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[Chinese]Difference Between Mandarin and Cantonese


I started the Chinese class and I would like to know if the language I'm learning is Mandarin or Cantonese?

Also what are the main differences between those two languages? Are those languages very close? If I learn one, would I be understood by people speaking the other? And would I understand them?

I'm going to move to Hong-Kong soon for serveral years and I want to learn Chinese. But I've heard people in Hong-Kong speak Cantonese whereas Mandarin is the most spoken language in China (and the world). Is it a good idea to learn Mandarin or should I learn Cantonese instead?

Thanks for your answers.

February 17, 2018



You are studying Japanese so I suppose you want to read Chinese too. In that case, you have to learn some Mandarin because the written language in Hong Kong is based on it.

However, you can choose to ignore the Pekingese pronunciation and use the Cantonese one instead, like other Hong Kongers do.


The course teaches Mandarin. It and Cantonese are not mutually intelligible. Cantonese phonology is closer to that of Middle Chinese in terms of tonal distinctions and consonant use, there are many differences in vocabulary and there are also differences in grammar.

Most Hong Kongers can speak quite good Mandarin, so learning some certainly won't hurt you; most can also speak passable to good English, too, in my experience (and Hong Kong is full of ex-pats who manage to get by without ever learning a word of Chinese). However, if you are going to be exclusively living in Hong Kong for years, then it might make more sense to concentrate on learning Cantonese, as this is the natural mother tongue of its Chinese population. If you ever want to venture North into the mainland, however, some knowledge of Mandarin is a sine qua non.

[deactivated user]

    In my experience, people in Hong Kong would rather speak to foreigners in English than in Mandarin


    That might well be true, but they certainly can speak it. Most of the people I encountered in HK spoke good English (for practical purposes—I did not try to engage them in conversations about philosophy, etc., but many appeared to be completely fluent); however, some of the younger (and presumably less well-educated) ones (e.g. young shop assistants) had very much more primitive English skills, and I should have left such shops empty-handed had they not understood me readily in Mandarin.
    Perhaps some (many? most?) HKers resent being spoken to in Mandarin, but these are probably mostly the ones who could speak decent English in the first place, whom I never needed to speak Mandarin to anyway.


    I missed following this thread, so only have read this now. It is true that some HKers resent being spoken to in Mandarin, but the resentment originates from the sociopolitical issues linking with Mainland China. So if you do not have an East Asian face that would make people think you are a Mainlander, I don't think that resentment exists. Actually most people would find it delightful that a foreigner speaks decent Chinese - be it Mandarin or Cantonese.


    Hm... It's just because it's more efficient to use English. We are in general not patient for anything, so there is no time for a foreigner to find his words and tones in Mandarin. It can be impressive though if you speak it well enough.

    For the PO, Hong Kong is a very English friendly city. Some people live here for years without knowing more than a few sentences of Cantonese (for telling the taxi driver your address for example); But there are people speaking it very fluently. It just depends how you want your lifestyle to be here.


    I was just watching this when I saw your post


    Thanks for your answers. I know English is mostly spoken there but I want to take this opportunity to learn a new language that will be useful during and after my stay there. That's why I thought about Mandarin first before I saw Cantonese was the official language in Hong-Kong. From what I understand it will be easier to start with Mandarin as it seems closer to western languages and japanese. Nonetheless would I be able to interact with Catonese speakers?


    So as someone currently studying in Hong Kong (I don't speak Cantonese or mandarin fluently (or near fluently), though I'm currently learning mandarin, and it's ten times better than my Cantonese) I would say to be quite honest hong konger's don't seem to like it very much when anyone speaks to them in mandarin, especially street merchants, who when I did say a few phrases to at first, tended to not want to respond to me, at all. Heck even my local friends have told me not to try to speak in mandarin to people in Hong Kong, but to instead just use English.

    But to be quite honest, just learn mandarin. It's a lot more versatile than Cantonese, as you can then communicate with almost anyone in China and can give you a lot more opportunities than if you learned cantonese and you can survive perfectly well simply speaking English.


    Of course you should definitely start learning Cantonese straightaway, despite it`s much more difficult than mandarin. And as far as I know HK people do not like mainland Chinese, You can read here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hong_Kong%E2%80%93Mainland_China_conflict. So Mandarin might be not that useful

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