Preamble: the technique outlined below doesn’t just apply to Cantonese, but all languages. (Obviously you can only use the example sentences if you’re learning Cantonese though.)
So here’s a nice little sentence for all you learners out there to chew on:
Ngo5 gin3dou3 jat1 zek3 daai3zyu6 jat1 deng2 mou6 ge3 gwai2.
I can see a ghost wearing a hat.
Literally: I see-arrive one (counter) wearing one (counter) hat (possessive particle) ghost.
Breaking It Down
We could make a few SRS cards out of this. If I didn’t know any of the words at all, I’d create the following ones:
- 一隻鬼/One ghost [noun with counter]
- 我見到一隻鬼/I can see one ghost [noun with useful verb]
- 一頂帽/One hat [noun with counter]
- 我見到一頂帽/I can see one hat [noun with useful verb]
- 戴着一頂帽/wearing a hat [noun with essential verb]
- 一隻戴着一頂帽嘅鬼/a ghost wearing a hat [sentence with subordinate clause]
- 我見到一隻戴着一頂帽嘅鬼/I can see a ghost wearing a hat [communicatively useful sentence]
While that might seem like a lot of cards for one sentence, it isn’t really – if you look at the annotations in square brackets, there’s a lot of separate words and grammar being learnt.
Building it Up
If you’re more advanced and confident and can already read the entire sentence in one go (like me – ow!), then you could try adding bits to the sentence or changing it in different ways.
- 我見到隻戴着頂帽嘅鬼 [removing optional 一字]
- 我見到一隻戴着一頂帽嘅白色鬼 [adding a colour word]
- 我見到一隻好恐怖嘅鬼 [replacing the verb with an adjective]
- 我見到一隻又好恐怖又好蠢嘅鬼 [using a two-adjective construction]
- 我見到一隻又好恐怖又好蠢嘅白色鬼 [adding a colour in there]
- 我以為我見到一隻又好恐怖又好蠢嘅白色鬼 [adding “I wrongly believed” in]
- 我琴日以為我見到一隻又好恐怖又好蠢嘅白色鬼 [adding in “yesterday”]
- 假如我見到一隻又好恐怖又好蠢嘅白色鬼嘅話，我就會亂走得超快。[hypothetical conditional]
…and so on. Useful if you can ask a native speaker to check them, if you’re going to add to (rather than subtract from) sentences. [Note: Although I’m fairly sure they’re correct, I haven’t yet asked a native to run a beady eye over the last ten, so use them at your own peril!)
How Not to go Overboard
Obviously it’s wise to try to strike a balance between getting a solid foundation in constructing sentences and spending time creating and reviewing digital flashcards. I would nonetheless stick to the principle of “one flashcard, one new thing”, be it a character, word or sentence construction.
If you’re lazy and can’t be bothered with too much faffing around, I’d suggest at least doing the breaking down/building up exercise and putting your results on the back of a relevant flashcard. That way, you can peruse your series of minimal pairs (pairs of sentences with just one difference) easily.
Anyone else used the break-it-down-then-build-it-up approach?