Although I am a bad singer, I still made up my mind to try brawl with the Chinese tone concept and learn at least a little bit of colloquial Cantonese. ‘Hey, I have my own three Chinese to practice with at home, so why not? It is the perfect opportunity!’ is what I thought, but far wrong.

Because of different circumstances, I started to live together with Mr. Panda and his parents for quite some time. As communication proved to be difficult sometimes because Chinese dad only speaks Cantonese, Mandarin and some Fujian dialect and Chinese mom’s German is restricted to basics, I thought about learning Cantonese in the beginning. My decision to learn at least a little bit was not only because I wanted to talk to them more, but also because I wanted to leave a good impression on them.

Soon after, I bought a language learning book with a learning CD, and started highly motivated with the first lesson. Mr. Panda practiced the tones with me and after a week or so I could already recognize the few words I have learned so far in their daily conversations when we sat all together for dinner in the evening. Eventually one word that all of them commonly used in almost every sentence caught my attention: ‘ci sin’.

Example dialog for better understanding:
Chinese dad: xxxxxxxxxxxxx.
Chinese mom: ci sin! xxxxxx.
Chinese dad (angry): ci sin! xxxxxxxxx! ci sin!
Mr. Panda (irritated): ci sin xxxxxxxxx.
Chinese mom (heated up): ci sin! XXXXXX!
Chinese dad (laughing): ci sin! Hahahahaha.

After some time, I asked Mr. Panda why they used ‘ci sin’ all the time, or if it was a grammar word to indicate something? No, it is actually not. A little bit ashamed, he finally told me the meaning of the word 黐線 (ci1 sin3) actually means ‘crazy’ or ‘insane’. So they told each other they are crazy or insane in almost every sentence – regardless the topic, whether they talked about something funny or were fighting. But in eight out of ten conversations they started to argue, and I was actually relieved I did not understand what was going on.

So one of the reasons I do not speak Cantonese fluently yet is definitely 黐線. At least I understand the basics and can order food I like. And I can tell Chinese grandma that I am not hungry and don’t want to eat anything. Good enough for now. I have read a lot of others who are married to Chinese and actually spoke Chinese before or decided to learn Chinese after they got together. Jocelyn from Speaking of China wrote about whether to learn a dialect or not if you only needed it for a few days a year. Although it is a lot of work, she decided to learn at least a few phrases which makes grandma happy, and I have also made the same experience in Hong Kong. Although I am far from having decent conversations, they are glad I know at least the basics. Still, I decided to learn more in the new future, the latest when we decide to get a child. At least my child should be able to talk to its relatives and learn about its heritage.

Do you think it is really necessary to learn it if you do not need it for daily life?

Cantonese slang word 黐線, or: one reason why I decided not to learn Cantonese for the time being
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14 thoughts on “Cantonese slang word 黐線, or: one reason why I decided not to learn Cantonese for the time being

  • August 11, 2015 at 12:59
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    Wow, Betty, I salute you for trying to learn Cantonese! I’ve heard it’s incredibly difficult. Then again, at least it’s such a popular dialect that you can find learning resources (which is NOT true for me).

    Does your husband giggle at you when you try to speak it? If I want to make John laugh, the surest way is to open my mouth and speak some local dialect. 😉

    BTW, thanks for the link back to my blog! 🙂

    Reply
    • August 11, 2015 at 13:55
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      Mr. ‘still boyfriend because he is too scared to propose’ Panda thinks I’m too cute when I speak Cantonese because I speak so slow to get the tones right. I also thinks he is too sexy when he speaks Cantonese so I am always distracted that I can’t concentrate on what he’s saying anyway. 😀

      Reply
  • August 13, 2015 at 7:47
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    My husband is a place known for its “standard” Mandarin accent and I am forever grateful that I don’t have to learn a dialect to communicate with people here. Not only that, I have been able listen to people who speak Mandarin quite clearly which has helped my speaking skills a bit.

    Reply
    • August 13, 2015 at 10:56
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      So lucky! For my major I had to learn a new language for 2 Semesters and I decided on Mandarin Chinese. When I got accepted to the classes, which is not so easy because of so many students, I was so happy. But when I told Mr. Panda that we could study together, he was like ‘…but I don’t speak any Mandarin?’
      In the end, study time was him listening to the soundfiles and then to me. He compared the tone but did not know entirely what was going on. 😀

      Reply
  • August 18, 2015 at 1:20
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    Attention! Attention!
    All Mandarin speakers, Please leave Hong Kong immediately.
    Thank you. 😉

    Reply
    • August 20, 2015 at 12:05
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      ‘Mandarine’ is tangerine in German, so I always crave for them when I say, hear or read ‘Mandarin’ :9

      Reply
  • August 25, 2015 at 15:25
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    Betty,
    That’s a very interesting post. Being on the other side (i.e. attempting to teach my wife Cantonese), I can somehow understand your experience. I have to admit, since I started teaching the language, I now know how hard it can be for a non-native speaker, especially there are so many slings which are constantly evolving.

    In Hong Kong, there are government funded organisations who will teach Cantonese for free to help people to integrate. My wife ended up taking some lessons from them, which was beneficial. It turned out to be one to one tuition and that was not something we expected. Funny enough my mum thought her cantonese was good enough and started to speak to her as if she is a native speaker when we have dinners together. Of course she always get lost.

    My brother and I try to teach her the language, but let say those are the stuff my mum wouldn’t approve of, but my dad found it hilarious. You never know when they will come useful. 🙂

    Reply
    • August 25, 2015 at 15:47
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      Thank you Phil! It is really difficult, I try really hard but I don’t even realize when I get the tones wrong. Mr. Panda and his mom understand my ‘Betty style Cantonese’, but others probably won’t. Hang on there and teach your wife, and don’t teach her too many strange things. My first was “Kiss me!” and later “You’re crazy!”, which is rather confusing when you say it to strangers hehe. 😀

      And if you could share some more information about the Cantonese lessons it would be great. I really want to know more about it.

      Reply
      • August 26, 2015 at 14:09
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        Haha, the tone. Get it wrong and you would probably say something rude or inappropriate! 😛 I love to take a mick when non native speakers do that. Good way to learn new things and a way to make sure you don’t say it wrong next time. (sense of humour required of course)

        It’s hard but it’s possible to master the language. A hiking friend of mine from Ireland speaks and read Cantonese fluently. I love to see the waiter’s face when we order food at cafes, especially when a group of us include some American Chineses or Chinese looking Indonesians etc who don’t speak a word of Cantonese!

        Well, as for learning materials, there are quite a few on internet. For example Cantonese 101 on youtube or HKU Cantonese on facebook. They are good resources to start with. Other than that you just have to speak it. Let’s say you can try ordering dim sum at restaurants or speak to people when you buy food from the local market. People are generally quite nice and will try to help you with Cantonese.

        Best of luck. 🙂

        Reply
        • August 26, 2015 at 21:43
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          Thanks for all the advices. I am thinking about doing an internship in HK and maybe doing a language course while I am there. Therefore the free lessons sound great.

          I speak Japanese and have a few Japanese friends. They know that Mr. Panda is from HK, but sometimes they bring friends who don’t. So when they try to speak to Mr. Panda in Japanese but I answer them that he can’t speak it, they are so confused all the time. Some even went on to speak Japanese with him… haha 😀

          Reply
          • August 27, 2015 at 2:53
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            That’s great. I’m sure you’ll enjoy your time here. My wife used the Link Center to learn Cantonese. When you apply for a Cantonese course, they will give you am assessment to gauge your ability. They will then assign you to a suitable course. Technically speaking, they will do an income assessment so if you earn above certain amount then you have to pay for the lessons, but that never happened to my wife and she got it for free.

            Just a tip, they may turn down your application if.you are white, because they say they are there to help ‘ethnic minorities’ (i.e. in their mind Indians, Pakistanis etc) You just have to remind them to are an ethnic minorities too.

            http://hkcnlink.hk/chinese-and-english-language/

            Other than that there are some language exchange on meetup.com or internations.org

            Phil

          • August 27, 2015 at 12:01
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            Thank you so much, I’ll contact them if I’ll really get the opportunity to do an internship!

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