Hong Kong Travel: Cantonese or Mandarin

So, next fall (probably) I want to go to Hong Kong for about three weeks. In my travels thus far, I’ve found that even a stilted and imperfect knowledge of the language you are travelling in is better than none at all. (For example, I speak about 10 words of German, but those 10 words came in damn handy).

So, I’d like to learn some Chinese before I go, but I’m wondering if I should choose Mandarin or Cantonese?

Cantonese is the native language of Hong Kong and much of southern China. However, Cantonese is a bitch to get the tones right - took me nearly 18 months. Mandarin is widely spoken in Hong Kong as a second language, and also because a large proportion of the population are or were ‘refugees’ from China, and is easier to learn.

IMO depends on how much effort you are prepared to put in, how much travel you want to do in China, and how much you want to please your hosts.

P.S. I applaud your attempts - people will really appreciate it (once they get their head round a non-Chinese speaking their language; although it may partially have been down to my rotten accent, several times I started talking, and it took people a full minute to realise that this white guy was actually speaking Cantonese - then they understood me perfectly).

Cantonese, definitely. It’s everywhere in Hong Kong.

Of course, once you get to mainland China, you’re screwed, because everyone there is using Mandarin, but c’est la vie.

I don’t plan on going to mainland China – just Hong Kong at this point in my plans. Seems like Cantonese is the way to go… but dang is it hard to find someplace that teaches it!

My goal is to have a working knowledge of important phrases like “Where is the American Embassy?” “Yes, I would like some of that deep fried eel” and “How much for that Jackie Chan poster?” :slight_smile: I don’t need to discuss philospophy or anything.

The following isn’t to pick on you, Hello Again, so please don’t take it that way. :slight_smile:

I notice that language classes often teach people important phrases in foreign langauges (like, “How much for …?” and “Where is…?”) but then don’t teach the likely answers. If you ask a question in one language, people will almost certainly respond in that language – make sure you can understand the answers to your questions!

Carry on…

Hey question: is Cantonese a language that is “normally” spoken quite quickly? I’ve studied Russian, which is spoken comparatively slowly even by native speakers and French, which is spoken quickly by native speakers. Its MUCH easier to understand the answers in “natively slow” languages!

You are making me recal the time I was in Bulgaria, when I had a VERY hard time distinguishing between the words for 20 and 200 (one was dvatzi and the other dvasti). That was incredibly annoying.

In Hong Kong, and over the border in Guangdong Province, it is definately Cantonese. Mandarin as a second language will get you around Hong Kong – but only if you speak good Mandarin. If you have limited Mandarin, forgetaboutit.

You could make like Wayne’s World and use language tapes. That will get you 20 phrases or so that will help out.

Yes, Cantonese. Lesson 1…

mm goi (2nd syllable higher than 1st, like when you say “ya know?” to someone). To sound natural, it should come out more like “mm guy”. “mm ga” would make you sound like an uncouth bad element. No gap between the syllables.

It means “thank you” for any basic service (buying something in a shop, someone holding a door open for you, etc). It also means “please”, at the beginning of a sentence (mmgoi, sai sau gaan, hai bin doh a? - “where’s the bathroom, please?”). And it means “excuse me”, when elbowing your way through a crowd to buy the latest Hello Kitty cell phone.

Most people you encounter will speak at least basic English. And there is an assumption that any words coming from a westerner’s mouth will definitely not be Cantonese. Many westerners who have lived here for decades have never learnt more than “mm goi”.

The answer to the question would be “Faa Yue Doh” - Garden Rd. And it’s a consulate - politically incorrect to imply that HK is a sovereign state.

…And now, a shameless plug for my
Hong Kong diary