Basic Cantonese Course - Pronounciation
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Pronounciation

A good pronounciation is extremely important when it comes to learning Cantonese. Many Cantonese words do not just sound very similar, the concept of "tones" also allows one word as it is known from English to have several meanings. Learning those tones properly is therefore not just important so people will understand what you say but mistakes in the beginning are also very hard to erase at a later stage of learning, so putting some extra effort into this in the beginning will definitely pay off.

9 Tones

Cantonese has 9 tones, so even more than Mandarin. Tones allow words as known from Western languages to have different meanings depending on whether they are said with a rising voice, high voice, low voice, etc. For people who have never heard of tones before, a good example might be that in English a rising tone at the end of a sentence makes the sentence a question, a lower tone makes it a normal sentence. Tones in Cantonese somehow work like this - and somehow don't, just having a look at this graphic might make it easier to understand:


This graphic shows 6 of the 9 tones. Tone 1 is a high flat one, tone 3 and 6 are also flat but at middle- and low range respectively. 2 and 5 are rising tones, whereby 2 is rising right up to the top and 5 is just rising to mid-range. 4 is the only tone going down.

Listening to examples might make it even clearer:

aa1
aa2
aa3
aa4
aa5
aa6

These "words" do actually have nothing in common apart from the same romanization which is called Jyutping which will be covered in the next chapter. So where are the missing 3 tones? They do actually differ from the other 6 tones in that they are not so much about the voice going up or down but rather about the ending of the word. Using Jyutping, those tones are words ending with p, t or k and sound like this:

faat1
faat3
faat6

As can be seen, those tones exist mainly as flat tones with high-, middle- and low-range.

There are loads of syllables like aa or faat, the Pronounciation Tool covers all syllables. This will be very helpful in the beginning.

Jyutping

The already mentioned Jyutping is the romanization of Cantonese characters and helps a lot when learning how to pronounce certain characters. And because it is so important, the next section covers everything needed to be known about that subject.

Final Tips

Finally, beginners with no experience at all are strongly encouraged to either find Cantonese speaking friends or take classes. As mentioned above, mistakes made in the early stage of learning Cantonese, especially concerning pronounciation, are very hard to erase later on, so make sure somebody checks your pronounciation and gives you feedback on how to improve - 1 or 2 hours a month 1 on 1 are often enough, just learning it yourself is possible of course but very difficult.

Furthermore have a look at the Pronounciation Tool, that might help a lot especially in the beginning.