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Tones are key in Cantonese: learn this language skill to avoid some awkward situations

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Learning the subtleties of tones in Cantonese is more important than you think. Luisa Tam teaches you how mastering the pitch contours of the language can help you avoid some awkward situations.

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Date: June 5, 2020

43 thoughts on “Tones are key in Cantonese: learn this language skill to avoid some awkward situations

  1. When I started learning the language, I remember how frustrating the tones were. But now, I hardly think about them and focus more on listening and repeating how I hear it. Funny thing is it makes sense now because when I hear someone not saying it correctly, it feels wrong.

  2. This is a fun video to introduce people to Cantonese; I quite enjoy reading the articles on SCMP too, so hopefully there will be a few more videos to come – how about common foods (or slang words for food)?

  3. Question for anyone who speaks one of these tonal languages: How do things like sarcasm or actually emphasizing a single work ('I said to bred the /red/ one,') work?

  4. Tonal language is not perfect for oral, but is very suitable for print media due to its picturistics. Short messeges in chinese are very concise and rich in meaning. In the future human being will skip oral communication and exchange information via brain wave, just like short messeges. Picturistic language will show its advantage.

  5. I know an idiot

    Every time she heard Cantonese spoken on TV, radio or any social media platform, she would rush to switch it off

    She would only smile when it's in Mandarin

    Thankfully she's not alive anymore

  6. She explains this so well. I understand why some Cantonese speakers also sound so unusual when they speak in English. They associate the tonal with words and not the meaning/context of the sentence. In Western languages we have tones that go lower to express statements, but raise towards the end as a question and we use intonations within a sentence for emphasis and clarity. Just like in Cantonese, you have a word that can have more than one meaning (generally they are spelled differently in Western languages and are dependent upon context as opposed to tone). English has four more consonant sounds I understand now why when individuals immigrate to a western country why the speech patterns sound unusual to westerners and that the emphasis on tone from their native language sometimes sounds like the speaker is raising their voice as opposed to using a speech intonation. This now makes complete sense. It is obvious to everyone that they are vastly different approaches to communication. But for English the whole sentence gives context to a word and not the tone; of course the opposite is true for Asian languages. Some of us really needed to hear the examples slowly in a few different ways to understand this difference. Thank you so much for the explanation.

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