Cantonese vs Mandarin – Which Should You Learn?

Cantonese vs Mandarin
Cantonese vs Mandarin

So you’re thinking of learning to speak Chinese… and as you dive deeper, you learn that there are actually different languages of Chinese, ie dialects. So Cantonese vs Mandarin – Which should you start to learn to speak?

A usual post will go into the pros and cons but I like to take a step back and actually ask you – WHY do you want to learn Chinese?

What’s your motivation?

Do you have a distant relatives? a Chinese girlfriend or boyfriend? family? Chinese friends of colleagues – someone you fancy and want to impress them and their family?

So first start with your why… BEFORE considering whether you should learn Cantonese of Mandarin Chinese. After all, it’s not much use when you start learning Mandarin Chinese (for example) and then find out the core reason why you’re learning actually speaks Cantonese!

hmmm…slight problem there…

Track the Trend

But what if you’re interested to learn just for the helluvit, then here are some observations I’ve found…

Check out any Chinatown in the world – yes I know… bloody Chinese are everywhere! =)

Walk in the streets and HEAR what is being spoken. A bit hard when you don’t how to tell the difference between Cantonese and Mandarin so let me lay it out for you

Chinatown USED TO be filled with Cantonese chatter. More often than not now, with more Mainland Chinese migrating, studying overseas, the tide has changed. I hear more Mandarin Chinese being spoken – especially with the Mainland accent.

Go to a dimsum restaurant and more often than not, the waitstaff either don’t speak Chinese at all (sad I know) OR they can understand a smattering of Cantonese but Mandarin is their native tongue.

So where do people speak Cantonese then?

Well Cantonese comes from the GuangDong province aka Canton. And guess where Hong Kong is? That’s right GuangDong province. So that’s why all the Honkies speak Cantonese.

Back in the day, if you spoke Mandarin – you either jumped the Chinese border and reached Hong Kong paradise… or am from Taiwan, Malaysia or Singapore (where a lot of Chinese live)

Speaking and Hearing Mandarin Chinese was a novelty more than anything else back then.

But guess what is being taught in Hong Kong schools now?

Yep, you guessed it – Mandarin Chinese

The politicians speak it and more importantly, the movie and pop superstars all rushed to improve their Mandarin Chinese. After all, Mainland China’s market was just a tiny bit bigger than Hong Kong’s…

The great face-off… Cantonese vs Mandarin

If yer want the most bang for your time spent learning – which would I recommend?… *drums rolling*

Please please please save yourself some time… and learn to speak Mandarin Chinese

So as to be TOTALLY biased and put you off learning Cantonese (unless that’s your core motivation of course), consider the following facts:

  • Cantonese has more tones than Mandarin (ewww)
  • Cantonese uses traditional Chinese characters (ie WAYYYY more strokes = Friggin Hard)
  • Around 1.83 Billion more people speak Mandarin than Cantonese… (made up fact but you get my drift)
  • Learning the Cantonese phonetics pinyin is TOTALLY different to that of Mandarin Chinese
  • errr…More good looking people speak Mandarin?

So after all this, it would be awesome to hear your thoughts – which would you learn? Cantonese or Mandarin?

2 thoughts on “Cantonese vs Mandarin – Which Should You Learn?”

  1. Don’t just read book and follow what people said, use you brain to think, I’m cantonese, why I need to speak Mandarin. If you live in USA, you speak English, if you in live in Japan, you speak, Japanese, if you live in Korea, you speak korea, if you live in France, you speak Franch, if you live in Spain, you speak Spanish. Here is the question, if you speak cantonese, where are you live. it seems like cantonese got no country, because Northern conquered Southern, Cantonese people lose the country, Just like Jewish people but they are luck and rebuild the country like Israel. my sorry my grammar is not good but dosen’t mean I can’t express my feeling, freedom of speech


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