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Kissa Weaver

Learn Cantonese or Mandarin?

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Kissa Weaver

I want to learn Cantonese, but I was speaking to a colleague who said it was all but a dying language and that Mandarin was much more worthwhile. Is it true?

Mandarin or Cantonese?

1.Which is the hardest?

2. Which is more common?

3. Which should I learn first?

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imron

1) Cantonese, firstly because it has more tones and secondly because there is less quality learning material available in Cantonese compared to Mandarin.

2) In mainland China, Mandarin. In Hong Kong, Cantonese. In Chinese communities overseas, it used to be Cantonese, but this is rapidly changing and Mandarin is becoming more and more prevalent (due to an increase in migrants from mainland China).

3) It depends on what you hope to get out learning it. Choose Cantonese if your intention is to be able to communicate with people from HK or other places where Cantonese is the dominant language. Choose Mandarin if your intention is to be able to communicate with people from mainland China or Taiwan.

Cantonese is far from a dying language, and that's not something you'd ever have to worry about in your lifetime. Mandarin will probably be more useful in a general sense due to the increasing influence of mainland China but that may or may not be relevant to your situation, depending on how much you want/plan/hope to interact with people from mainland China.

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gougou

It really comes down to what you want to do with the language.

If you're looking at what advantage the languages will bring you for your professional development, it is true that there are much more Mandarin speakers out there than Cantonese speakers, but there are also much less foreigners able to speak Cantonese than Mandarin - a bit like the choice between learning Spanish or Romanian, I suppose.

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Mindmaxd

If you will come to mainland of China Mandarin is very useful,Nearly every people can understand mandarin and in most TV programs use Mandarin,we call it putonghua普通话,Cantonese are mainly used in south of China.

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anonymoose

Other posters have given you very complete answers. From your question, though, it sounds like you don't have much of an idea yet of the status of Mandarin and Cantonese. Ultimately which to learn depends on your aim, but unless you have a specific reason for wanting to learn Cantonese, then the answer you are almost certainly looking for is Mandarin.

Cantonese is spoken in Hong Kong and some areas in southern China, but most speakers in China (that is, basically all of the younger generation) can speak Mandarin, and therefore, unless you go to Hong Kong, you are unlikely to meet anyone in China who will not be able to converse with you in Mandarin.

Besides that, Mandarin is the national language of China, and with China's rapidly expanding global influence, the importance of Mandarin can only become greater in the future. As another poster mentioned, Cantonese won't disappear in your lifetime, but it's status is likely to become less, internationally at least, as it becomes eclipsed by Mandarin.

Of course, this is all from a utilitarian point of view. If you are learning just for interest's sake, then that is a different matter.

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liuzhou

Mandarin is spoken by around 840 million people; Cantonese by around 55 million. (Source)

Who do you want to talk to?

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imron
Who do you want to talk to?

This is the key.

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renzhe

Like people said, Cantonese is certainly not a dying language. But many Cantonese speakers are bilingual now (also speak Mandarin), especially in Mainland China and the trend is sure to continue. Some traditional overseas communities (US and UK) primarily use Cantonese, but Mainland Europe is firmly Mandarin.

Why do you want to learn it? If you have a Cantonese-speaking partner, or are interested in Cantonese-language materiels for some reason (life in Hong Kong or Macau, Cantopop...) then sure, go with Cantonese. But if you don't have strong reasons to pick Cantonese (or other dialect), Mandarin is the more useful choice in most cases.

I'll also add that virtually all of written Chinese today is based on Mandarin vocabulary and grammar. This is another aspect that makes Cantonese more difficult to learn.

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lingo-ling

Mandarin is more useful because it serves as a lingua franca among the world's Chinese diaspora: many people speak it in Hong Kong, Southeast Asia and the world's Chinatowns. Not to mention China and Taiwan.

Once you learn Mandarin, learning Cantonese is relatively easy since they're so closely related, and many sound correspondences are quite predictable.

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querido

Now, my two best friends are native Cantonese speakers.

If I had known this beforehand, these two would have outweighed all the millions and I would have chosen Cantonese.

"I want to learn Cantonese..."

Why? If you already have some emotional or sentimental reason I say go with your heart!

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aristeon

Studying Cantonese instead of Chinese is like studying Catalan instead of Spanish. If you want to communicate with the wide population of Mandarin speakers then you should choose Mandarin, which is the official language of the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China (Taiwan). It has more than 1.3 billion speakers worldwide and it gives you access to a thousand-year-old culture and an amazing country. You can read books, watch films, read newspapers, as well as make a lot of friends who speak Mandarin. Besides, nowadays Mandarin might be useful for your job.

Cantonese is spoken in Canton Province, Hong Kong and in many overseas Chinese communities in America and Europe (for instance, the majority of the numerous Chinese speaking community of Italy come from Canton, so they speak Cantonese better than Mandarin). However, Cantonese is mostly used in unofficial situations, like with relatives and friends. There is only one place in the whole world where Cantonese has the status of an official language, and this is Hong Kong. You can also find a lot of films in Cantonese from HK and if you live there it will be very useful. Although if you can speak English and Mandarin you'll be able to live, work and make friends in HK.

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imron
Studying Cantonese instead of Chinese is like studying Catalan instead of Spanish

I would argue it's probably more like learning Portuguese.

If you're living in Spain, learning Portuguese might allow you to communicate in a limited but awkward way with locals, but is certainly not ideal, plus, on a worldwide scale, Portuguese is going to be nowhere near as useful as Spanish.

If you plan on living in Portugal however, then learning Portuguese makes perfect sense.

So, yes, there are more speakers of Mandarin than Cantonese, and yes Mandarin will have a larger influence in the world compared to Cantonese, but the same is true of French, German, Italian, Japanese, Finnish, Dutch, Swedish and all but a handful of other languages. That's not stopping people from learning those languages however, if that language is what they want to learn, and that's the culture they want to interact with.

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aristeon

Well, that isn't true. Portuguese is the official language of Portugal and Brazil and has around 200 million speakers worldwide, some of whom live in former Portuguese colonies such as Macao, Angola and Goa.

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imron
Well, that isn't true

What part is not true? I said on a worldwide scale Portuguese is not as useful as Spanish. Compare the number of countries worldwide that speak Spanish as their official language and the number of people that speak Spanish compared to Portuguese, and the statement I made still holds true.

If you were refering to the statement that a more apt analogy would be to say Cantonese is to Mandarin what Portuguese is to Spanish, well, it's no more or less true than saying Catalan.

Anyway, the main point I was making still stands - learn the language that will be useful to you based on your own personal circumstances, and don't let arguments about Mandarin being a larger, more dominant language sway your decision if that is not an important factor. Mandarin is a larger, more dominant language than most other languages on earth, but that's irrelevant if you want to learn French, just as it's also irrelevant if you have your heart set on learning Cantonese, and neither of those languages will be disappearing in your lifetime.

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saiki

I'm from India and working in Hong Kong now so I prefer to learn Cantonese instead. Everyone working with me is speaking Cantonese everyday and I think I need Cantonese for everyday conversation.... at least, I can understand a bit

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Kissa Weaver

Thanks all, I will stay in Hong Kong few year, so I decided to learn Cantonese. I live in Central, so I want to found a language school is close to me, any suggestion?

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saiki

Hey Kissa, I'm learning Cantonese in Wan Chai now! the lesson is enjoyable and very useful!

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skylee

Where in Wan Chai? I am just curious.

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aristeon

@imron

my point was that the official status of Portuguese and Cantonese is different. The only places where you might need Cantonese are Hong Kong and Macau (which I had forgotten to mention). However, even if you live in Canton province it's better to know Mandarin rather than Cantonese.

What you said is correct, of course. If you want to study a language or even a dialect just because you like or you have friends who speak it then you should do it, no question.

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Joseph Kimbrell
Gougu said: It really comes down to what you want to do with the language.

Agreed. I began learning Japanese and Mandarin because of my music. I have a following in Japan on twitter, and I have a Weibo for China, and I have a lot of fun interacting with them. I wanted to learn the language so I could connect with them and their culture more.

That being said, I also have a genuine interest in the language/culture/countries. I think that really helps.

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