Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Cantonese (Toishan) Basic Course

Scanning across the internet, I’ve been really impressed by individuals who have posted Taishanese learning materials online. I remember very vividly how there were no such resources available even back in 2000. (It’s easy to forget that even Chinese language compatibility was quite limited back then!)

One resource that I did run across—thanks to a long-ago post in an online forum—was the Chinese-Cantonese (Toishan) Basic Course, published by the Defense Language Institute. I ordered this course sometime around 2000, when it cost something on the order of $2.35 to package and ship.

The drawback was that it all came in microfiche. After $80 spent trying to print it out at the UCLA library, I gave up and left the mini course sheets sitting around in a box.

By 2005, ERIC was no longer shipping these out. A Taishanese enthusiast at the Boston Globe contacted me via my website and offered me a deal. He could scan the course page-by-page and send me a copy on CD. I shipped him the files, and we kept in touch by email. It felt like a win-win arrangement. But by 2006 we lost all contact with each other.

It turns out that during the time that ERIC wasn’t shipping out microfiche all over the United States, they were quietly scanning thousands of texts into an online archive. The Chinese-Cantonese (Toishan) Basic Course included. You can visit the course’s ERIC page, and download the course itself as a PDF. You can even download the audio files from Ben’s Cantonese Practice Journal.

The dialect in the DLI course is very different from the one that I speak. Not only do the vowels and consonants slightly differ, they use some different words as well. No matter. I am a strong believer that you learn a language not by learning some arbitrary standard, but by delving into the many different ways that a language is used and spoken. It’s really only then that one has true mastery.

I haven’t had the chance to go through this text in any detail. I’m interested in hearing reviews from anyone who does.


  1. ERIC no longer allows access to their full text documents for security reasons. Since DLI language courses clearly don't contain sensitive data, would you be able to make the Taishanese course available online?

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  3. Hello Aaron, I was wondering if you had Princeton University's "Chinese-Cantonese (Toishan) Basic Course." Since 2012, as David stated earlier, the Hoisan documents have been taken down. This file has still not been made available yet.

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