Updated: May 18, 2020
Learning Mandarin can help you glide through different regions of China but as you descend further down to the south of the country, you may start to hear another dialect called 'Cantonese'. In today's lesson, we will look at the similarities and differences between Mandarin and Cantonese and learn how to say a few Hong Kong dishes in Cantonese!
Cantonese is widely spoken in Guangdong, Guangxi and is the ‘official’ spoken language of Hong Kong and Macao. Although Mandarin is starting to have a more prominent standing in the Hong Kong schooling system, Cantonese still remains the main spoken language. However in Mainland China it is rarely used in the schooling system and as stated above, most locals in Guangdong and Guangxi (where Cantonese is more widely spoken) are bilingual and therefore will most definitely understand Mandarin Chinese. If you were thinking that there were too many tones in Mandarin already, you’ll be in for quite a shock when learning Cantonese because it has from 6 to 9 tones depending on which type of Cantonese you decide to learn (Guangzhou or Hong Kong). Although Cantonese is not considered as a ‘language of the future’ like Mandarin, it is still a main language in leading international financial centres such as Hong Kong.
Differences between Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese
Although both Mandarin and Cantonese originated from China, they do have their differences. It is said that if there was a Cantonese and Mandarin speaker on a train sharing a newspaper together, the Cantonese speaker would be able to read aloud the words to the Mandarin speaker but he/she would not be understood and vice versa. However if they were to each read the newspaper by themselves, both would be able understand the content just fine. This is true to a certain extent but if you were to hand over a Hong Kong newspaper to a Mandarin speaker, there’s a high probability that they would not understand what is written. This is because colloquial Cantonese written down on paper is different to how Mandarin would be written down on paper. For example to express the verb ‘to eat’, in Mandarin one would write ‘吃’ but in Cantonese one would use the word ‘食’ instead which would mean ‘food/meal’ in Mandarin. Here’s an area where Cantonese speakers will have an advantage because they’ll be able to read, write and understand both forms of writing. On the other hand, Mandarin speakers would be able to read the characters but will not have a clear understanding of what they are reading.
Similarities between Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese
Although tonal differences exist, there is a strong similarity in the pronunciation of the words in both languages and this was one of the main reasons to how Cantonese speakers can pick up Mandarin quickly. For example, the word ‘明天’ (tomorrow) would be pronounced ‘Ming Tian’ in Mandarin and ‘Ming Tin’ in Cantonese. Furthermore the differences in the grammatical structure of both languages are pretty minor. Therefore, the barrier can be easily overcome.
Dishes in Hong Kong and how to pronounce them in Cantonese
Thanks for reading this post and see you next time for more Chinese lessons!