When English Meets Cantonese: A Melding of the Minds

James Zhan

English is non-tonal, meaning no matter how you change the tone of a word, the word’s meaning will not change.

I was born in Canton, China, where Cantonese is the primary language, but my mother raised me bilingually with English and Cantonese. No one did that in my hometown, but my mother was learning English before, during and after I was born, so I was exposed to it daily; when I was picking up on Cantonese, my mother started teaching me English as well. These two languages are now my primary languages, the ones I alternate between depending on where I am living. Since my earliest years, I have always been fascinated by how vastly different they are, both in terms of speaking and writing. In many ways they are the exact opposites: they exist on polar ends of the tone versus non-tone spectrum. I grasped this instinctively growing up bilingual but now, reading through the literature on the topic, I have come to see how the differences between Cantonese and English affected my acquisition of both.

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A Guide to Writing a 500 Word Writing Sample

Michelle Mogilner

You start to panic. Is this what the career of a writer is going to be like? Hours of self-doubt interrupted by the occasional fleeting sensation of inspiration?

Dear Writer,

Congratulations! You have just been told that you’re being considered for a writing position at your desired company. You have opened your email and breathed a sigh of relief that your lackluster resume was accepted with open arms. But your journey is not finished yet! You pause at the words “writing sample” and your mind runs through a list of every essay and short story you wrote in the past year that might help you guarantee your position. You slowly come to realize that all your previous work will probably not help you here. Like an end-of-term exam, you must compress your skill set into a few paragraphs that will hopefully convey the fact that you know what you’re talking about. Suddenly, you find yourself staring at a blank word document. The cursor traces the white belly of the page and the blinking black line is reminiscent of the cross-armed high school teacher impatiently tapping their foot against the hard floor.

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