Spring Cleaning

“Spring cleaning?” you may ask.  “In November?”

This blog has, over the course of its history, zipped back and forth schizophrenically, with the introduction of various language and music challenges followed by… not much.

So, the point of today’s post is to tie up the various loose ends that have emerged over the last two years.  My effort at spring cleaning, if you will.

The French has mostly halted.

It was easy to learn, compared to Cantonese/Mandarin, and therefore fun. I could play Wii and DS games in French, and not just feel like I was learning something, but actually learn things at the same time. I could easily smash through French newspapers, even following the US presidential elections after just a month or so of hard study.

But, it took too much time away from Cantonese and Mandarin, so it mostly ended a while ago, with only occasional gaming relapses preventing regression.

Grade 8 is off for the flute.

I’ve been doing more practice than before – maybe 3-4 hours per week – but it’s mostly been freestyle improvisation. Of course, some high-level jazz exam might in theory be possible, but there do not seem to be many jazz flute tutors out here in Hong Kong.

So for now, there’s no particular goal in sight for the flute – it’s just a fun and productive way to relax at the moment.

The saxophone…

…has not been out of its case once, I think, since I brought it over from the UK at Christmas. It’s not that I don’t love it, it’s just that, as the saying goes, “out of sight, out of mind”. Plus, I feel bad about disturbing the neighbours since everyone in Hong Kong lives pretty close together.

The Mandarin has improved greatly over the last three months or so.

I know the readings for lots of characters now, including some that I haven’t yet learnt the Cantonese for – I’d estimate I know 1500-2000 readings now for Mandarin.  This is due to systematic study of unknown characters.  Write down a few times, say out loud, add to Anki.  Repeat ad nauseum.

I find it hard to keep up studying every day for anything longer than a week or so given that I have no friends that speak Mandarin but not Cantonese or English. It’s too easy to just switch to Cantonese (with no guilt, since obviously Cantonese practice is much more useful than speaking English).

The whole thing about making an effort to speak, as promoted by Benny the Irish Polyglot is, it seems, more to do with motivation than learning (although after a certain level, natural learning from conversations becomes more viable).

I do need to work hard at the Mandarin though since some sort of translation qualification is very tentatively being considered – Cantonese doesn’t seem to be recognised for courses including oral components.

Finally, the Cantonese:

This has taken quite a toll on various aspects of my life, and I’m not entirely sure if it was worth it.

The short story is that I’ve wound up not maintaining many of my Hong Kong friendships because some of my friends don’t want to speak Cantonese with me, preferring instead to practice their English, even if my second-language skills are at a higher level than theirs.

Intentionally ignoring certain friends may seem harsh, or horribly anti-social, but it does seem to be the only way of continuing to make progress; luckily, this seems to be a problem largely confined to Hong Kong and other similar ex-British colonies.

Where do we go from here?

I’m trying so, so hard not to end with the hackneyed “I’ve not posted for such a long time – sorry! – I’ll try harder!” but to tell you, dear reader, the truth, it’s not easy.


The theme of this blog is going to move away from narcissistic “here’s how I’m doing right now” posts and back towards the original “how can I learn languages and music is a relatively fast and fun way?”

I’ll be giving special treatment to Cantonese, Mandarin and [jazz] flute, but that’s not to say that there won’t be more general posts too.

Ciao for now!


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