#4 Guest Episode: Pearl Low, Part 2 (English/粵語)
Cameron and Raymond continue their conversation with Pearl Low, a Vancouver-based author, artist, and animator, about their experience studying Cantonese as a heritage language. In this segment, Pearl dispels a common myth about Cantonese, and also gives suggestions to younger learners engaging with their heritage language.
To learn more about Pearl's work, check out: https://www.pearllow.com/
Some of the resources Pearl mentions:
1. Pearl's Twitter thread on Cantonese learning resources
Vocabulary1. 討論 tou2 leon6 (V/N) to discuss / discussion
2. 尚未 soeng6 mei6 (ADV) not yet
3. 發現 faat3 jin6 (V/N) to discover / discovery
4. 誤解 ng6 gaai2 (N/V) misunderstanding / to mistaken
5. 過程 gwo3 cing4 (N) process
6. 樂趣 lok6 ceoi3 (N) fun/joy
7. 社交 se5 gaau1 (ADJ) social
8. 啓發 kai2 faat3 (V/N) to inspire / inspiration
9. 耐性 noi6 sing3 (N) patience
10. 挑戰 tiu1 zin3 (N/V) challenge / to challenge
ADJ - Adjective
ADV - Adverb
N - Noun
Cameron: Today features the second part of our conversation with author and artist Pearl Low about their experience learning Cantonese as their heritage language. If you didn't get a chance to hear the first part, make sure to check out the previous episode.
Cameron: I'm also curious about if you found there's common myths, whether they're related to Cantonese as a language and also Cantonese culture in general, that you've found you've had to dispel or engage with at different points.
Pearl: One myth that I really want to just like eradicate is that Cantonese is useless and that the culture is fading. I think that people don't realize how many people speak Cantonese globally. I think that a lot of people start thinking about Mandarin, you know as the most popular language spoken, but when you turn to look at how many people speak Cantonese, that number is huge, like globally, that's huge, and a lot of people continue to practice, you know, traditions that they have for Cantonese culture, wherever they are at on the daily. And I think that from a North American perspective and from a Vancouver perspective, I think a lot of us were also told that it's useless, and told that the culture’s fading, because efforts to assimilate children who are the kids of immigrants, and trying to have an easier life, and all that kind of stuff, I feel like those lies were told to us in a way to protect us, but I think that a lot of people have kind of internalized that and have believed it to be fact and, you know, truth when it's not, and I think that I really want people to start thinking about how alive the culture is, and how worth continuing to innovate, to preserve, and engage with a Cantonese culture, how important that is... But yeah, that's one big myth that I would like to kind of squash.
Cameron: On the flip side, we’re also curious about what joys you've found in studying Cantonese, particularly in terms of pop culture and media, as that’s something that we talk about on this podcast a lot.
Pearl: I think that some of the joys that I've experienced from learning Cantonese has been, yes, enjoying Hong Kong movies, being able to understand on a more nuanced level when I watch movies, and being able to even tap into my own history a little bit deeper. I come from--or, my mom and her parents--come from a village called 順德 (seon6 dak1). I think in Mandarin, it’s “Shun De--I don't know how to say that properly, but it's near Foshan. It was a tiny village, it’s really big now, I think, but they have a certain type of dialect that they use and learning Cantonese and comparing Hong Kong standard Cantonese and Cantonese that was spoken by my grandparents has been really cool, cause I get to learn about them, my grandparents and where they come from, and why they use certain words the way they do, and the little changes that they do to convey a certain type of message versus maybe what people in Hong Kong music. So I feel like that has been a really big joy for me. And I think that, as well, learning Cantonese now, as an adult, has been more of a joyful experience for me than I have ever experienced because I've gotten to reframe learning Cantonese for myself. I think that before there was a lot of pressure to try to speak properly and be this, like, proper CBC where you know Cantonese fluently and you know English, and you can navigate both worlds simultaneously without any effort. But I think that now, learning in perhaps a messy way, uncoordinated way, I found other people who are also in the same position as myself, and I'm learning I'm not alone. And we're finding strength within each other to kind of learn in ways that are now healthy for us without the pressure and without the attached shame, and that's been bringing me a lot of joy.
Cameron: On that note of finding people in a similar position to yourself, you've done a lot of posting on social media regarding your experience with Cantonese and elicited a lot of positive feedback. Could you share a little bit about which platforms have been the most responsive, and also what it's been like getting these different reactions?
Pearl: Yeah, I think Twitter and Reddit have been the two platforms that I've been the most excited to see people responding to my content on. Twitter, just because I have a bigger following, has been nice, because I've been able to literally put up questions and people answering like this huge thread, and with Reddit, the same thing. With Reddit, I've been able to meet people also from Mainland China. Someone messaged me recently, actually--they were from the same village my grandparents were from. They were like, “Any question you want to ask me, please feel free,” and I was so excited about that. I would have never thought I could connect with somebody from a specific region like that without Reddit. And on Twitter, I feel like Twitter has huge capacity to carry out something and give it momentum, and I think that I made a post recently about all these different types of resources that I've been using to learn Cantonese, and just being able to have conversations from that thread about, “Oh, wow, I didn't know this existed,” or “Thank you so much for giving me this kind of link, because I want to be teaching my children this,” and just hearing different people's stories--again, on the storytelling kind of perspective and seeing where people are at, and where they want to be with the language and having just this open-minded kind of space for learning. Whereas, again, back to when I was younger, I feel like it was very rigid, and it was either “Okay, I can ask a question and if I don't get it right away, then it's like ‘You don't know,’” or something like that. But on Twitter, I feel like because there are a lot more people my age too or kind of grown at this point, and we're all kind of more patient with the process of learning or re-learning our heritage language, that has been really cool to see, specifically, that come out of Twitter and Reddit for me.
Cameron: Hmm, I am interested in what you just said about patience that you've found, both you and your peers, in terms of studying Cantonese versus studying Cantonese at an earlier time when there might have been certain expectations or standards of what an ideal Cantonese speaker might be like whether in the home, or at Chinese school. And it seems like as an adult now, you have a little bit more freedom, and you’ve found a way--this patience--to do it your own way. What might you say to someone who’s earlier on in their journey with Cantonese, particularly a younger person who might be learning it as their heritage language. Are there strategies for developing that sort of patience that you mentioned, or dealing with the challenges that come with studying a heritage language?
Pearl: One of the things that was probably the most frustrating as a kid trying to connect, trying to intentionally connect to my heritage language, was the lack of language that I had to articulate, “I want to learn this, and I don't have proficiency in the ways that you want me to have proficiency, but please have patience with me when I'm trying to ask these questions from you.” I think when you're a kid, you don't really know how to say that in a way, you just ask the question, you get denied, and you are like “Okay, guess mom/dad doesn't want to do it,” or, you know, “Grandparents don't feel like talking.” So I guess for younger folks, I would, if you can, articulate what I just said in ways that feel good for you, you know maybe… How can I say it... Sometimes in a parent relationship, sometimes you don't think you can be as honest and open about wanting to receive something from them in a specific way, you know. It's basically kind of a love language thing, like, “Hey, I need you to love me in a certain type of way, I would like you to teach me in a certain type of way because that's how I receive it.” Not all parents can meet you there. I think that, if you have, if I were like thirteen-year-old me, I would practice writing out a sentence like, “Hey mom, I really want to learn Cantonese, could you please…” actually writing out something in a clear sentence, and practicing that to my parent to see how they would respond. Sometimes you get a positive response, and they're surprised that, you know, you would even want to go as deep as you do with language learning, because I think a lot of times parents are like, “Oh no, it's too much work,” you know, and grandparents are like, “Oh, you don't really want to learn.” But if you genuinely kind of articulate yourself in that way, maybe it surprises them like, “Oh, you're actually serious about this, okay, let's try.” It's hard when you're young, but I would also say that the Internet is there, that's really useful, and your friends, too. Because sometimes even if you both have broken a Cantonese, you can still put pieces together, and, you know, fill in the gaps where maybe, you know, someone else has no knowledge of a certain type of vocabulary, and I think that leaning into friendship when you can't rely on family in that sense, when you're young, it’s really helpful. I wish I knew that because I feel like I could have asked a lot of my friends. I feel like I had some really fluent- speaking friends in Cantonese when I was a kid, but I never asked them to help me or, you know, to speak with me because I guess I just don't think that they would be interested, but how would you know if you never ask? So I think that just asking is really helpful in an honest way.
Cameron: That sounds like wonderful advice, and I bet there are people listening who will get something out of that. For our final question, Raymond and I would like to do something that also will get bounced back at us, so don't worry, you're not alone here. What are your favorite resources right now for studying Cantonese that other people might be able to access themselves?
Pearl: Yes, I have a few. My most favorite one--I don't have an iPhone, so take that into account, I think this is an Android app only--but Hanping Cantonese is so useful, spelled H-A-N-P-I-N-G, Hanping Cantonese. Absolutely love that app, it's interface is cute, it's nice and purple, I feel like it's very user-friendly. They also have another app called, I think it's like “Chinese Reader,” “Hanping Chinese Reader,” and it's an app that you could literally, it has to be typed out text because handwriting doesn't really register. You take a photo of whatever Chinese texts that you cannot read, or you want to know more about, and it will translate it into Chinese characters digitally with the Jyutping underneath it, with the tones, and each character is also color coded, so for like tone one is like pink or something, tone two is green, etc. So even if you don't want to know the Jyutping, you could just take a photo of the pictures, and it'll be all color-coded, and you could read it if you memorize the colors and how they correspond to a certain tone, you could read the text with the proper intonation, and I thought that was so cool. They are both purchased apps, but it's a worthy investment. They're less than twelve dollars each I think, so I highly recommend both those apps for phones, Android phones. Hopefully it comes to iPhones. And the second resource I really like is Reddit, and it's the Cantonese page, r/Cantonese. And that's where I've been able to ask so many questions about, you know, certain grammar rules. People talk about different Discord servers too. They're like, “Hey, we have a Discord server, would you like to join? It's about language learning.” And I only found that by being on the Reddit page, so that's very useful. And I would also say Youtube has been a really good resource. Two teachers in particular have been really nice for me. “Learn Cantonese with Winnie” is really great. She does really short videos, max five minutes, usually they are about two to three minutes, and she talks about a grammatical rule or vocab, breaks it down and then the video’s over, so it’s very digestible. And she speaks in a really great voice, it's not harsh or anything, I love it, so I recommend “Cantonese with Winnie”. “Cantonese with Brittany” is also great. She also does videos, very similar to “Cantonese with Winnie,” “Cantonese with Brittany”. One last resource I would recommend is… oh, sorry, to go back to the apps for folks who do have iPhones, Pleco, P-L-E-C-O, Pleco is really useful, as well as it’s also a dictionary app. I think it's free, and I would use that. I was gonna say my last recommendation and I think I forgot. I think there's one called “Five Minute Cantonese with Amanda” on Youtube, and she's really great because she also does the same thing. Five minute videos, really digestible, I think she's from Hong Kong, and yeah, she teaches in a really fun way.
Cameron: Those are awesome.
Raymond: Yeah, maybe one more resource to add is your huge thread of Cantonese resources on Twitter.
Pearl: Yes, yeah, I definitely want to find a way to make that more organized and more accessible for folks who don't go on Twitter, because on my thread--my Cantonese thread, which I haven't pinned to my account, so it's only when I retweet to you, so the visibility is not always there--but I do have like different dictionaries listed, different podcasts listed, different channels I like to listen to on YouTube, like ASMR in Cantonese, you know, different game shows, all that kind of stuff. I think one big thing, if you're trying to find Cantonese content, is try to swap out your English content for Cantonese content to try to give yourself a more immersive environment. So if you're trying to watch a show, like a game show, try finding a Cantonese game show. For myself, I like ASMR videos. I tried finding Cantonese ASMR, ASMR artists, to watch. So swapping those things in and out can be great.
Cameron: Yeah, I think that’s great and we’ll definitely link to that tweet in the show notes because I think it's an awesome threat, not only because of what you shared, but also in terms of what you mentioned earlie, seeing everyone else's reaction I think is part of the joy of reading that threat. Raymond, what's your pick for this?
Raymond: Okay, this might come as a surprise to some of my studentsm actually, when they hear me share this. So my recommendation is a group of Hong Kong rappers that I've been listening to. So I listed a few, the ones I like include JB, 24 Herbs, Matt Force, Tyson Yoshi. I think many people have heard of MC Jin. He's like the last generation of hip-hop artists who rap in Cantonese, and there's one this amazing phenomenon. Recently, there's one song, it’s going viral right now. It's by two artists, MC SoHo and KidNey, and you can go to Youtube and listen to their songs. Their lyrics actually are very simple, and this song is called “係咁先啦'' (hai6 gam2 sin1 laa1) and I got inspired by this song because basically the song is about saying goodbyes. But when you read from the textbooks, you learn from the teachers, they never teach you. They always teach you “再見” (zoi3 gin3), “bye-bye”. They never teach the actual, the common ways of saying goodbye. Actually, “係咁先啦,'' “that's it for now,” that's the one that I actually would say at parties, so that song they use, like all these kind of like very common, more down to earth ways of saying, like, bidding farewells or other common sayings. I think this kind of reminds us, when using pop culture in teaching, a lot of times the language that we're using is very different from the textbook language, so this is what I want to share. Cameron，到你喇喎, it’s your turn.
Cameron: I'll add another sort of digital thing, but I have to put a caveat. I know how to do this with iOS, I think you can do with Android but I am not totally sure. But with voice input, actually, I find it's a really great way to practice speaking by doing text to speech, so in IOS if you set one of your keyboards to Chinese (Hong Kong), and then if you press the microphone to do voice-to-text input in notes app or any other app, it'll actually do voice-to-text with Cantonese, and you have to be really good. It sort of forces you to really practice your pronunciation, and so I've actually found it to be really great sometimes for practicing long strings of words, or also just sometimes… cause, doing different forms of input with Cantonese on the computer sometimes doesn't always work, especially if you're doing a Mandarin pinyin keyboard, so actually doing voice text-to-speech, I find it’s a great way actually if you want to try to write or say something in longer form. I think… yeah that’s it. I think it's a really fun technique, actually it works for other languages, too. Also, before we forget, what social handles can people follow you at?
Pearl: Oh yes, my socials. You can follow me if you just go to my main website pearllow.com, P-E-A-R-L-L-O-W dot com. You can see all my links with my socials there, and my portfolio as well.
Cameron: Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and your experiences today. I think they were just incredibly illuminating, and I'm really excited to see what you're going to be doing in the future, both in terms of sharing your experiences in learning Cantonese, but also what sort of artwork it might inspire. I think it will be really cool.
Pearl: Thank you so much for having me. I think this is my first time being interviewed on a podcast for Cantonese, and my relationship to it, and how I feel about it, so this is very exciting for me and thank you, again, for just like letting me talk about my resources too. I feel like I went off on a tangent, like, “Oh, I have a few recommendations, let me talk about all of them!” I'm also very excited to see how I can incorporate my language learning journey with art, and again, just to kind of widen the impact. I think Cantonese really deserves a lot, it deserves everything, so I hope more people get into it.