Spoken Cantonese or Colloquial Cantonese has its own grammar and vocabulary. Many of us who have learnt to speak it at home, but not formally in class, would have internalized the grammar from exposure from an early age . Yet when asked to explain or describe the rules, it becomes hard as this knowledge is not acquired by conscious study or instruction, and comes instinctively.
This is a different experience from those who are learning Cantonese from scratch later in life, as a foreign language, and they often require explicit instruction and would have learnt Cantonese with proper grammar, and even how to write Spoken Cantonese or Colloquial Cantonese, which is different from writing Standard Cantonese or Standard Chinese that is taught in Hong Kong schools. To this end, there are books and courses to teach this.
I would consider How to Study Cantonese 粵塾 as one of the most comprehensive free learning Colloquial Cantonese resources. It is perfect for English speakers, being designed with expatriates and overseas Hong Kongers in mind. The lessons are systematic and professional and would suit those who learns a language by understanding the framework of each language, and building on it.
Extensive Grammar Coverage
The website really goes into a lot a of detail about grammar, syntax, sentence structures. And by alot, I mean alot alot alot…There are many examples of ways of usage, example sentences, and each sentence is broken down into parts of speech e.g. subject/ predicate/object/ particle. And each sentence comes with an audio recorded by a native speaker.
Take the lesson on 吓 [haa5] for example. “吓[haa5] is a predicative suffix（謂詞詞尾）that indicates an action has been done for a very short period of time, to a small extent or in a low frequency. It is commonly used in imperative sentence（祈使句）and interrogative sentence（疑問句）to downplay the suggestion or the question.” They show 5 different usages of the word, and over 10 example sentences.
The foundations for the lessons are from two defining Cantonese grammar pieces, 粵語語法講義（鄧思穎，2015）and 香港粤語語法的研究（張洪年，2007）and other academic journals.
Do not be intimidated by all the technical grammar terms. The advantage of having some much information at your disposal is that you can pick what is relevant for you, and choose how to use it. Here are some ways
- Systematically go through each lesson to learn Cantonese, and see where the gaps are in your knowledge
- Use it as a reference and look up words or sentence patterns you are unsure about
- Pick some lessons from the content page that you are interested in, and practice those sentences
- Listen to audio to improve your Cantonese pronunciation
- Use the lessons for ideas on how to introduce grammar to your child.
I have been using method No 5 to help my kiddo understand Cantonese since she was only introduced to Cantonese at 5, and has to learn it as a foreign language. I would take a concept and spin sentences and keep repeating it, especially when it is very different in English. Tenses in Cantonese for example are different from English. Say I wish to introduce to my kiddo the concept of Present Continuous Tense. In English, it is adding -ing and in Cantonese it is adding 𡁵 (gan2).
Present Continuous Tense/ Simple Past Tense.
我食𡁵飯。/ 我食咗飯。I am eating/ I ate.
我睇𡁵書。/ 我睇咗書。I am reading/ I read.
我洗𡁵碗。/ 我洗咗碗。I am washing dishes. / I washed the dishes
我刷𡁵牙。/ 我刷咗牙。I am brushing my teeth. / I brushed my teeth
我做𡁵家務。/ 我做咗家務。Iam doing housework./ I did housework.
I would pick a day and concentrate on giving sentence examples of Present Continuous tense. That way, it would introduce her to using 𡁵 to convert an action to Present Continuous tense. Likewise for Simple Past tense, so that she will learn 咗(zo2) .
One things to note is that some of the sentences may bot be appropriate for kids, and may not be politically correct. Hence if you are teaching an older child who might be able to read in English (and Chinese) , you may want to glance at the materials first.
Vocabulary Lessons and Podcast
They are slowly building their podcast library (comes with transcripts and Jyutping) for beginner and intermediate learners, as well as their vocabulary lessons with comics.
Cantonese Leveled Readers
They have developed a number of Leveled Reader Ebooks for sale. They are packed with illsutrations, narrations and are based on a reader leveling system, much like English readers for school kids. The preview looks good with cute illustrations, and you can choose from the four different versions – without romanization, with Jyutping and English, with Yale and English and English only. The audio is recorded by professional native-speaking narrators.
These readers are suited suited for beginner/ intermediate levels, especially for someone whom Cantonese is not their native language.
How it all started
I would wholly recommend How to Study Cantonese 粵塾 regardless of what your preferred method of learning languages is, and your level of Cantonese. It is a rich resource that you can adapt to any situation.