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Do most people at chinese restaurants speak cantonese mostly?


pianodog
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Seeing how other than spanish, chinese is the 3rd most spoken language in the US. I've always kinda wanted to learn chinese and so now I've started doing so but I was unsure whether to learn mandarin or cantonese. My goal is to be able to communicate well with people in chinese restaurants who don't know english well and to be able to speak to people in china towns in the US.  Evidently there isn't many mandarin speaking people in the US, right?  They're all pretty much cantonese.  

 

I don't want to be learning the wrong dialect, I generally think cantonese sounds softer than mandarin which is quite funny sounding to me. Do I have this wrong?  When I watch old mandarin kung fu movies/horror movies they talk really funny but cantonese movies sound a bit more relaxed in their speech. Tones are evidently more subtle in cantonese than mandarin. I'll probably pick up mandarin if I learned cantonese really well just so I would be well versed but seeing how I could talk to real people in person where I live if I knew cantonese.

 

 

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Evidently there isn't many mandarin speaking people in the US, right? They're all pretty much cantonese.

That's the common view, but things have changed. There are many Mandarin speakers in the US today, even though the "traditional" Chinese immigrants, who came to the US from southern China via Hong Kong were mostly Cantonese-speaking.

There are good reasons for learning Cantonese -- living in Hong Kong, Guangdong or Macau, having Cantonese in-laws, strong affinity for the language, etc. but it is generally accepted that the resources (textbooks, courses, media) for learning Mandarin are vastly superior. Also, Mandarin speakers outnumber Cantonese speakers 10 to 1 on a global scale. This is why people generally go for Mandarin unless they have a really strong reason to choose another dialect.

You certainly shouldn't make the decision based on a local restaurant and the sound of a short kung-fu snippet ;)

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I find that in our area (Charlotte, NC) most who work in Chinese restaurants come from Fujian and speak Fujianese with each other (is that Minnanhua?)  I think many Taiwanese can also speak this and sometimes work with them together - feel free to correct me if I've confused my dialects)  Both Taiwanese and Fujianese can understand and speak Mandarin.  There are often a few workers from other parts of China that don't speak Fujianese so Mandarin sometimes becomes the lingua franca in the kitchen anyway.   I agree with renzhe that it's MUCH easier to find great learning materials in Mandarin than in Cantonese.  I'm currently learning Cantonese and it's tough to find good materials. IT's tough even though I'm already fluent in Mandarin and can read the traditional characters used in Cantonese.  I'm making progress but I feel like it was easier learning Mandarin with NO background knowledge!  :)

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Yeah, the "lingua franca" aspect of Mandarin should not be ignored. We have a local restaurant run by people from Wenzhou, we speak Mandarin to them. There is a local shop whose owners are from somewhere in Jiangsu, we speak Mandarin with them. Many Chinese pick up decent Mandarin through exposure to media and Mainland tourists even if they didn't originally speak it.

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Not to discourage you, but that's going to be a hell of a lot of effort just so as to be able to speak to staff in Chinese restaurants in the US. It takes most people a long time, even in China, to learn Mandarin to a competent enough level to actually converse meaningfully (as opposed to just ordering a dish). Now try doing that, in Cantonese, in the US. Sorry, can't see it happening.

 

But anyway, in reply to your question, I don't really know the demographics of the Chinese community in the US, but I think it's fairly safe to say that those staff who don't have good English are probably new arrivals to the US, and thus, assuming they are from China, they will almost certainly be able to speak Mandarin, regardless of whether, or more likely not, their mother tongue is Cantonese. So, Mandarin would definitely be the one to choose, from the point of utility, and also ease of learning (given the relative wealth of learning resources).

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I don't know how the Chinese community is in the US but in Paris (France), we have mainly people from Guanzhou (Paris, 13th district which is the European biggest Chinatown) and Wenzhou (Paris, 20th district and a suburb area called Aubervilliers, European first importation site).

Both communities talk their their own dialect among themselves but I never met anyone who can't speak Mandarin outside of very old people like my grand parents who are in their 80ies (but went back to China) or 华裔 (People with Chinese origins) like me.

My bet would be to learn Mandarin, you'll cover much more ground. At the rate how China is changing, Mandarin will be a given even in small cities in a few years (decades?) since future old people would speak it too.

I visited China a lot because of my origins, I never been in a place where they couldn't understand nor speak mandarin.

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The Chinese in the US seem to be tremendously fragmented. In a Chinatown you'll have the Chinese society that's pro Taiwan, the Chinese society that's pro PR China, and then you'll have those with links to Hong Kong.

 

What restaurants are you eating in? Cantonese and dim sum restaurants, obviously Cantonese would be best, but even in the UK, in Cantonese run restaurants, waiting staff are becoming mandarin speakers who understand Cantonese but have to reply to you in Mandarin.

 

While in principal, it would be good to say that all Cantonese speakers should learn Mandarin, it's very political these days. Most people in HK don't speak Mandarin, and they have no real need to unless their work requires them to. 

 

BTW talking to restaurant staff normally means going off menu, and they all hate that (speaking as someone who grew up in the catering industry). The only acceptable thing to ask is what seasonal vegetables they have, even asking for no MSG would wind us up.

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Really? So I should learn mandarin instead? I mean, are you saying that if I learn cantonese I will only be able to converse with a small group of people?  If that's true, it's a good thing I haven't learned many vocabulary.  

 

By the way, the people in the restaurant are very friendly and loves it when you say anything in chinese to them. Would they understand mandarin probably?  

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Pianodog,

They may or may not speak Mandarin. The question you must ask is where do they come from? If they are younger generation from HK then they most certainly speak Mandarin. If they are from the mainland or Taiwan they speak Mandarin. If they are from Malaysia or elsewhere in SE Asia they likely do not speak Mandarin or Cantonese properly.

My answer to you is learn Mandarin. Learning Cantonese presents a number of problems, not least the fact that there are few learning resources for learning Cantonese.

As for Cantonese sounding softer than Mandarin, I have always thought that it was the other way around. Are you sure those people are speaking Cantonese and not Mandarin?

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Cantonese people should learn Mandarin. When I say this is get hearty agreement from just about all Chinese.

I'm assuming "Chinese" means "mainland Chinese people" here, in which case, you might as well say:

 

"Scotland shouldn't become independent of the UK. When I say this I get hearty agreement from just about all English people."

 

In other words... so what?

 

Also, it's widely accepted by linguists that Cantonese is a different language from Mandarin. Calling them "dialects" is misleading.

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Demonic_Duck, are all English people of a mind to deny Scotland independence? I am fairly sure that a lot of English people would favor Scottish independence because a less Scottish UK is a more English UK.

I have asked mainland Cantonese and even HK people to general agreement.

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The majority of English people would prefer for Scotland to stay in the UK, though it's not as lopsided as, say, if you asked mainland Chinese for their thoughts on Taiwan independence...

 

I don't really know what Hong Kongers think about learning Mandarin to be honest, but my guess is that if they respond with "yes, we should learn it", they're saying that for purely pragmatic reasons.

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I find that in our area (Charlotte, NC) most who work in Chinese restaurants come from Fujian and speak Fujianese with each other (is that Minnanhua?)  I think many Taiwanese can also speak this and sometimes work with them together - feel free to correct me if I've confused my dialects)  Both Taiwanese and Fujianese can understand and speak Mandarin.  

 

If it follows the general US East Coast pattern, most of the Fujianese will be speaking a variety of Min Dong with each other, whilst a minority of the Fujianese may be speaking other Min varieties (e.g. Puxian) whilst the Taiwanese will speaking the Taiwan variety of Min Nan, of which an even smaller minority of immigrant Fujianese will speak as a native language. Mandarin is certainly the lingua franca in such a situation.

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can read the traditional characters used in Cantonese.

There seems to be some misunderstanding here. What does it mean? Does it mean Cantonese is expressed in traditional characters?

 

Skylee, I just mean that I can read the traditional characters used as subtitles in HK TV shows and movies, but I still  find it difficult to follow along.  I realize that many Cantonese expressions either don't have or are seldom expressed in written form, and indeed that is part of what makes it challenging. 

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I find that in our area (Charlotte, NC) most who work in Chinese restaurants come from Fujian and speak Fujianese with each other (is that Minnanhua?)  I think many Taiwanese can also speak this and sometimes work with them together - feel free to correct me if I've confused my dialects)  Both Taiwanese and Fujianese can understand and speak Mandarin.  

 

If it follows the general US East Coast pattern, most of the Fujianese will be speaking a variety of Min Dong with each other, whilst a minority of the Fujianese may be speaking other Min varieties (e.g. Puxian) whilst the Taiwanese will speaking the Taiwan variety of Min Nan, of which an even smaller minority of immigrant Fujianese will speak as a native language. Mandarin is certainly the lingua franca in such a situation.

 

Michaelyus, thanks for clearing up my confusion about the Fujian and Taiwan dialects. In one local restaurant a Taiwanese manager oversees Fujianese and other mainland hires. I've overheard him speaking Mandarin with some of them and that explains it. 

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Because tailer-making something to suit a customer's taste takes more effort than producing the standard version? For example, a signature dish needs a certain kind of sauce and there is msg in it. If you don't want msg, the restaurant has to specifically make the sauce for you, or at least make ready two types of sauce (with and without msg) instead of one.

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