wikiHow to Learn Cantonese

Three Parts:Learning the Parts of CantoneseTaking LessonsStudying on Your Own

Cantonese is a form of Chinese spoken in Hong Kong, Macau, Guandong, Guangxi, and Hainang, as well as in Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, the Phillipines, and Indonesia. Chinese is the third most common language spoken in the United States, and Cantonese by itself is the 20th.[1] As a result, it is not difficult to locate Cantonese teachers and tutors in most cities of the United States. You can also learn Cantonese by studying at home and abroad.

Part 1
Learning the Parts of Cantonese

  1. Image titled Learn Cantonese Step 1
    Learn the tones. Cantonese has up to 9 tones, but most speakers use six. Tones are used to distinguish various meanings of a syllable. The tones can be level, rising, or falling in pitch. You don't need perfect pitch to speak Cantonese, but you do need to be able to control your pitch enough to make it rise, fall, or hold steady.
    • The high level tone is transcribed as "ā" in Yale. It is a high, steady pitch.
    • The mid rising tone is "á" in Yale. It starts at your normal pitch and ends higher.
    • The mid level tone does not rise or fall, but continues at your normal pitch.
    • The low falling tone, "àh," starts slightly below your ordinary pitch and ends lower.
    • The low rising tone, "áh," starts slightly below your ordinary pitch and ends at your ordinary pitch.
    • The low level tone, "ah," begins and ends in your ordinary pitch without changing.
    • You will need to take classes or listen to recordings to learn how to properly vocalize and recognize the tones.
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    Count. A great way to practice Cantonese tones and sounds is to learn to count to ten. When you count, lilt the numbers up and down, beginning up with one, then down with two, then up with three.
    • 1 一 yāt
    • 2 二 yih
    • 3 三 sāam
    • 4 四 sei
    • 5 五 ńgh
    • 6 六 luhk
    • 7 七 chāt
    • 8 八 baat
    • 9 九 gáu
    • 10 十 sahp
    • Once you have learned to count to 10, learn double digit numbers. To say 11, 12, 13, and up, say "sahp" (ten) and then the second digit. 11 is "sahpyāt," (ten-one), while 12 is "sahpyih."[2]
  3. Image titled Learn Cantonese Step 3
    Learn key vocabulary. Find and practice the words and phrases you need to build your most ordinary phrases. It is wise to cluster your vocabulary: learn related words together, instead of randomly or in alphabetical order.
    • Study along with a guide that provides recordings, such as
    • Learn how to say temporal markers: now (而家 yīgā), late (遲 chìh), early (早 jóu), morning (朝早 jīujóu), afternoon (晏晝 ngaanjau), and evening (夜晚 yeh máahn.)
    • Learn basic greetings, such as Hello (你好. Néih hóu), How are you? (你好嗎? Néih hóu ma?) and the less formal How are you recently? (近排點呀? Gahnpàaih dím a?), and the answers: Fine (好. Hóu)
    • Practice your formal goodbye (再見 Joigin), and your informal goodbye (拜拜 Bāaibaai, as in "bye-bye").
    • Learn to ask basic questions, such as What is your name? (你叫乜嘢名呀? Néih giu māt'yéh mèhng a?) or the more formal "How do I address you?" (請問點稱呼? Chíngmahn dím chīngfū?)
    • Memorize the answers. My name is (我個名叫, Ngóh go méng giu), and Nice to meet you (幸會. Hahng'wúih).
    • Learn to say Please (請. Chíng), to thank someone for helping you (唔該. M̀h'gōi), and to thank someone for a gift (多謝 Dōjeh). To say You're welcome, say "唔使客氣. M̀h'sái haak-hei."
    • To get attention, say Excuse me (唔好意思. M̀h'hóu yisi) and to get past someone say Excuse me like this (唔該. M̀h'gōi or 唔該借借 M̀h'gōi jeje)
    • To apologize say Sorry (對唔住. Deui-m̀h-jyuh. If you're apologizing in Hong Kong, just say Sorry in English.
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    Ask and answer yes-no questions. In Chinese, you ask yes-no questions by stating both the positive and negative form of a verb, then adding an "ah" to the end of the sentence. For instance, if you are asking "are you John?" you would say "nay hie-hm-hie John ah," literally "you are-not-are John?"[3]
    • To answer, you would not say "yes" or "no," as there are not standard words for these in Cantonese.
    • Instead, you would repeat the negative or positive form of the verb. If you are indeed John, you would say "hie" (am). If you are not, say "hm hie" (am not).

Part 2
Taking Lessons

  1. Image titled Learn Cantonese Step 5
    Sign up for classes at a Chinese school. Search your phone directory or look online for Cantonese language schools in your area. Other than Spanish, Chinese is the most common non-English language in the United States. It can be easier to find Standard Chinese lessons, but Cantonese schools and Cantonese classes at Language schools are still common.
    • Chinese classes at Chinese language schools are often designed for children. Look for classes for adults, or consider taking classes at a community college or community center.
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    Get a tutor. Meeting for one on one practice with a tutor will help you learn conversational skills and manners as well as vocabulary and grammar. Contact a tutoring service or a language school to find a Cantonese speaker.
    • Many speakers of Cantonese come to the United States for college. Try contacting the language department of local universities to see if they know any foreign exchange students who are interested in tutoring you.
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    Take lessons online. There are many MOOCs and distance-learning courses available for students of Cantonese. You can take free classes at your own pace, or you can sign up for a class. If you pay, make sure your class gives you access to quality media and at least one teacher who can answer your questions over email, Skype, or chat.
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    Take lessons abroad. Sign up for an immersive language program abroad. Find a highly-rated program that will have you speaking only Cantonese for the entirety of your visit. Alternatively, arrange for a visit in Hong Kong or Macau and take classes part-time while immersing yourself in the culture in your free time.
    • If you go abroad to study Cantonese, be sure to vet your options thoroughly. There are many institutes advertising classes, but the quality is highly variable. Check the credentials of the staff before committing to a class. Teachers with degrees in Chinese or in Education are your best bet.
    • Consider taking a class at the Chinese University of Hong Kong,[4] or a class at The University of Hong Kong through the Chinese Department.[5]
    • Cheaper classes can be found at Hong Kong's YMCAs, but check the ratings before you sign up.
    • To find classes of good repute, visit websites like and search for Cantonese schools.[6]
    • Classes in Hong Kong might be more expensive (you might pay about 400 for a week of classes), while classes in a less expensive place, like Guangdong, might be cheaper but more difficult to locate and verify.
    • Consider accent before you choose a teacher or city. If you plan to do business in Hong Kong, but would like to save money by studying in Guangdong, you will likely pick up an accent that will not serve your ambitions.

Part 3
Studying on Your Own

  1. Image titled Learn Cantonese Step 9
    Expand your vocabulary. Keep a notebook of words you would like to learn in Cantonese. When you hear a word you don't know, or when you realize you don't know how to say something, write it down and look it up later. Build yourself vocabulary lists based on themes (weather, time, food, family, business, vacation) and break them into vocabulary flashcards to study.
    • Memorization is a huge part of learning any Chinese language. Bring flashcards with you so you can study while you wait in line, while you eat, and while you're riding on public transportation.
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    Choose how to approach reading and writing. There are two standard forms of written Cantonese: formal and informal. The informal version is close to spoken Cantonese, while the formal version is very similar to Standard Chinese (Mandarin). Many Cantonese speakers learn to read and write in Standard Chinese with Cantonese pronunciation.[7]
    • Written Cantonese is unusual outside of Hong Kong.[8]
    • Colloquial Cantonese in Hong Kong includes standard Chinese characters plus over a thousand Cantonese characters.[9]
    • There are several forms of Romanization for phonemic written Cantonese, including Cantonese Pinyin, Jyutping, and Yale.
    • For Standard Chinese Romanization, learn Pinyin.
    • Depending on your language interests, you may choose to study formal or informal Cantonese pinyin and characters, Standard Chinese pinyin and characters, or select words and characters of any of these options for travel purposes.
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    Watch movies and television. Thanks to online streaming video services, it's easy to find Cantonese films and television shows. Try watching movies, and get hooked on a quality show like "The Insider's Guide to Happiness."[10] Watch with the subtitles on, and pause to look up words or check plot summaries to make sure you are absorbing as much as possible.
    • Rewatch episodes and pay attention to moments you felt you didn't understand.
    • Watch out for subtitles. If you are practicing your Chinese by watching English-language films with Chinese subtitles, you are likely to come across mostly Standard Chinese. However, some shows, such as The Simpsons, are subtitled in written Cantonese.
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    Read books, newspapers, and comic books. It is more challenging to access written Cantonese than it is to find written Standard Chinese. If you are learning Standard Chinese with a Cantonese accent, you will have a wider variety of literature and media available to you. However, there are options for the Cantonese reader.
    • To determine whether or not a text is in Cantonese, check for common words that are not used in Mandarin, such as 佢 or 姖 (he/she).[11]
  5. Image titled Learn Cantonese Step 13
    Visit a Chinese church or temple. Speakers of Cantonese observe many different religious and spiritual practices. Look up local Buddhist temples and Christian churches to find services in Cantonese. Make sure to look up the etiquette of the place you are going before you visit—you don't want to offend anyone, especially if you are planning on returning!
    • If you have any friends who speak Cantonese or who attend a Chinese religious center, ask for tips, or ask to be brought along.

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Categories: Chinese | World Languages