Firstly, all the usual assumptions apply to this post.
Now, to business.
A very long time ago, I posted about tone mapping patterns between Cantonese and Mandarin.
For about the first 6 months of learning Mandarin, I would work out the Mandarin tone of a character from its Cantonese tone.
However, it meant that I spent forever trying to piece a sentence together when speaking.
When I went to Taiwan last week, I got taught some Taiwanese by the friend I went with. I could piece together simple sentences after a couple of days (such as ‘I need to go to the bathroom’, ‘let’s go and eat’).
The key point was that I could get the tones correctly pretty quickly, without having any idea of the tone mapping patterns between Taiwanese and Cantonese or Taiwanese and Mandarin. I can still remember a lot of the things she taught me a few days later.
Therefore, I think that whilst it’s useful to be aware that tone mapping patterns exist, they are not very useful for actually speaking your second Chinese language, in part because of the large number of exceptions. What you should be focusing on is the actual sound of complete words in the language you’re learning.
Don’t learn 學/hok6 > 學/xue2.
Learn 學校/hokhaau > 學校 xuexiao.
Don’t learn 屎/si2 > 屎/shi3.
Learn 屎窟/sifat > 屁股/pigu, and 屙屎/osi > 拉屎/lashi.
Don’t learn 心/sam1 > 心/xin1.
Learn 開心/hoisam > 開心/kaixin, 傷心/soengsam > 傷心/shangxin, and watdat > 惡心/exin.
Note: I am aware that this is very difficult to describe well through the medium of a blog. The point is not that you should ignore tones altogether.
The point is that you should forget that ‘Cantonese tone 2 tends to map to Mandarin tone 3’, and jump straight to focusing on the actual sound of the words in each language.
Secondly, don’t focus too much on single characters: focus on complete words.
If anything’s still unclear, drop me a comment. 🙂
Other relevant information about learning Taiwanese: we didn’t write anything down, and we used a mixture or Mandarin, Cantonese and pointing as the medium of instruction. However, we did record summaries of some of the stuff that was taught. In other words, we did it in basically the same way that I have been learning Cantonese.