What I realize is that you never know how bad you are at a language until you have to google translate from English to another language to communicate with your parents. It was a little bit of a wake-up call for me, and I took it upon myself to find ways to start re-learning Cantonese.
My heritage is Chinese-Vietnamese, and it’s a rather long explanation but long story short, I grew up speaking Cantonese. I’ve always explained that Cantonese is a dialect of Mandarin since I was 12, but I’m not even sure if it’s accurate. I’ve never been fully fluent in the language like someone from Hong Kong or etc, but I wasn’t particularly bad either (until now-ish I guess).
I’ve never paid attention to how bad or good my Cantonese got, but what made me start paying attention was when I had a conversation with my mom. She said something in Cantonese which I understood completely, but she proceeded to pause and then explain what she said. It was then I realized that every so often (because she doesn’t know if I understood) she’d backtrack to explain a term, worried I didn’t understand or know it. Most of the time I did, and it worried me because it felt like she wasn’t confident in my abilities to speak and understand the language.
I really wanted her to be confident that I’ll understand what she’s saying.
So I’ve started the seemingly impossible task to start re-learning Cantonese. Technically Cantonese was my first language at home, my old school records all day that it is my first language, but curious thing was that I was never put into ESL or had to do anything different (that I remember), weird. Anyways, my main method of learning Cantonese when I was younger was by watching Hong Kong dramas with my mom and also holding long conversations with my family members. I don’t know why I ever stopped doing that, but I do know why I stopped with some HK dramas.
Some storylines got very boring or repetitive to me (same with American TV shows) and I ended up reading English novels more since I couldn’t read simplified or traditional Chinese. Below you’ll find some steps I’m going to take to get better at my native language again.
Steps to Re-Learning Cantonese
- Find and start watching some HK dramas again
- start listening to C-pop (Cantonese pop)
- break out the old Chinese school workbooks (I still have those?)
- Have long conversations with friends and family in Cantonese (if it applies)
- start having my parents avoid explaining terms or words to me unless I ask for a translation
- check out some informative videos on YouTube
I honestly think it’s going to be a long journey to re-learn Cantonese, and it’s not like there’s an app or option to do so (or is there? Let me know!). I don’t know if I’ll try to learn the writing aspect of it either, but I think that’s better left as an option in the future. I have hope though because there are words in my vocabulary that aren’t ones you’d use every day.