top of page

Once you have the sounds and you can communicate the basics, you will want to expand your vocabulary. Time to practice your mimicry and memory skills!

Lesson 6 asks one simple question 20 times:

你  最  鍾 意 XXX 係 乜 嘢 呀?

nei5 zeoi3 zung1 ji3 XXX hai6 mat1 je5 aa3

What's Your Favourite XXX?

Whether is animals, fruit, colours or MTR stations, whatever the topic, I give you 10 words to learn. Your job is to figure out the most effective way for you to remember those words. At the end, you have 200 words to add to the words and phrases you have learned in the stories, sufficient to communicate in Cantonese in most everyday interactions. So, click on the button to 學 hok6 (learn) 新 san1 (new) 嘢 je5 (stuff):

I have arranged the words in each section by tone as I find this an effective way for early learners to focus on the tones. In any case, you need to know the tone as well as the sound of each word. You might like to colour code the words and you will also need to employ some memory hooks. When you have the sound and the tone, repeat, repeat, repeat and use the word in context.


Be mindful of what you do. Print out the words that you are trying to learn. Stick them next to the toilet (so you look at them several times a day) or on your fridge and challenge yourself to remember them. At first 10 words may be too many - we are not all blessed with super memories - but over time, if you patiently exercise your memory, it will get better. And Cantonese kindly recycles so many words that you can soon start to see patterns and learn from association. When you start, figure out how many new terms you can keep in your head and keep exercising you memory to push your limits.

Here's an example of how to learn new words using the colour words. In Cantonese, the primary colours: red, yellow and blue are all fourth tone. The neutral colours: black, grey and brown are all first tone. The combination colours, purple and orange, are second tone and green and white, which I associate with nature (grass and snow) are sixth tone.

Now for the sounds. Each one of us will make our own memory hooks based on our experience and learning. They don't have to be serious, in fact, the sillier the better. For example:

1. I hung my red knickers on Mr. Wong's yellow door. 

2. The little blue lamb looked at me with his green eyes and said, "Baak, I wish I was white."

3.  I haven't the foggiest, but haak rhymes with black and fui with boy, so I might remember black and grey that way.

4.  Brown is easy - I already learned 咖 gaa3 fe1 = coffee in Lesson 2 and coffee is brown. Just have to remember all colours in Cantonese end with 色 sik1, so now I'm thinking of vomitting into my coffee cup. Yeuk!

5. Gee, I just love purple. If I get the chance, I'd like to drink some orange Tang = caang2.

Note: I am not suggesting that you learn to mispronounce these words. Make sure your pronunciation is correct. If you engage a tutor, ask them to record the words for you so you can practice mimicking and pay close attention to the jyutping as it gives you the ability to build consistency into your learning so that you are able to pronounce words correctly and with confidence.

You won't find English in these word lists. When I teach I like to encourage my students to engage with the new vocabulary, have a guess, apply their knowledge and make their own notes. However, Cantonese nouns take classifiers, or measure words, and it is best to learn these with the nouns, a bit like you learn the gender of nouns in other languages. There are also some other useful things to know so that you can use your new vocabulary and so I have provided brief notes to enable you to do that. For best results, once you've learned the word itself, challenge yourself to put it with other words you know, particularly the numbers, colours, classifiers and pronouns.

As an example, let's use the animal words. Drilling yourself like this: first with the word, then add a number and the measure word, then you can add a colour. Do this for each animal - and it doesn't matter if your rabbit is purple and your pig is green. Your purpose is to perfect your pronunciation. Say it out loud and get used to hearing your new Cantonese voice with confidence. You can also practice your pronouns: I, you and he or 我 ngo5, 你 nei5, 佢 keoi5 - all fifth tone!



貓,  貓, 貓

maau1, maau1, maau1

One cat:

一 隻   貓, 一 隻   貓, 一 隻   貓

jat1 zek3 maau1,  jat1 zek3 maau1, jat1 zek3 maau1

One black cat:

一 隻   黑  色   嘅  貓,一  隻  黑   色 嘅   貓,一 隻   黑  色  嘅  貓

jat1 zek3 haak1 sik1 ge3 maau1,  jat1 zek3 haak1 sik1 ge3 maau1, jat1 zek3 haak1 sik1 ge3 maau1

My black cat:

我  隻   黑  色 嘅  貓,  我 隻    黑  色 嘅   貓, 我  隻   黑  色  嘅  貓

ngo5 zek3 haak1 sik1 ge3 maau1,  ngo5 zek3 haak1 sik1 ge3 maau1, ngo5 zek3 haak1 sik1 ge3 maau1

Your black cat:

你  隻   黑  色 嘅  貓, 你  隻   黑  色 嘅  貓,  你 隻   黑  色 嘅   貓

nei5 zek3 haak1 sik1 ge3 maau1,  nei5 zek3 haak1 sik1 ge3 maau1, nei5 zek3 haak1 sik1 ge3 maau1

His black cat:

佢  隻   黑  色  嘅  貓, 佢   隻  黑   色  嘅  貓, 佢  隻   黑  色  嘅 貓

keoi5 zek3 haak1 sik1 ge3 maau1, keoi5 zek3 haak1 sik1 ge3 maau1, keoi5 zek3 haak1 sik1 ge3 maau1

bottom of page