Options for Cantonese study in the SF Bay Area
September 3, 2014 5:21 PM   Subscribe

I'm working on a project that would benefit from Cantonese speaking skills. Luckily, I live in the SF Bay Area, where there are a couple college-level classes, and lots of native speakers. Unluckily, the class I'm enrolled in is terrible. What are my other options for Cantonese language learning in the Bay Area, or online, or even just via self-study? And, if you have any experience with self-study, what worked best?

TL;DR at the bottom if you prefer to skip the rant!

I registered for beginning Cantonese through the Peralta system. The class is a late-start class (we met for the first time yesterday, even though the regular semester began in mid-September), and it turns out the teacher is not very good, and the majority of students in the class seem to be Cantonese speakers, about half of whom are immigrants from mainland China (really) and are ostensibly enrolled to better their writing skills, though the prof tacitly admitted that many are enrolled for an easy A. The teacher translates his English remarks into Cantonese for students whose Cantonese is better than their English. No kidding. A couple of the heritage speakers confided that they're worried about the learning environment too. Okay, I thought, I'll study from the textbook like crazy. No dice; the textbook is a handwritten, spiral-bound Kinko's text developed by the prof, and the information is hard to parse (though I'm familiar with the basics already, which helps). It's a late start class, so even if I drop it, the only other Cantonese class I'd been able to find when I was first researching this, at City College of SF, is already two weeks underway. (It would've been tough to fit with my work schedule and involved a more expensive 1hr+ commute each way, plus the prof got equally dicey reviews.) I'm absolutely open to any other classes available, but I've only been able to find Mandarin classes and Saturday school classes aimed at Chinese-American secondary school students.

I'm not optimistic about this class; it already seems like the opposite of inspiring, and though academic credit would be valuable, actual speaking skills are what I'm after... I fished around among friends-of-friends on Facebook a few weeks ago, but wasn't able to find any Cantonese speakers who had experience teaching/tutoring the language. In the meanwhile, I've been studying the Pimsleur audio CDs and am moving slowly but enjoying it. In light of yesterday's class, I'm inclined to move to a somewhat more rigorous self-study program and find a language exchange. Help me figure out my options!

What are my options for Cantonese study in the Bay Area, especially in the East Bay?
Good self-study textbooks? (Can include characters or only pinyin.)
Do you have private tutor or small class recommendations?
Do you know of language exchanges in the East Bay?
If you've studied Cantonese, what worked for you? I'd love any advice you have, even if it's not directly relevant to my situation!
posted by tapir-whorf to Education (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Oakland Chinatown has a language and culture school. I'd go THERE!

Shoong Family Cultural Center.

It's right by the Lake Merritt BART station!

It's kid oriented, but they may have classes for adults too. If nothing else, you may find a good tutor there.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:26 PM on September 3, 2014

I am not from the Bay Area, so I can't help you on that front, but my two cents:

I'm not sure what you mean by already having the basics down, but if you already know Mandarin, depending on your level, watching films can be helpful. Watch the films in Cantonese with Chinese subtitles. If watching new films are too hard, watch films that you are already familiar with in English or Mandarin dubbed in Cantonese. Or, watch cartoons (I love Doraemon, but there's a Cantonese version of pretty much everything) because the language there will typically be at a lower level. Keep track of words you are unsure of and look them up later, and then watch the film or TV show again.

Because you seem to want to improve your speaking skills and not necessarily writing or reading skills, I don't think that using a book would be as helpful as film, TV, radio, and language exchange might, particularly for Cantonese. Cantonese is so informal and littered with idioms that learning it by the book can make your language sound very... stiff to native speakers.

Cantonese is hard even for native Mandarin speakers, especially if they don't speak any other dialect. If your project has any flexibility, I think that learning Mandarin is not only easier, but also way more useful in the grand scheme of things. Good luck!
posted by gemutlichkeit at 6:13 PM on September 3, 2014

My wife works for Berlitz Language Schools on the East Coast. Their programs seem to work, and they have options ranging from online to very expensive 1 on 1 fully immersive learning that can get you fluent in 6 months.
posted by COD at 6:34 PM on September 3, 2014

I'm also not in the Bay Area, but if you just want to improve your conversation skills, you can do what I did and find a Saturday Chinese school (you know, the ones that Chinese-Americans send their kids to so they can learn about their heritage and language). They usually have adult classes focused on conversation, mostly attended by the non-Chinese parent of the child.
posted by chainsofreedom at 8:22 AM on September 4, 2014

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