you’re probably going to want to learn to read – for which Standard Chinese is, well, standard. To the best of my knowledge, there are no courses on reading Standard Chinese, so a knowledge of Mandarin grammar is useful. Learning Mandarin after Cantonese is comparatively easy, given the many cognates between the two languages, and (again, in my humble opinion), Mandarin is a worthwhile language to have.
At this point therefore, you might want to consider either learning Mandarin outright or flicking through a Mandarin grammar. You should also go through Heisig’s “Learning the Hanzi”, which teaches you the writing and meaning of characters – the readings can be learned in context. You can then practice reading and writing Standard Chinese using an Anki deck.