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Lesson Transcript

Nicole: Hi everyone, I’m Nicole!
Matt: Matthew here! And welcome back to CantoneseClass101.com. Today’s class, Top 5 Mistakes to Avoid. In this lesson, you will learn five of the most common mistakes people often make when learning Cantonese. But before we get to the phrases… Let’s cut to the chase…
Nicole: We’ll give you the top five mistakes not to make, and then go into more detail a little later.
Matt: The top five mistakes you don’t want to make are…
Nicole: Incorrect word order when forming questions.
Matt: Mixing up the past tense particles 咗 (zo2) and 過 (gwo3).
Nicole: Mixing up the negators 唔 (m4) and 冇 (mou5).
Matt: Using too many words in an attempt to be polite.
Nicole: Obsessing about having a standard accent instead of just speaking.
Matt: Now, don’t be scared by these mistakes, we don’t want you guys to get all gun shy or anything.
Nicole: No, these mistakes are not the biggest deal.
Matt: Today, we’ll just give you a heads up so you can be aware, and it will make things a lot easier for you to know these few tips.
Nicole: Mistake one - word order. In questions, put the question word first.
Matt: For example…
Nicole: 我本書喺邊?(ngo5 bun2 syu1 hai2 bin1) “Where is my book?” is said incorrectly as 喺邊我本書? (hai2 bin1 ngo5 bun2 syu1)
Matt: So this mistake arises from using what I like to call "cantlish."
Nicole: What is that?!
Matt: "Cantlish" is the Cantonese learner’s equivalent to "Chinglish." You are using English word order with Cantonese words.
Nicole: Now, I get it.
Matt: So let’s do a little Cantlish analysis. "Where is my book?" In English, the "where" or other question word comes at the front of the sentence. What about Cantonese?
Nicole: Nope, not in Cantonese. In Cantonese, the question word comes at the end.
Matt: So in English, that word order would sound like "My book is where?"
Matt: "My book”...
Nicole: 我本書 (ngo5 bun2 syu1)
Matt: "is”...
Nicole: 喺 (hai2)
Matt: "where”...
Nicole: 邊 (bin1)
Matt: "My book is where?"
Nicole: 我本書喺邊? Now that’s the correct Cantonese sentence of asking “Where is my book?”
Matt: Nicole, can you give us a few more examples so we get it down?
Nicole: Sure. Let’s use one with 邊個 (bin1 go3).
Matt: …which is the word for "who." So here’s one in English. "Who is she?"
Nicole: Let me ask you a question first. What do you think will the correct order in Cantonese?
Matt: Well using my English to Cantonese conversion methodology, I would say…"She is who?"
Nicole: That’s right 佢係邊個? (keoi5 hai6 bin1 go3)
Matt: "She”...
Nicole: 佢 (keoi5)
Matt: "is”...
Nicole: 係 (hai6)
Matt: "who”...
Nicole: 邊個 (bin1 go3)
Matt: "She is who?"
Nicolet 佢係邊個? (keoi5 hai6 bin1 go3)
Matt: Perfect. Very easy. Just put the question word at the end rather than the beginning. "She is who?" (Ta shi shei?)
Nicolet 佢係邊個? (keoi5 hai6 bin1 go3)
Matt: Now, let’s try one with "what."
Nicole: The word for "what" in Cantonese is 咩 (me1).
Matt: The sheep sound.
Nicole: I hate to agree, but yes. 咩 (me1).
Matt: Okay, so let’s say our question is "What are you eating?"
Nicole: Let’s flip it to Cantonese-English first.
Matt: So that would sound like "You are eating what?"
Nicole: Exactly, 你食緊咩呀? (nei5 sik6 gan2 me1 aa3)
Matt: "You”...
Nicole: 你 (nei5)
Matt: "are eating”...
Nicole: 食緊 (sik6 gan2)
Matt: "what”...
Nicole: 咩呀 (me1 aa3)
Matt: "You are eating what?"
Nicole: 你食緊咩呀? (nei5 sik6 gan2 me1 aa3)
Matt: I noticed that you added something on there. What is that "ah" in the end?
Nicole: That's the magic particle that makes your speech sound really Cantonese-y.
Matt: So I simply put 呀 (aa3) at the end of every sentence?
Nicole: I wouldn't say every sentence, but most of them. It doesn't mean anything, it's just a sign saying "I’m a Cantonese."
Matt: OK. Very good to know. Can we hear the sentence one more time? "You eating what?"
Nicole: 你食緊咩呀? (nei5 sik6 gan2 me1 aa3?)
Matt: And the answer would be, cockroaches, ants, and smelly-tofu. Right?
Nicole: No. The answer would be dim sum, sweet sour chicken, and shrimp dumplings.
Matt: Of course, Cantonese don’t eat scary food at all.
Nicole: Well…just remember, put the question word first, and sometimes "ah" in the end.
Matt: Okay. Easy enough.
Nicole: Now let’s move on to common mistake number two.
Matt: The great thing about Cantonese is that there is no verb tense, conjugation, etc. However, there are two little words that show us that an action took place in the past, sometimes.
Nicole: Right, these little words are particles that will often come after a verb, and in the case we are talking about, it shows that something happened before.
Matt: So it shows that an action took place already, in the past. What are the particles?
Nicole: They are 咗 (zo2) and 過 (gwo3).
Matt: And it’s really common for people to get these mixed up.
Nicole: Yes, they both indicate past tense; it’s true.
Matt: However, here is the difference!
Nicole: 咗 (zo2) shows an action is complete.
Matt: Similar to the English "-ed" that comes after a verb when an action is done.
Nicole: For example, 我去咗 (ngo5 heoi3 zo2).
Matt: It means "I went."
Nicole: 我 (ngo5)
Matt: "I”...
Nicole: 去 (heoi3)
Matt: "go”...
Nicole: 咗 (zo2)
Matt: When you add this particle on, it changes the “go” to “went”.
Nicole: Right, 我去咗 (ngo5 heoi3 zo2). However, if you say, 我去過 (ngo5 heoi3 gwo3)…
Matt: …"I have been there before."
Nicole: Yes. 我 (ngo5)
Matt: "I”...
Nicole: 去 (heoi3)
Matt: "go”...
Nicole: 過 (gwo3)
Matt: The 過 (gwo3) particle changes it to “been”. So “I’ve been before”.
Nicole: It shows an experience that you’ve had before in the past. That’s a simple explanation.
Matt: So let’s take a look at the two particles individually.
Nicole: 咗 (zo2)...
Matt: … would change “go” to “went”.
Nicole: 過 (gwo3)...
Matt: … would change “go” to “been”.
Nicole: Yeah. One is an action that you’ve completed, and the other is an experience that you’ve had before in the past. That’s a simple explanation.
Matt: That's right, we’re not giving you every possible exception or situation here; however, if you keep that in mind, it will get you on the right track and help you avoid this mistake.
Nicole: That’s correct. Now, mistake number three!
Matt: In Cantonese, there are two ways to negate a verb.
Nicole: One is 唔 (m4), the other is 冇 (mou5).
Matt: And it’s really confusing sometimes to know when to use which one.
Nicole: One is 唔 (m4), the other is 冇 (mou5). We will put the 唔 (m4) or 冇 (mou5) in front of the verb to show it is negative. Now, of course, there are exceptions, but we will give you a little hint that will help you get it straight.
Matt: Yes, basically, 唔 (m4) negates action verbs in the present, future, or when talking about habitual things.
Nicole: Yes, so for example...
Matt: "I don’t eat something." So like when you invite me over for chicken feet, I usually say…
Nicole: 我唔食 (ngo5 m4 sik6) chicken feet.
Matt: Which means “I don’t eat chicken feet”.
Nicole: Exactly.
Nicole: Now 冇 (mou5) can also negate verbs, but it negates verbs in the past tense.
Matt: For example, when you describe an action that either did not happen, or is not yet complete.
Nicole: There are actually a couple other instances you can use 冇 (mou5) to negate, but we’ll keep it simple for now.
Matt: Okay, so if "I don’t eat" is…
Nicole: 我唔食 (ngo5 m4 sik6)
Nicole: 我 (ngo5)
Matt: “I”
Nicole: 唔 (m4)
Matt: “don’t”
Nicole: 食 (sik6)
Matt: “eat”
Nicole: Yes, “I don’t eat” (chicken feet).
Matt: Can we make the same sentence but with the other particle?
Nicole: Yeah, 我冇食 (ngo5 mou5 sik6).
Matt: But the difference here is that when you use 冇 (mou5) it means that you are negating the action in the past.
Nicole: Yeah, like “I didn’t do something”.
Matt: So after I went to your house, someone might ask, did you eat Nicole’s special secret recipe chicken feet? And I would say…
Nicole: 我冇食 (ngo5 mou5 sik6)!
Matt: “I didn’t eat!”
Nicole: 我 (ngo5)
Matt: “I”
Nicole: 冇 (mou5)
Matt: “didn’t”
Nicole: 食 (sik6)
Matt: “eat”
Nicole: 我冇食 (ngo5 mou5 sik6)!
Matt: “I didn’t eat”.
Matt: And maybe a couple times more to indicate my innocent-ness.
Nicole: 我冇食我冇食我冇食呀 (ngo5 mou5 sik6 ngo5 mou5 sik6 ngo5 mou5 sik6 aa3)!
Matt: And don’t forget to add the 呀 (aa3) in the end…
Nicole: Yes, showing that you’re a native Cantonese.
Matt: That loves eating chicken feet, of course.
Nicole: Because they're great. You should really try them, Matt.
Matt: Hmm, maybe next year.
Nicole: Here is another example. I’ll say the Cantonese and you answer with the English, OK?
Matt: Alright.
Nicole: Now Matt, the other scenario is you went to KTV, but 我冇唱 (ngo5 mou5 coeng3).
Matt: "I didn’t sing." Yes, but that would never happen.
Nicole: True!
Matt: Okay, okay, all these hard things. Now we’re going to give you an easy mistake to not make! In fact, following this guideline you will make your life way easier!
Nicole: Mistake number four – Using too many words.
Matt: Now we know you have good intentions. A lot of Cantonese learners, in an attempt to translate what is polite in their own language, will make a mess of a sentence in Cantonese.
Nicole: That’s true; we Cantonese say things a lot more direct.
Matt: So, I remember when I first started speaking Cantonese. I was the worst; I was always trying to be so polite, with beating around the bush, trying to find places to add superfluously pleases and stuff. In Cantonese, it’s just not necessary!
Nicole: Sometimes less is more for Cantonese.
Matt: For example, think about how a beginner Cantonese student of English will speak. Most of us know… something like "You go store." Now…WHY are they saying "You go store?"
Nicole: 你去士多 (nei5 heoi3 si6 do1).
Matt: Which literally translated as...
Nicole: 你 (nei5).
Matt: “You”
Nicole: 去 (heoi3).
Matt: “go”
Nicole: 士多 (si6 do1).
Matt: “store”
Nicole: Yeah. It’s a lot easier in Cantonese. We use a little to say a lot more!
Matt: "You go store." Not "I’m sorry, would you mind please going to the store for me?" Do not try to say that in Cantonese.
Nicole: That's right. we will probably get really confused if you try to directly translate that to Cantonese.
Matt: That's right. A problem a lot of westerners have is that they feel strange being so concise… it would feel rude to say that in English.
Nicole: But in Cantonese, it is okay. It doesn’t sound rude actually. We just use less words.
Matt: Right, just say it like it is. Just like my neighbors who would tell me from time to time "Matt, you look fat."
Nicole: I mentioned we are direct!
Matt: Okay, this brings us to common mistake number five.
Nicole: Mistake number five...
Matt: Now the truth is that the only way you are going to get a standard accent or get better tones is by speaking.
Nicole: Right, and don’t worry. Usually, even if you get a tone wrong, Cantonese people can guess what you are saying, especially when there is context.
Matt: And if they can’t understand, well there is always charades. But the point is, you just need to get it out there and practice. Use the words you know. Engage in conversation. Then you will start to correct yourself, and your ear will get tuned.
Nicole: And Cantonese people love it when you try, so they will be very very encouraging, for sure.
Matt: So the only remedy for this mistake is to not be too self-conscious.
Nicole: It can be hard.
Matt: But remember, learning a language is good for you. Keeps you humble.
Nicole: Agreed.
Matt: So there you go. Mistake free now…hopefully!
Nicole: Right, and those are the top five mistakes to avoid. That should get you on the right track!