I cannot say I am 100% fluent in both Mandarin and Cantonese (in fact, I can’t say I’m 100% fluent in English either, I have no way to gauge where my fluency is), but I can vouch that I am pretty well adept at all three languages to a certain degree. I find it often that I would want to help people native to one of those three languages learn another one since I have the ability to, why not? (Maybe I should start charging… but who’s to say I have the qualifications to do that? I’m just being a good Samaritan, a cultural ambassador to an extent, and an interpreter to a degree). There were a couple of friends I had from Mainland China who were not Cantonese. One of them however did know Cantonese to a small certain degree. Now, naturally their native language was definitely not English and Mandarin was their native (or one of) their native languages. In teaching them some bits and pieces of English, I learned several things about Cantonese and Mandarin that I didn’t know before, aside from the obvious fact that my Mandarin needs improvement, here’s what I learned. Hopefully this comes in hands for you guys reading out there. Oh and yes, this serves as a Cantonese lesson too!
So the first problem I encountered was that in the Mandarin language, the word for “to walk” and the word for “to leave” or “to go” was the exact same character: 走 (M: zou3). So the way that you determine whether or not you’re walking to the store or leaving the store depends on what other words and context surrounds it. Sometimes it doesn’t help at all and it’s left ambiguous. No, the language still works, in English there are things that are left ambiguous and we don’t really notice nor care because it’s not important or you have extra words in context that tell you what’s going on. For example in Cantonese the word 挖 (C: waat6) means “to dig out” but in the sense that you have to exhume it out, has a nasty connotation/image at times, and it’s not digging with a shovel but implied that you use a hand or some other instrument and… yeah anyway.
So now when you go to Cantonese, what’s the difference? The word “to walk” is translated as 行 (C: haang4) while to word for “to leave” or “to go” is 走 (C: jaau2). Teaching someone who’s native in Cantonese or knows Cantonese what “to walk” and “to leave/go” means is MUCH easier as a result than someone who’s solely native in Mandarin. What happens often is that they will run into troubles and mix “to walk” and “to leave” up sometimes while speaking in English. While for these pair of verbs, it’s quite alright, I mean people can understand when you say “I left to the store” and “I walked to the store” have similar albeit different meanings, but what if your words were something else?
Cantonese – English – Mandarin:
整 (jing2) – to make – 做 (zuo4)
做 (jou6) – to do – 做 (zuo4)
Catch my drift here? What if you wanted to say “I am making dinner tonight” and it becomes “I am doing dinner tonight”? Now granted it can be interpreted correctly, but at the same time it also can’t. Depends on who’s on the receiving side listening. Now granted, I bet you if English has such faults and Mandarin has such errors then Cantonese has a couple too; I just can’t think of any right now but if you can think of some be sure to leave that in the comments for us (or me) to discuss and learn upon!
In lighter news, I’m still working on that project… and 中秋節 (Mid-Autumn Festival) is coming up! So if you have anything you guys like to share about it, make sure you leave it in the comments!
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