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"Should I study Mandarin in Hong Kong"

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“Should I study Mandarin in Hong Kong?”

Great question, Tadpole. File it in the same box with “Should I study Arabic in Caracas, Venezuela?” and “Should I study Korean in Toulouse, France?”

I recently did a visa run from Kunming to Hong Kong and extended it into a nice Pearl River Delta spring break via visits to Macau, Zhuhai, Shenzhen, Zhongshan and Dongguan City, Changping Town, with flights in and out of Guangzhou. Efficiency was not my goal.

I have kept the Hong Kong secret in years past, but now I’m here to tell you publicly that Hong Kong is total Language Hell for Mandarin learners. I often can’t even tell at first whether they are talking Baihua/ Cantonese, or badly mispronounced Putonghua mixed with a few words of Pidgin English.

Sample conversation:

Me: Can you take me to the border crossing at XYZ?

HK Taxi Driver: … Long unintelligible mess ending with “Hao bu hao, Laoban?”

Me: (In Mandarin) “I cannot understand Cantonese. Could you please talk Putonghua?”

HK Taxi Driver: (I finally can decipher what he’s saying) “I *am* talking Putonghua, Laoban (mildly irritated at my ignorance.) That’s how we talk Putonghua here in Hong Kong.”

Obviously, some well educated Hong Kong people speak excellent Mandarin, English, French, German, Japanese, and so on in addition to their native Cantonese.

If your international company sends to work in their Hong Kong office, and you want to study Mandarin at night; go ahead and do it. That’s OK; that makes some sense.

If your girlfriend lives in Hong Kong and you absolutely have to be near her, then after arriving you decide to study Mandarin part time as an afterthought; go ahead and do it. That’s OK; that makes some sense.

If you are afraid to take the big plunge and go live on the Chinese mainland in a smaller city where English language signs are few and far between and English speakers are rare to none, then maybe consider Hong Kong as a temporary compromise. But don’t fool yourself about it being a very good long-term solution.

Hong Kong has tasty food and relatively clean public toilets and a few other things to recommend it as a place to reside, especially if you have a lot of money and don't mind crowds. But don’t consider Hong Kong as a prime destination if your main reason for Heading East is to study Mandarin.

At least that’s my opinion after this trip. You probably already knew those obvious facts, but I thought I would re-state them here just for laughs.

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kongli

Kinda cool that they call you boss though, I am tempted to go just for an ego boost!

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Brian US

I was talking to a Canadian born Chinese guy that lived in Hong Kong for several years. He had a Mandarin tutor at around 250 Renminbi an hour. Is that the going rate for a decent tutor? He also said shops loved getting people from the mainland because they were normally there on their monthly shopping spree. They didn't show much interest when he spoke Cantonese.

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Iriya

Wow, 250RMB per hour? You can get a tutor for 50RMB per hour here in Shanghai.

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wedge
Wow, 250RMB per hour?

That sounds about right. I was pretty shocked to find that Mandarin tutors in HK were more expensive than when I was living in Manhattan.

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jbradfor

@abcdefg, you never actually tried studying Mandarin in Hong Kong, right? You base your entire post on the fact that you personally are unable to understand Cantonese-accented Mandarin, and then you blame others for that?

I assume you were just trying to be humorous, but I would actually be interested in hearing from people that have, in fact, tried for real to study Mandarin in Hong Kong.

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abcdefg
@abcdefg, you never actually tried studying Mandarin in Hong Kong, right?

Right. I never studied in Hong Kong, just passed through nine or ten times mainly as a tourist and tried to use my Mandarin to converse. It always proves extremely difficult and leaves me frustrated. I've come to dread going there.

Mandarin seems like such a bastard-child in Hong Kong; Cantonese and English rule.

I did study in Zhuhai (close by) on two occasions a year apart and found that worked out just fine. Also have minimal language difficulties in Shenzhen.

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Brian US

I was actually surprised how poor the English was in the Hong Kong airport. There was some confusion with my transfer ticket and some security staff were able to say a few words and point me in the general direction to customer service. I was able to understand the younger employees, but a man in his 40's at United Airlines (US carrier) had to repeat things several times. I did go in with some misconceptions as I have only met people from HK overseas. I honestly expected to hear British accents instead of Cantonese.

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Erbse
I assume you were just trying to be humorous, but I would actually be interested in hearing from people that have, in fact, tried for real to study Mandarin in Hong Kong.

I lived there for a few months and tried to learn Mandarin besides work.

It's definitely possible to build a bubble of Mandarin around yourself. That being said you can build a Mandarin bubble anywhere in a European or US city, as long as the city is big enough and has enough Chinese people. It might be easier in HK, than in the West, yet is a stretch to call the learning conditions there a favourable. English is so present in HK, especially if you work in one of the glass towers on the island and go to the usual party locations in the evening. With Mandarin only you might even limit yourself and miss some of the things HK has to offer.

Bottom line:

If you have a choice and learning Mandarin is your primary reason, then don't choose HK.

If you want to learn Mandarin besides work and your boss offers you to work either in Miami, Paris or HK, then HK might still the best solution.

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wedge

One of the only positives that I can think of about learning Mandarin in Hong Kong was that I was more confident practicing out in public because my Mandarin was likely to be better than that of the person I was speaking to. In Beijing, even after almost a year of full-time study, I still dread speaking to strangers because I fear a rapid fire response that I can't understand. And then the ultimate humiliation is if they then realize that I can't understand and then switch to English (which I still I think is surprisingly good in BJ, especially among young people). This would never happen in Hong Kong because the stranger (1) would speak Mandarin more slowly and (2) assume any communication problem was on their end.

This is probably only an ABC phenomenon.

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carenja

Hi all,

I just moved to Hong Kong for work and I already studied one year full-time Mandarin. I am aware that most people here speak Cantonese but want to continue learning Mandarin anyway. Preferably with a private tutor in the evenings or weekends. I checked the Internet but haven't really found something good yet. Does anybody have a suggestion for a language school or - even better - a private tutor? Preferably not too expensive ;)

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AaronUK
On 9/11/2014 at 2:48 PM, carenja said:

. I am aware that most people here speak Cantonese but want to continue learning Mandarin anyway. Preferably with a private tutor in the evenings or weekends. I checked the Internet but haven't really found something good yet. Does anybody have a suggestion for a language school or - even better - a private tutor? Preferably not too expensive ;)

 

Hi Carenja,

 

Did you pick up classes, how did you find the experience of keeping up your learning while being in Cantonese speaking Hong Kong?

 

Thanks,

 

Aaron

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imron

Paging @Flickserve who likely has some thoughts on learning Mandarin in Hong Kong, but who wasn't around when this thread was last updated.

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Flickserve

Oh. There are lots of small Mandarin schools around. Mostly catering for kids tutor classes but they can arrange private adult classes. The one down below where I live is about hkd350 per hour. You will find one or more near any residential location. 

 

The commercial schools with a high Web profile tend to be around Central district or within 15mins subway ride close by. 

 

Once I did try private lessons for hkd300 about six years ago but it got so difficult to manage with my very irregular work schedule, and thus I dropped it after only a few lessons. Private tutors can go all the way to nearly up to hkd1000 per hour. That was a figure I heard about three years ago for one person.

 

There is a fair market for tutors who go into offices to teach staff. The money comes from the company. Those jobs pay more to the teacher (above 1000), though the agency will take a cut.  So if you can persuade the company to provide lessons and the tutor come to the office to save you from travelling, that's a good option.

 

In general, I would say the chances to use Mandarin in a practical sense are very limited. Otherwise, I would be much better by now. Housewives who have come down with their husbands and settled into HK might not have good English. Some of them are very wealthy. Won't meet them unless you are doing the kids school runs, 

 

Some mainlanders have great English. A mother at a kids badminton competition  turned out to be a 北大 and Princeton grad. I felt out of my depth wondering how to think of things to talk about and that was using English. She was really nice about it though and walked off. 

 

One thing I haven't tapped into much are the university  students who form the largest non HK student population. There are a large number of mainland China students. I did try it out a some time ago but she had insanely fluent English and me a smattering of basic Mandarin. Too big a mismatch and I had no idea how to do a language exchange. Will be exploring this option again soon as my Mandarin is better now.

 

The University of HK and Chinese University offer Mandarin courses with a certificate.

 

In summary, I would still echo other comments in the thread about learning Mandarin in HK. If language is your primary objective, then Taiwan or mainland China must be more efficient options. 

 

 

*edit* Just for comparison with tutors in other subjects, a maths tutor can cost hkd600, badminton hkd500, piano hkd 500 to 900, English hkd400 or more. Obviously, there are different market segments. Why the high price? People pay a lot for renting a place to live. 

 

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ParkeNYU

Would you go to Catalonia or Galicia to learn Spanish? Probably not the best idea, but you'd get further with Mandarin in Hong Kong than, say, Hokkien.

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