Review: FSI Cantonese Course

FSI Cantonese course DSI Cantonese course

If you are a complete beginner, focusing on speaking and listening to Cantonese, FSI offers an entire systematic course for free, hosted on the Live Lingua site (which proudly proclaims 4 Cantonese courses, 33 ebooks and 161 audios.) Do note these are rather dated (over 40 years old), but a useful resource if you are looking for a free program, and learning from scratch. I do appreciate the time and effort spent to digitize it, but if you have access to newer programs, I would recommend going with newer programs, as the audio has been digitized from tapes (yes, cassette tapes) and has a certain level of static, which you may or may not find annoying.  And the ebooks seem quite quaint with the typewriter font. Nonetheless, there has been positive reviews online for many who have used these courses, which is why I am still including it here. Free resources are, after all,  not easy to come by.

Two main available courses:

The FSI (Foreign Service Institute) Basic course (Volume 1 and 2) aims to teach students to speak Cantonese “fluently and grammatically, with acceptable pronunciation, within the scope of topics of daily life,”. The course does not teach the written language and uses a modification of the Yale, ad is quite intuitive for English speakers.  The audio is by native Hong Kong speakers. The entire compressed file can be downloaded from the FSI website or you can preview each file individually at the Live Lingua page.

The course has been discussed in the sheik forum and some posters had made an attempt to provide some Cantonese characters to some chapters of the FSI course, which might be useful of you are planning to use this course.

The DSI (Defense Language Institute) Cantonese Basic Course is designed to train native English language speakers to Level 3 proficiency in comprehension in reading and writing Chinese Cantonese. The DSI Cantonese Refresher Course is designed to maintain and develop the student’s ability in oral fluency as well as reading  and writing Chinese Cantonese. There are also ebooks for military terms and army terms available for download.  The books are clearly scanned, and the audio has quite a bit of static, so may not be your first choice of materials. Also, it looks like the files have to be downloaded individually, which may be quite tedious.

If like me, you are curious about what FSI and DSI stand for, wiki offers the following explanation – “The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) is the United States federal government’s primary training institution for employees of the U.S. foreign affairs community, preparing American diplomats as well as other professionals to advance U.S. foreign affairs interests overseas and in Washington” and “The Defense Language Institute (DLI) is a United States Department of Defense (DoD) educational and research institution … which provide linguistic and cultural instruction to the Department of Defense, other Federal Agencies and numerous customers around the world…. and the bulk of the Defense Language Institute’s activities involve educating DoD members in assigned languages, and international personnel in English.”



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