Isn’t it strange, that for predominantly oral languages such as Cantonese, all learning materials that we can buy come in a written format?
Yeah, sure, some of the textbooks have CDs that we can listen to, and we’ve always got access to Cantonese TV and radio shows – but there’s a clucking huge void in the middle.
How do we make the jump?
- By rote learning masses of words using sloppy romanisation systems?
- By playing songs which use vocabulary and sentence patterns which are never spoken?
- By watching films and TV shows filled with people speaking the most local of local Cantonese at lightning speed?
- By being taught the odd word by native speakers who have a huge motive to not let you actually learn any Cantonese?*
- By using an SRS to imperfectly internalise the fragments of the language that you occasionally manage to grasp?
- We make the jump by getting native speakers to give us one-on-one lessons.**
- We make the jump by getting them to first teach us the things they’d teach kids – simple action words, basic nouns and lots of juicy repetition of basic sentence patterns – and moving on from there.
- We make the jump by using grammars, textbooks and dictionaries as a way of systematising oral study – in other words, by using them to let your tutor talk about a specific topic for a lesson, rather than teaching you a whole bunch of completely unrelated vocabulary and sentence patterns.
- We make the jump by recording our lessons with them and reviewing them over and over afterwards.
- We make the jump by using an SRS to internalise the most useful parts of the masses of comprehensible input that we’re fed.
So there’s my two cents. Learn an oral language by getting tons of oral practice. Further thoughts, anyone?
* It stops them practising their English.
** Paid-for, if necessary. Money switching hands means a weekly routine is more likely to develop; friends helping each other for free rarely lasts beyond a week or two. It also means they’re less likely to wander off into pointless English explanations if they know doing so would lose them a stream of income.