Lesson Notes

Unlock In-Depth Explanations & Exclusive Takeaways with Printable Lesson Notes

Unlock Lesson Notes and Transcripts for every single lesson. Sign Up for a Free Lifetime Account and Get 7 Days of Premium Access.

Or sign up using Facebook
Already a Member?

Lesson Transcript

Matt: Welcome back to CantoneseClass101.
Nicole: 大家好 (daai6 gaa1 hou2).
Matt: And welcome to this episode of ‘All About Cantonese’. Today we’re going to share our take on Cantonese pronunciation with you.
Nicole: Cantonese is like music.
Matt: That’s right, I agree, like a beautiful song, and you just have to get the tune into your head, then you’ll be set!
Nicole: Cantonese of course is a tonal language, and today we’ll help you get a good foundation in it.
Matt: From experience, one of the best ways that I found to get Cantonese pronunciation down pat is to listen and repeat, listen and repeat.
Nicole: Yes, just copy the sounds a native speaker makes, like me!
Matt: And yes, just like that annoying song that you can’t get out of your head, one day Cantonese too will get stuck in your head, but then you’ll be set for life.
Nicole: But I’m not annoying… so make sure you repeat all the sounds I make today. That will get you on the road to speaking Cantonese.
Matt: Yep! So first, learning about Cantonese words is going to help make things clearer.
Nicole: Yes, let’s break down Cantonese words.
Matt: I mean, i look at a Cantonese character and i see squiggles and lines and like it goes all blurry. What are Cantonese words are made up of?
Nicole: Well, each Cantonese character can be said to be a syllable.
Matt: These syllables or characters can be a stand-alone word, or they can be grouped together to make compound words.
Nicole: Each syllable, or character, in Cantonese is made up of an initial and a final sound.
Matt: These initials and final sounds can be combined to make up too over 600 unique word sounds in Cantonese. Since there are only 600 or so individual possible word sounds in Cantonese, there are a lot of homophones… and the context or the written character will tell you which word is being used.
Nicole: Now, there is something to help us learn the pronunciation of Cantonese. It is a phonetic system called ‘jyutping’.
Matt: jyutping uses romanized letters to represent the sounds of Cantonese.
Nicole: Some of the letters used to represent the sounds of Cantonese are similar in pronunciation to their English counterparts.
Matt: However there are some differences.
Nicole: You definitely can’t read jyutping like you would in English.
Matt: Yes, but now, this asks the question, where do we learn the proper pronunciations for the jyutping?
Nicole: Well, the best place is with a native speaker.
Matt: That’s right, I learned myself by reading along with a native speaker.
Nicole: The best thing is, you can have your own native speaker, anytime, anywhere if you download the audios from CantoneseClass101.com. Please make sure to repeat after the audio yourself, imitating the sound.
Matt: Yes, you can even record yourself, to see just how you sound.
Nicole: One more thing about Jyutping, is that it actually includes tones.
Matt: Yes, But the good news is, tones are written using the tone number instead of drawing curves.
Nicole: That’s right. Now, the tones!
Matt: Yes! The dreaded 6 tones! Actually, there is nothing to fear. Tones are really one of the most beautiful things about Cantonese.
Nicole: That’s correct. And there are only 6!
Matt: Yes, only!! I mean it could be worse, there could be 12 or something.
Nicole: Exactly.
Matt: But we shouldn’t false advertise here, Nicole. On top of those 6, well, there are three more sort of ‘non-tone’s.
Nicole: Yes, those are the entering tones.
Matt: And we don't need to worry about them.
Nicole: That’s right, because they don't really exist.
Matt: Let’s start with the six tones.
Nicole: OK.
Matt: The 1st tone is high and flat. High and steady:
Nicole: si1.
Matt: See, it’s so easy!
Nicole: That’s right. This is the highest tone.
Matt: Let's hear it one more time.
Nicole: si1.
Matt: That’s really really high. Can we have more examples of this tone?
Nicole: fen1, ba1.
Matt: Okay, these are also high.
Nicole: Yeah, high and flat. It is easy. A good start!
Matt: Yes. The second tone is a rising tone, we call it the Mid Rising tone, because it starts from the middle of your range.
Nicole: si2 - it’s a little bit lower than the first one. It sounds like the intonation we use in English when we ask a question.
Matt: Like when we say ‘huh?’ or "see?"
Nicole: Exactly. si2.
Matt: Sounds completely like the English question "see?"
Nicole: I told you.
Matt: Can we have more examples?
Nicole: Sure, fen2 ba2, just like raising questions.
Matt: Let's hear the first and the second together.
Nicole: si1 si2, fen1 fen2, ba1 ba2.
Matt: Nice. Two tones down! The First one is high flat, and the second one mid-rising. What's the third one, Nicole?
Nicole:The third one is also flat and steady like the first, only lower: si3.
Matt: So it's a flat tone again, only lower. Easy! Okay. Let's hear the third tone again.
Nicole: si3.
Matt: Now can we hear 1 and 3 together for comparison?
Nicole: si1, si3.
Matt: Both of these are flat and steady. How about 1, 2, and 3 altogether?
Nicole: si1 si2 si3.
Matt: Sounds a little bit like music.
Nicole: Yes it does…Now the fourth tone. This one is great fun. Also a flat tone. But it's the lowest pitch: si4.
Matt: One more time?
Nicole: si4.
Matt: And one more time?
Nicole: Now you are playing with me.
Matt: No I'm not. I just really want to give our listeners a clear idea of how low it is… (in low voice) it can be really low…
Nicole:(in low voice) Good job...
Matt: So the fourth tone is really low. You can feel your throat vibrating when you say it.
Nicole: Yeah, we have more examples like si4, fen4, ba4...
Matt: Alright, so that is four tones. Let's make sure we get them before we move on. Let's practice all the flat tones together, 1,3,and 4, high, middle, and low.
Nicole: si1 si3 si4.
Matt: One more time?
Nicole: si1 si3 si4.
Matt: Now let's add some rising flavor to our song here by adding the second tone.
Nicole: si1 si2 si3 si4.
Matt: And one more time?
Nicole: si1 si2 si3 si4.
Matt: Alright, so we have learnt 4 tones now.
Nicole: That’s correct. 1 3 and 4 are flat tones. the 2nd tone is rising, and starts from the middle of our voice.
Matt: This is easier than I thought.
Nicole: This is the moment where I should say "I told you, CantoneseClass101 is the fastest, easiest, and most fun way to learn Cantonese".
Matt: Awesome.
Nicole: Yes! Now a quick quiz. I will say a tone, and you have to tell me which tone it is.
Matt: Ok. And our listeners can play along as well.
Nicole: That’s correct! si1.
Matt: It's flat. And it's high that it’s gotta be the first tone!
Nicole: That's correct! Now the next one, si4.
Matt: I can hear your throat vibrating, Nicole. so it must be a 4th tone.
Nicole: Good job! That was easy. Next one, si2.
Matt: Were you saying the tone or asking a question?
Nicole: No questions on the quiz, Matt.
Matt: OK Fine. So that was a rising question tone. Then it must be the second tone.
Nicole: The last one, si1.
Matt: Only one left, right? It’s gotta be 3.
Nicole: Opps. Wrong answer. It was si1, high and flat, so apparently the 1st tone.
Matt: Alright, you got me there, but I hope everyone else got it right. Now can I hear the 1st and 3rd tone together so I can tell the difference?
Nicole: Yes you can. si1 si3.
Matt: Okay. Now we are ready to move on to the 5th tone.
Nicole: Right. The 5th tone is low rising. si5 It starts low and rises.
Matt: So it's like the 2nd tone only a lot lower.
Nicole: That’s correct. si5, fen5, ba5.
Matt: Let's hear the two rising tones together, 2 and 5.
Nicole: si2, si5.
Matt: 2 being pronounced high, and 5 being pronounced lower. Can we have more examples for our listeners?
Nicole: fen2, fen5, ba2, ba5.
Matt: okay, now we want to hear the 4th and 5th, the lowest tone, and the low rising tone.
Nicole: si4, si5, or fen4, fen5.
Matt: So the 5th starts about where the 4th ends.
Nicole: Exactly. That's what makes good music. It's smoooooth.
Matt: Great. Now let's hear 5 tones together before we move on the the final one.
Nicole: si1 si2 si3 si4 si5.
Matt: You can hear the flow in here, from high to low and then rise up a bit. Okay, now on to the final tone!
Nicole: Yes, the 6th tone, it starts somewhere between the lowest and the middle: si6.
Matt: Another flat tone. Good news! One more time?
Nicole: si6, fen6, ba6.
Mattt: So I'm guessing this one starts from where tone 5 ends, right? That's how the music works.
Nicole: Very close, very close. It starts a bit lower.
Matt: This is kinda confusing. Why do the Cantonese have to change it right when we start to get into a pattern.
Nicole: Artistic license.
Matt: OK Fine. So to conclude. We have our four flat tones, and our two rising tones.
Nicole: Right. Let's listen to the four FLAT tones. Si1.
Matt: tone 1 - high and flat
Nicole: si3
Matt: tone 3 - mid and flat
Nicole: si4
Matt: tone 4 - really low and flat
Nicole: si6
Matt: tone 6 - not-so-low and flat.
Nicole: Ok Now I will say the rising tones.
Matt: Go for it.
Nicole: si2
Matt: tone 2 - High rising question
Nicole: si5
Matt: tone 5 - Mid rising question
Nicole: Yes.
Matt: So that's it. The six tones. Can you give us a quick review, Nicole?
Nicole: Sure, I will say the six tones in a row, so you can hear the difference. Do you want me to say it real quick?
Matt: Yeah let’s hear it real quick.
Nicole: si1 si2 si3 si4 si5 si6. That’s too quick. si1 si2 si3 si4 si5 si6. I’m playing with the tones.
Matt: Now we’re all practically singing here, don’t forget to listen and repeat what Nicole says, this will help really get your brain wrapped around the sounds.
Nicole: Yes. si1 si2 si3 si4 si5 si6.
Matt: Okay, one last thing, Nicole. I've heard people say there are 9 tones. What's all this about?
Nicole: They are lying.
Matt: My teachers were lying?
Nicole: Oh Yes. Only in CantoneseClass101 we don't lie.
Matt: So there are no 3 extra tones?
Nicole: Not really. Well Ok. There are three tones known as Entering Tones: Entering high-flat, entering mid-flat, entering low-flat.
Matt: So how do these entering tones sound then?
Nicole: sik1, sek3, sik6.
Matt: Then why would they be called entering tones?
Nicole: Well remember we talked about that Cantonese syllables have initials and finals?
Matt: Not really. But go ahead.
Nicole: Well, any final that ends with -p, -t, -k is regarded as an Entering Tone.
Matt: Then what exactly has been entered here?
Nicole: That's the silent -p, -t, -k. I’m spitting to the microphone
Matt: so you don't pronounce them in a syllable?
Nicole: No you don’t. But your way of saying the word will be inflected.
Matt: Can you give us some examples of words that use the entering tones?
Nicole: Sure. sik1, sek3, sik6. There were supposed to be siK1, seK3, siK6, however we don’t pronounce the ending -k. That’s why they are sik1, sek3, sik6.
Matt: so these are the same tones we just learned?
Nicole: Yes.
Matt: just with a new name, because they end with a special sound?
Nicole: Yeah, kinda like glottal.
Matt: Can we hear a normal tone and entering tone together?
Nicole: sure! si1 sik1.
Matt: So the first one was a normal, and the second one was an entering tone, and they both sound high.
Nicole: Yeah, and si3 sek3.
Matt: That’s the mid level tone of the both normal and the entering.
Nicole: si6 sik6.
Matt: That one’s low, of the normal and the entering.
Nicole: Yes. So you can hear the difference is not on the tone, but the syllable itself.
Matt: that's why you said there are only 6 tones.
Nicole: Exactly!
Matt: OK, phew! Done! So this lesson wasn’t as fun as the ‘Top 5 Foods for the Brave’, however, it is necessary.
Nicole: It’s going to help you a lot.
Matt: Plus, you can’t just eat Cantonese food all the time.
Nicole: Well, I think you can.
Matt: OK maybe I can. But if you don’t learn the tones, you’re not going to be able to order it!
Nicole: Oh, that’s right!
Matt: Now remember, one of the best ways to get Cantonese pronunciation down is to listen and repeat, listen and repeat. Which is something you can do on CantoneseClass101.com. We have audio files of native speakers, and even a voice recorder for you to see how you sound in comparison.
Nicole: So we’ll see you at the website!
Matt: See you there!
Nicole: Bye!