Yip and Matthews: Basic and Intermediate Grammars Review

I’ve been meaning to write a review of Yip and Matthews Basic and Intermediate Grammars for a while now.  There’s no point having just one book or the other (such is the spread of topics), so I’m going to review the two volumes as a single book.

Pros, Cons and Semi-Cons

Pros:

  • Tank loads of example sentences (possibly 4-5k total) which cover loads of useful vocabulary
  • Concise explanations of grammar points
  • Literal translations where necessary
  • Explanation of Yale inconsistencies

Cons:

  • Especially in the Intermediate book, several typos
  • No dialogues – can be hard to get started on actual real-life conversations using only these books as a reference.
  • No audio

Semi-Cons:

  • Occasionally ambiguous exercise solutions
  • No Chinese characters
  • Yale Romanisation (personally I prefer Jyutping for a variety of reasons)
  • A fair amount of repetition of topics in the Intermediate book, albeit on a more advanced level
  • Especially in the Intermediate book, chapter length is sometimes extremely uneven
  • All text, no images
  • No vocabulary lists (you have to look up words whose meanings aren’t immediately apparent from the translations)

How I’ve Been Using Them

As I mentioned before, I’ve just been transcribing sentences and translations into Anki – my deck currently includes 2500 example sentences, and I anticipate I’ll have entered 4000 or so sentences from these books by the time I’m done.  (Maybe it’s not for everyone, but personally I like to think of it like installing software modules on a computer.)  I use the exercise sentences as well in Anki (as Cantonese-English pairs).  I don’t use go through the exercises learning how to construct Cantonese sentences (like a maths problems) since I found it tended to lead to errors and confusion.

More on the Cons

The lack of audio isn’t really a problem if you do some work with audio + sentences (perhaps from CantoDict or perhaps from another source) – it’s not difficult to gain an intuition of what each collection of letters should sound like.  As noted above, there aren’t any Chinese characters but this won’t stop you being able to speak Cantonese – it would be useful for students who could already speak but not read (or indeed read but not speak), but that’s not the target audience of the book – the authors assume you’re coming in cold, and that’s just fine.

No dialogues – annoying, because words are frequently dropped in Cantonese when they’re understood from previous lines of conversation (as in most languages).  Understandable though since (again) the books merely task themselves with covering grammar points rather than full conversations.

No vocabulary lists – slightly annoying when you can’t figure out a word directly, but we AJATTeers aren’t really interested in lists of words – the odd extra literal translation here and there would remedy this.

Will They Help?

Fundamentally though, the question is “will these books help someone learn Cantonese to fluency” – despite the semi-cons and cons, yes they will.  The two books cover almost all of the sentence patterns that occur in everyday Cantonese, and so anyone who learns all of those patterns is well-placed to figure out all of the vocabulary they need.

In conclusion: the sole reason a Cantonese learner needs these books is the huge volume of useful example sentences, to be learned as is.  Don’t do the exercises, just harvest the answers as extra model sentences.  The books do have their shortcomings, but they’re not deal-breakers (and can be overcome in any case).

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10 thoughts on “Yip and Matthews: Basic and Intermediate Grammars Review

  1. Eldon,
    Good job on the review. I think it is a good book but the lack of audio really does make it not so dear to me. I had forgotten that I had it until I saw your post and I got it off my shelf. The pages are so nice and it of the best quality.

    Are you typing all these sentences in to Anki?

    • Hey James,
      The lack of audio is annoying, especially given some of the odd sounds (and tones) in Cantonese – it wouldn’t have taken too much time to have someone read the sentences out.

      I am typing out all the sentences into Anki, although I’ve changed it from their Yale system to numbered Jyutping – I’m going to contact the publisher and ask if it’s okay to share at least some of the deck publically. Seems a bit silly for everyone to type everything in themselves, especially since a lot of the book can already be read for free on Google books.

      If I do get the go-ahead to share it then I might add audio to some of the cards myself if my pronunciation is deemed good enough by native speakers.

      -E

      • Hi,

        I’ve been using the Basic and Intermediate Cantonese Grammars and they’ve been really useful.

        As a supplementary study aid, I’ve put together an electronic flashcard deck based on examples from the textbooks. Each card simply contains a Cantonese example as the question and the English translation as the answer. For example:

        Q: Keoi5 hai6 go3 wu6si6
        A: She is a nurse

        All of the cards follow this format. I am writing to ask for you permission to share this deck freely on the Internet.

        Since the deck does not include the grammar notes found in the textbook, it is worthless without a copy of the books. For someone who does own the books however, it’s a way of re-inforcing each point and internalising examples of the language.

        I look forward to hearing from you.

        Eldon Reeves

        Let’s see what they say…

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  3. Hello Eldon,

    I enjoyed your review of these texts. I’ve seen them recommended a number of times on the Sheik forum. I have been using Sidney Lau’s books – just dipping in regularly rather than any intensive study of them. They too suffer from the disadvantage of no audio, but it’s no big drawback and I find them very helpful. I might now buy the Yip and Matthews books as well.

    Thanks,
    Neil

    • Hey Neil, thanks for the comment 🙂

      I’ve been interested in the Sidney Lau books for a while, although I haven’t yet picked any of them up – it may be that the set (of basic > intermediate > advanced) is more comprehensive than Yip and Matthews… I notice they also have dialogues which is a big plus.

      I think you can never have too many textbooks (obviously you can though), but it’s nice to have a selection of materials to dip into. Personally I’d pick up both sets (i.e. Sidney Lau and Yip & Matthews) if I had the money just to have a decent spread of materials… not to mention all those interesting-looking books on Green Woodpress.

      – E

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  5. Audio I’m not sure about – people keep suggesting the Greenwood Press books to me, so perhaps you could try them. I have the one about verbs, and it came with a CD.

    The Chinese-language books (i.e. written for Mandarin-as-a-first-language) often have CDs, by the way. There’s no shortage of them.

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