All things considered, my progress in studying/learning/getting used to Cantonese (delete as appropriate) has not quite as good as perhaps it might have been[1][2]. In fact, compared to my Japanese, where I can still understand a good portion of some anime and radio shows, it seemed astonishing that I had apparently made so little progress. It’s not like I’ve accomplished nothing – other people rate my Cantonese as conversational, and I can navigate my way through a novel or TV show and have a good idea of what’s happening (even if I tend to skip over the flowery adjectives and adverbs a lot).

In any case, a little objectivity goes a long way and so I decided to make a numerical comparison between studying Japanese and Cantonese to try to figure out weak spots – and here were the findings…

Japanese Cantonese
Period Studied 3 years 1.5 years
Av. Contact Time per Day 30 mins 2 hrs
Material Studied Kana/150 kanji/vocab/one grammar system/conversation 1800 Hanzi/vocab/two grammar systems/conversation/reading
Classes Av. 20 mins per week (over 3 year period) N/A
Textbooks Many, learnt vocab and grammar in prescribed order exercises as appropriate Three grammars (two for Cantonese and one for Mandarin); exercises not generally attempted and certainly not repeated
SRS Use Experimental, for final year or so (av. 10 mins per day). Ended up with ~1000 word cards. Experimental throughout (av. 60 mins per day). Currently juggling a total of ~1300 written Chinese and ~2500 Cantonese sentence cards

So… I would like to present my reasons for the perceived lack in progress. Cantonese has more to learn than Japanese, for starters (what with the whole relationship with written Chinese) and I eschewed vocabulary acquisition in favour of character learning. The fruits of this methodology have been a recent rapid increase in useful vocab acquisition and reading ability (knowing characters makes it very easy to learn new words).

It is nonetheless indicative of one of the limits of my input-only method – that output is essential to truly learn a language. Recently I returned to using bilingual vocabulary lists and rediscovered that it’s a relatively painless and fast way of absorbing new words. I also worked through some grammar exercises with pen and paper and again, it led to a real increase in terms of both production and listening ability. Having said that, the written Chinese flashcards I’ve been playing with recently have been very satisfactory in terms of reading improved reading ability.

The bottom line is that, although it’s worthwhile to ‘go monolingual’ at some point, you shouldn’t be afraid to revert to two languages to build up a solid foundation in basic vocab and grammar. There comes a point where everything can be readily handled by L2 but there’s little point in being too dogmatic about it…

…in my opinion anyway. I’m genuinely interested to hear about other learner’s experiences, especially with AJATT (or similar) implementation. Anyone else find they’re not doing as well as they should be? And if so, do the statistics satisfactorily explain why? Do share! 🙂

[1] Actually, since I was falling significantly short of the ‘all the time’ component of AJATT – sometimes to the point of ‘none of the time’ – it’s clear that I could have done waaaaaaaay better by now.

[2] And I know I wrote basically the same thing a year or so ago. I guess that’s the point of a blog?


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