Thursday, April 23, 2009

Studying Cantonese in Hong Kong

Wayne and I never guessed we would ever go to China, in fact I distinctly remember saying that Chinese is one language I would never want to have to learn... and here I am just beginning Cantonese!

For the uninitiated... most of the Chinese world speaks Mandarin, a wonderfully difficult language with four tones, so that if you pronounce a word exactly right but say it in the wrong pitch, you can mean to say a perfectly innocent thing and you actually end up saying something indescribably vile which will cause looks of consternation and shock on the face of your local Chinese friends and shopkeepers.

However, since we are living in Hong Kong, here (as well as in most of the immigrant "Chinatowns" of the world) people speak Cantonese. Which doesn't have four tones. It has nine. So that's what I'm studying twice a week, in the evenings, through the New Asia--Yale-in-China Chinese Language Center (I always did want to be associated with Yale University... and here's my big break!)

I'm studying up for the third session tonight... been taking it just long enough that I should be able to understand a few words when spoken to. Last time the teacher asked me (in Cantonese) if I was an English teacher and I responded that I was an American husband. Hardy har har, everyone just had a fine time with that one.

I and another person about my age are clearly the worst in the class. Part of that may be due to the fact that the others in the class have lived in Hong Kong a longer period of time already, and most know quite a few words of basic objects. I just hear a roar in my ears when the teacher directs a question at me, and for the first time in decades, find myself praying for the school day to be over so that the teacher can't call on me again. sigh.

I take to heart the wise words of the Old Teacher of Ecclesiastes 5:2

Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.

Amen to that.

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