One of the best ways for expatriates in Hong Kong to experience Chinese culture is through learning Cantonese. Being able to interact with local people in their language provides an opportunity to build relationships that can enrich foreigners' experience of living away from their home country.
'Many expats are interested in learning Cantonese as it enables them to mix with local culture. It makes their daily lives a lot easier in areas such as giving instructions to taxi drivers, ordering food at restaurants and buying produce from the wet markets,' explains Kate Zhou, teacher at Yifan Mandarin (www.yifan-mandarin.com.hk).
With nine tones, a number of new sounds and the local population's enthusiasm for pointing out your mistakes, Cantonese can be difficult for some.
'In Chinese culture, it is normal to point out one's mistake or imperfect pronunciation. We are not very accepting of minor errors and nor are we known for being encouraging. So when Westerners try to speak, they often get laughter and correction. This is very frustrating for learning. But Westerners should know it is a Chinese habit and it is not meant to be mean-spirited,' Zhou explains.
Yifan will be conducting Cantonese courses for the English Speaking Members Department of the YWCA (www.esmdywca.org.hk) during its spring programme. There are two courses suitable for beginners, Living Cantonese Series 1-3 and Cantonese for Beginners.
Living Cantonese comprises six classes and two excursions per series. The excursions include going to the Fa Yuen Street Market in Mong Kok, eating at an old dim sum restaurant in Sheung Wan, tea tasting at a traditional Chinese tea house and visiting Wong Tai Sin Temple.
Classes run for 90 minutes and cost HK$1,120 for members and HK$1,285 for non-members, excluding additional excursion costs. Each series is completed in three weeks.
Cantonese for Beginners focuses on teaching the phonetic system and basic sentence structure. It includes topics such as describing yourself, meeting people, making simple daily conversation with colleagues, negotiating prices, basic language suitable for use on business trips and learning typical Cantonese expressions.
The course comprises 12, 90-minute classes twice a week. Cost is HK$2,280 for members and HK$2,520 for non-members.
The Hong Kong Language Learning Centre (www.hkllc.com) in Wan Chai offers 10-day intensive courses for all levels. Students need to attend two, 50-minute classes per day and can choose between daytime or evening classes. Cost is HK$2,450 including tuition and course materials.
For people looking for a more intensive programme, there is a 10-day, daytime crash course. Classes run from Monday to Friday and students need to attend four, 50-minute classes per day. Cost is HK$4,500 including tuition and course materials. Chinese reading and writing classes are also available, with some basic skills in Cantonese or Putonghua. Students need to attend two, 50-minute classes each day over 10 days, for HK$2,500.