Friday, April 11, 2014

Ups and Downs

My Cantonese progress, like most things in life, is full of ups and downs.

Some days I feel eager to talk with my security guards or convenience store clerks or anyone who will listen.  Other days, words whizz past me, slipping through my fingers as I desperately try to catch at least one of them.  Some weeks I study at home, watch Canto video clips on Youtube, try to practice with coworkers and friends, and write down questions to ask my teacher.  Other weeks, my brain feels like a cold turnip cake, tired, squishy, and useless.  I usually do nothing then.

Today was a good day, as you might have guessed.  Usually if it's a bad day I can't muster up enough enthusiasm to create a post; if I'm feeling good I'll want to keep going, whether that be studying, watching a Canto video or writing a blog post.

This evening I took the ding1 ding1 (tram/trolley) down to Central for a language exchange meet-up.  I've been going to for several months, and they're pretty fun. They run about two hours.  I practice with one partner at first, and we switch after an hour.  For a half an hour we practice English and for the other half an hour, Cantonese.  After it's over, there's an optional dinner at a nearby restaurant.

Tonight was a good night.  My partners spoke slowly (in general) and were pretty good about explaining new words to me.  I learned a lot of good ones, like yao5 si4, sometimes.  So useful, la!  Then at dinner I was able to talk with more people, having actual conversations!  Of course I made so many mistakes, but the communication was fun, so that's key.

It's funny how much of a difference the other person makes.  On the listening end, I feel defeated if I can't catch anything they're saying.  I swear some people are practicing to be auctioneers.  I've been told by a lot of people that Americans speak more quickly than other English-speakers.  That may be true, but if that's the case I think Hong Kongers are the Americans of Asia.  Wah, they speak so quickly!  I think some people just aren't able to speak slowly.  Even after I ask them to slow down, they'll just repeat what they said at the same speed!  Aiya!

And then there's the vocabulary side.  If we're speaking about some topics, I know a lot of words.  Despite my mistakes, the communication is fun and natural.  I can even throw in some slang words or phrases I've learned.  But then other times we'll be talking about something, and I feel like I don't understand every other word and have to keep looking them up.  And then I don't know how to express myself, so it's a cycle.  A slow and frustrating cycle.

Even week to week my mood can vary.  On good weeks, when I watch videos or read blog posts by other language learners, I feel inspired.  It makes me want to keep going and gives me new study ideas.  On bad weeks, I feel like a failure.  Why am I not putting in as much study time as they are?  Why am I not seeing as much success even though I've been studying longer?  Why don't I know how to say "short"?

I've come to accept the ups and downs; they're part of life.  I think I've settled on a fairly good system of relaxed learning.  Some weeks I work hard and other weeks I slack off, but it evens out in the end.  Maybe I won't learn as quickly as some others, but I can still enjoy the process as well as keep up other activities outside of language learning.  I'll just learn yut1 bou6 yut1 bou6, step by step.

I'll get there some day.