Should I learn Mandarin or Cantonese? (48)

1 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2006-08-24 20:57 ID:Ta4t6rNY

I live in Toronto, which has a big Chinese population, but most of them speak Cantonese.

2 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2006-08-25 01:41 ID:o+6dT2JP


3 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2006-08-27 06:55 ID:5lxJDAUL

Depends, is it for a job, or just your own personal benefit?

If its just personal benefit, go for the Cantonese. It's fun to badmouth people with a language they cant understand. XD

4 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2006-08-28 03:30 ID:0hPQck1E

learn hokkien instead.

5 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2006-08-28 16:19 ID:Ta4t6rNY

It's personal benefit, since i am part Chinese, but don't yet speak any dialect.

6 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2006-08-29 08:13 ID:0cf4BBgT

Go for the Cantonese. It'll let you communicate with the majority, and afterwards Mandarin if you choose to learn that to. (After learning your second language, i hear it just gets increasingly easier afterwards :D)

7 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2006-09-06 14:15 ID:W1aaPDq7

I thought learning Mandarin was mandatory in Chinese schools.

8 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2006-09-08 19:55 ID:FV/qRkj8

I think that I read somewhere that Mandarin is now the nationally language for China. Plus, Mandarin is pretty much overlapping Cantonese where I am. More businesses are using Mandarin and discarding Cantonese to attract the new wave of Chinese immigrants slowly coming into the area I live.

9 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2006-09-26 08:12 ID:mhYU2XsZ

If you only care about being able to communicate with the locals, then Cantonese.

But if you want to say, do business or work in China, then Mandarin. Unless you want to go to Canton or HK, heh.

10 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2006-09-26 20:47 ID:F1wkQ/5A

It really depends on what you want to do. I'll explain.

In mainland China, something like 70% of the population speaks Mandarin as a first language. Cantonese is spoken by about 20% of the population, maybe more, concentrated in the south and the cities on the coast. There are also some who consider this to be an ethnic difference as well, with even differences in physical anthropology, and speak of a Cantonese people who tend to be taller and lighter-skinned than the shorter, darker-skinned Mandarin people who make up the majority. The Mandarin speakers have historically considered themselves to be a distinct race or ethnicity, and in their own language, call themselves the Han people. But that's not really what you asked about.

Almost all Chinese immigrants to North America have always been Cantonese speakers. Since 1990, increasing numbers of Mandarin speakers have come to the US and Canada.

So, if you want to get around in Chinatown, and be able to flirt with the waitress, learn Cantonese. Cantonese is easier for a Westerner to learn, as Mandarin is a tonal language where every syllable has four possible completely unrelated meanings depending on inflection, and inflected / tonal langauges are the most difficult for a Westerner to learn.

If you want to go to China to teach English, or to do business, Mandarin. Even in the booming coastal cities, millions of Mandarin-speakers from the countryside are coming to look for work, so Mandarin is useful there as well.

If you want to visit Singapore, learn Hokkien. There are lots of Hokkien-speakers in Singapore.

And if you want a US government job, learn Fujien. Federal law enforcement agencies in the US, like the FBI, are desperate to find Fujien speakers, due to the appearance just in the past ten years of Fujien-speaking Triad gangs in Hawaii and California. There's a lot of money to be made, if that's what you want.

Oh, and, be advised: learning to speak, read, and write another language isn't something you can do in an afternoon, or even in a year. It takes hard work, dedication, and years of study to learn to communicate in another tongue. It's one of the most difficult intellectual feats human beings are capable of. If you truly want to do this it takes a committment of years of hard work. Which is probably why most people don't want to do it.

11 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2006-09-29 01:25 ID:RFRinAKE

Damn Communists and their Mandarin

12 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2006-12-03 16:32 ID:zxJ4eedo

If you dont care bout books/net articles, you don`t have to bother about mandarin. Best if you could learn both.

13 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2006-12-16 02:26 ID:zQF5OUrM

Mandarin is a really beautiful language when sung, in my opinion. I like listening to music from Taiwan even though I'll probably never learn the language.

14 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2006-12-16 11:57 ID:2JJN32/i

Learn Hindi. At least then you can say you're original.

15 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2006-12-17 22:54 ID:ycus4iiz

They both use the same written language.

16 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2006-12-20 10:03 ID:Heaven

No, Cantonese uses the traditional version of Chinese characters while Mandarin uses the simplified version.

17 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2008-03-16 22:00 ID:cl0iHj9L

#10, there are SO many misconceptions in that post, I don't know where to begin. Cantonese is spoken by MUCH less people than 20% of the Chinese population, and many of the 70% don't even speak "putonghua" Mandarin natively. And let's not set aside the non-Han peoples...
And the Cantonese ARE Han Chinese. Though they are genetically distinct from Han in the north (who tend to be light-skinned and tall, quite the opposite of your assertion), they are nonetheless considered part of the same culture.
Hokkien (AKA Taiwanese) IS Fujian. Unless you're talking about Fuchow, which isn't as affiliated with gangs as Hokkien.
Yes, Cantonese IS tonal!!! And not only that, they have TWICE the amount of tones as Mandarin!
Plese, do some more learning before posting, or at the VERY LEAST cruise on Wikipedia.

To the original - Mandarin it is. Since Mandarin is a lingua franca, Cantonese speakers are more likely to know Mandarin than vice versa. Besides, most documents in Hong Kong are written in baihua Mandarin. Written Cantonese is EXTREMELY informal.

Sorry for the necroposting - it just HAD to be done.

18 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2008-03-17 00:38 ID:JlLPaaPJ

>>1 should learned the Japanese instead.

Chinese languages are unrefined to asian ears.

19 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2008-03-17 01:39 ID:d8v6Nd1/

No, cantonese and mandarin both use traditional characters, but mandarin uses more simplified. Cantonese also has the same characters in simplified and traditional. So if you learn one of them, you'll be able to read both of them. But I think you should learn cantonese, since most people in your area speak it. Also because it sounds great.

20 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2008-03-17 16:58 ID:s1nbwSMv


>>Cantonese is easier for a Westerner to learn, as Mandarin is a tonal language where every syllable has four possible completely unrelated meanings depending on inflection, and inflected / tonal langauges are the most difficult for a Westerner to learn.

Sorry for necro-necroposting, but is it safe to assume that you know little-to-nothing about Cantonese? Cantonese has a significantly more complicated tone system than Mandarin. Mandarin has four tones, but Cantonese has at least six--traditionally seven, but the high falling and high level tones are conflating in most places. So although not all syllables are meaningful in all seven tones, a single syllable can have as many as seven meanings depending on inflection.

21 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2008-05-19 16:02 ID:oH17LAkv

CANTONESE...I think they made a huge mistake making Mandarin an official language...I think Cantonese is easier to learn and also more fun to learn as you can watch (while learning) HK dramas and listen to Cantopop. There are a lot of "entertainment" stuff in Cantonese - HK movies, HK TV dramas, most good Chinese songs are in Cantonese - Cantopop has way more songs than Mandopop because of the monster-size entertainment industry of Hong Kong. Basically, everything fun can be enjoyed in Cantonese - people in the U.S., Canada, etc - most speak Cantonese. Sure, most people in China speak Mandarin but - they are still not yet developed and most you probably not interested in talking to. Learn Cantonese first, then Mandarin.

22 Name: daphne : 2008-08-22 09:29 ID:F3ZfLUyP

i am a chinese in singapore,

23 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2008-08-22 13:36 ID:rVA2xXCn

They learn Mandarin in school. Most speak Mandarin in addition to any provincial/hometown languages. So if you want to maximise the number of people you can communicate with (including most Cantonese speakers), Mandarin makes more sense.

Cantonese on the other hand is somewhat easier to learn. Although it's more complex in some ways, the pronunciation tends to be more familiar to an English ear. More tones, yes, but tones aren't as big a challenge as most people seem to think. Speaking Cantonese will earn you massive kudos and the north sucks anyway, fuck those guys.

If anyone has a decision to make like the OP had, talk to one of your friendly locals and see what they think. Picking the language you can practice most conveniently is probably the best choice. Really, as long as whatever you decide matches you current needs, it's not such a big deal since learning one as a speaker of the other if you choose to do so later is a lot easier than learning chinese will be the first time around.

No, it's just that Hong Kong is cantonese, and HK still uses traditional characters. Mainland cantonese use simplified.

24 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2008-08-22 14:14 ID:BUNBbi+d

I agree with >>20.
If you want to learn one of them as a practical skill, then Mandarin is the way to go. Don't listen to >>21's bs about mainlanders being "not yet developed", and not as many people outside China speaking Mandarin. Freaking 1billion+ people speak Mandarin, and even the Hong Kong-ers are having to adapt to speaking Mandarin for the purpose of trade. I speak Cantonese myself, and can understand Mandarin, but I find that Canto (although cooler imo), is kind of limiting. Personally, I think it is a dying language.

> most good Chinese songs are in Cantonese
> everything fun can be enjoyed in Cantonese

Oh please. Most Cantonese songs are sung by overrated Hong Kong actors turned singers who can't even sing. I love Hong Kong, but I don't like how you so ignorantly justify the learning of a language on "entertainment stuff" and then diss China, the next super economic power of the world.

The Cantonese tones are definitely alot harder to master. Westerners are harder to understand when speaking Cantonese than Mandarin. With Mandarin, the tones are more, shall we say, straight?
Though if you really want to tough it out with Canto, then if you manage to speak it fluently (I mean, really fluently) then you can pick up Mandarin in virtually a heartbeat (a few weeks).

25 Name: ben : 2008-10-15 04:12 ID:PcHxbBGD

of course Mandarin.

corrections to 10:

yes, 70% of Chinese speak Mandarin, and it's mandatory for almost all the students in China and teachers, officials and media as well.

only about 5% speak cantonese in the south. cantonese is way complicated to most Chinese, it sounds like a foreign langugage, difficult to understand.

while mandarin has four tones, cantonese have eight tones.

26 Name: sage : 2008-10-26 01:32 ID:CKzLrkLB

Speaking of good Chinese songs, what are some good Mandarian Rock songs?

27 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2008-10-30 00:22 ID:pEmF2igy

Ade Irma - Bang Toyib

28 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2008-11-02 10:20 ID:IctbVVSv

I learnt to speak both and personally i believe that cantonese sounds like dogs barking and ducks quacking when you hear ppl speak at the normal rate in hk or canton. but mandarin sounds much to formal when spoken, like ur expressing ur views on darwins theory of evolution or something.

29 Name: Mandarin : 2008-11-21 01:52 ID:PibKGQO5

Mandarin FTW, it is the official and the real Chinese.

30 Name: East Asian Linguist : 2009-01-22 02:22 ID:mLYOwYmP

Both Mandarin and Cantonese use traditional characters. The written language is not inextricably bound to the spoken language. The difference is more regional and political: Mainland China officially uses simplified characters and Mandarin, yet the official language of Taiwan is also Mandarin, and they use traditional characters. Either way, when writing Chinese (whether in mainland China, Hong Kong, or Taiwan) the Mandarin sentence structure is almost always used. As was mentioned before, written Cantonese is extremely informal, and both literate Mandarin and Cantonese speaker alike should be able to read the normal mandarin-arranged sentences (Whether simplified in the mainland or traditional in Hong Kong and Taiwan).

31 Name: East Asian Linguist : 2009-01-22 02:24 ID:mLYOwYmP

Both Mandarin and Cantonese use traditional characters. The written language is not inextricably bound to the spoken language. The difference is more regional and political: Mainland China officially uses simplified characters and Mandarin, yet the official language of Taiwan is also Mandarin, and they use traditional characters. Either way, when writing Chinese (whether in mainland China, Hong Kong, or Taiwan) the Mandarin sentence structure is almost always used. As was mentioned before, written Cantonese is extremely informal, and both literate Mandarin and Cantonese speaker alike should be able to read the normal mandarin-arranged sentences (Whether simplified in the mainland or traditional in Hong Kong and Taiwan).

32 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2009-01-22 07:43 ID:RjiCa7DE

Mandarin. I believe that it will just eventually overcome Cantonese.

33 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2009-03-28 14:41 ID:5QpvYxFf

although cantonese sounds a bit special but what i always like to think is that if in the future china world domination maybe knowing how to speak chinese is good

34 Name: passer :D : 2009-04-16 12:50 ID:6s51kHer

hellos. i'm a singaporean chinese! :D i speak mandarin and also picked up some hokkien speech along the way which isnt hard since thats quite a common lauguage used here. now, i'm trying to learn canton, all for personal interest because i found the pronunciation really fun and interesting! :D (erm... actually i'm a teochew but i didnt really managed to grab hold of the dialect.. perhaps after canton i shall try teochew!)

so yeah, i would ask you to try canton but actually chinese would be nice too. i love the language~ hee hee... just try listening to how the dialect/language is spoken and decide which one sounds more interesting! :)

35 Name: Cruiser : 2009-05-16 07:48 ID:1lSlB8Wd

Very bad information given here by people who really do not know anything about China.

FIRST OF ALL, the VAST MAJORITY of China speaks Mandarin as a national language. Even though there are many different languages, Mandarin is the lingua franca. Cantonese is spoken by NO MORE than 5% of the population, the ONLY reason why Americans may think Cantonese is the dominant language is only because there are so many Cantonese in the US.

Also, Cantonese are Han Chinese. So are Mandarin speakers. Also, IN COMPLETE CONTRAST to what someone said earlier, it is the Northern Chinese (Mandarin origin) who are tall and light skinned. Southern Chinese, especially Cantonese, are stereotyped as small and dark skinned. So that assertion was completely twisted around.

Fujianese is the same language as Taiwanese, unless you are talking about Fuzhou which speaks a different dialect.

Learn Mandarin, it's what most Chinese communicate in. It also has LESS TONES than Cantonese and is far easier to learn.

36 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2009-06-04 14:23 ID:60eeofZJ

BEWARE: Cantonese characters are not mandarin characters, you won't be able to read China or Taiwan's newspapers. Even the grammar doesn't work the same. Learn mandarin, more people will know what you're talking about.

37 Name: Hi : 2009-10-15 06:32 ID:1JQseCyp

Mandarin and Cantonese are both dialects. They are not separate languages. I don't know why everyone thinks they are. It's not going to take you more than 1 year to understand the vast majority of the other if you already hold one of them. It might take you two years to get the spoken part right. If it was another language entirely it would be several times harder.

38 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2009-10-15 09:41 ID:cUa3rPk6

Mandarin and Cantonese are DIFFERENT. It not only the word they use but how they use it. A Cantonese comic book would not make sense in Mandarin. However learning Mandarin would be more useful, unless you want to go Hong Kong disneyland.

39 Name: STOP MISINFORMING!8NBuQ4l6uQ : 2009-12-11 17:03 ID:uTiEwxUt

DONT READ THAT BEWARE crap someone put up. A person from HK or Canton can understand a newspaper from mainland China and they can definitly read newspaper from Taiwan.

However, mandarin is definitly the language to learn because its the official language of China used to unite different regions in China. If you go to HK or Canton you will be fine with just mandarin but if you go to mainland china and spoke only cantonese then you will not be fine at all, infact it's probably better you speak english.


There will be more people in China that will understand english rather than cantonese.

40 Name: my2cents : 2010-02-15 05:28 ID:ScD/nVLZ

Here in Toronto, there are still a lot more Cantonese-speaking than Mandarin-speaking where Cantonese is still twice amount of Mandarin. So if you live here in Toronto, more useful to learn Cantonese.

Learn Mandarin if you plan to work/study/live in China (or Taiwan).

41 Name: blip : 2010-02-17 07:59 ID:m/Q7JkmO

mandarin has a richer ancient history. you'll probably sound more wise and poetic. always something old to learn.

cantonese on the other hand is more modern and trendy, esp. with the slang and stuff. always something new to learn.

42 Name: NIK : 2010-04-22 13:32 ID:gyK2lAqr

Cantonese! It's a very beautiful language. No offense to anyone, but Mandarin is offensive to my ears.

Cantonese is the main language of Hong Kong used by the government and used as the medium of instruction in schools.

Plus you have all the great Cantopop and HK films!

43 Name: Ben : 2010-05-09 05:12 ID:S+P47byE

Man, some stupid people here just post misinformation or lies. Cantonese and Mandarin are all HAN.

Cantonese is the older more artistic language that ancient poetry is meant to be read in. It is the closest resemblance in linguistics to the Han Dynasty. It's "trendiness" is due to the flexiblity (informal side) of the language.

Cantonese is WAY harder to learn since there is no formal learning "structure" like Mandarin's pinyin (especially the informal way of speaking Cantonese), many more tones, and much more flexibility. Also it is waning in importance as Mandarin is enforced in schools and as China rises.

The government's reason to pick Mandarin (more spoken) and simplified Chinese as the official language/writing was to promote mass literacy. The sacrifice of course was the beauty and complexity of Cantonese and traditional Chinese. Chinese calligraphy was meant to be written using Traditional Chinese because it perserved the "spirit" of the word which simplified does not.

44 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2010-05-23 04:24 ID:ggq68zgU

Cantonese is alot similar to japanese in that it has alot of foreign words spoken with a Cantonese-feel. It is said that Cantonese people has a mixed vocabulary of chinese, english, and japanese.

Learning Mandarin is more useful in that more people will understand you. Also, learning mandarin doesn't mean that you have to forfeit the beauty of traditional Chinese, as the above comment implies. Traditional and simplified are just different writing systems, both of which can be used for Mandarin and Cantonese. However, Mandarin is a language that can be directly transcribed to its written form, while Cantonese need to be "translated" to a different version in writing to rid of the slang.

45 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2010-05-23 04:32 ID:ggq68zgU

My friends say that, if they translate mandarin directly to Cantonese, changing only the pronunciation, they sound like politicians.From that, it can be affirmed that Mandarin is much more formal. To sound sophisticated, I would suggest mandarin.

46 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2011-09-12 19:31 ID:rPFh0NRK

Just want you guys to know one thing: people from Hong Kong who speak Cantonese have to learn Mandarin now as the Mainland China rises. You know what, when the Mainland China was still poor, people who speak Mandarin were considered as country bumpkins, and there was basically no influence of Mandarin.

So, if you choose to learn Mandarin, you can communicate with Chinese people from Mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, and all over the world.

47 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2012-01-30 17:57 ID:LhfsO+lM

You're all bitches.

48 Name: Anonymous Linguist : 2012-02-17 07:34 ID:1WUameKs

Mandarin is more widely spoken. It is also one of the 5 official languages in the United Nations.

If you have a choice, learn Mandarin. Because if you know Mandarin, you can even be understood even in Hong Kong, Macau and Guangzhou (formerly known as Canton). By the way, Guangzhou is the Mandarin spelling instead of a Cantonese one. It is essential, or strongly recommended, for Traditional Chinese Medicine students or practitioners to know Mandarine because the names of the acupoints and herbs are from Pinyin. But if you need to talk to a Cantonese, who doesn’t know Mandarin at all, which is less likely to happen, do you have any choice?

This thread has been closed. You cannot post in this thread any longer.