Comparing Cantonese to Mandarin

mandarin or cantonese

Many people are comparing Cantonese to Mandarin and deciding which language to learn. The fact is that Cantonese and Mandarin are the most spoken language varieties in China. Cantonese is mostly spoken in Hong Kong and South Eastern part of China while the Mandarin variety is spoken in South Western and Northern China. While Mandarin is the Official language in China, Cantonese is the most widely spoken form throughout China and the rest of the world in places such as most China towns, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. This is because Cantonese has been around for 2000 years while Mandarin for only 700 years. Also since most Chinese emigrants came from Hong Kong, the variety has spread throughout the world with these.

In here, I will compare their difficulty, usage, interest, business, culture and future.


The two languages are very different and two speakers of the two languages hardly communicate well with each other. This is because Cantonese and Mandarin hardly share words that have the same meaning. Cantonese has been around for 2000 plus years, it has accumulated a rich vocabulary that can prove daunting to a new learner. there are also many phrases that have been developed and stood the test of time to stay and retain meaning. A fair comparison of the two is like comparing an old wizen man with accumulated knowledge to a young man with much to learn. There is also a wide range of sounds in Cantonese than in Mandarin. This is because the variety has retained most of its middle age Chinese final consonant sounds. Also, the language is more oral and differs greatly with the written form, unlike Mandarin where the written form is the same as the spoken form.

On another level, Cantonese is more difficult of the two particularly because of the six tones compared to four of the Mandarin variety. Many learners of a few languages have difficulty in mastering a new language particularly because of the tones. stocked had tones, you may end up finding it easier than those whose native languages don’t have tones.

On writing, Cantonese uses the Traditional form of writing while the Mandarin uses both Traditional and simplified versions which contain fewer strokes. Also since more and more people learn Mandarin in Chinese classes than the Cantonese variety, it is more difficult to learn Cantonese due to the limited resources. These are fewer materials for learning Cantonese and no standardization in the course work for learning this language variety but it personally boils down to what you really want to learn perception is only as bad as you want it to be.


Cantonese and Mandarin have different areas where they are used. Mandarin is the standard form of communication in the mainland part of China and Taiwan. It is also part of the four spoken in Singapore and the official language for translation in the United Nations. Cantonese is spoken by some 66 million people in Singapore, Thailand, expatriate communities in China towns and the home base, Hong Kong and Macau.

While Mandarin is the principle dialect used in government administration and education, Cantonese is the informal language used in day by day communication and at home especially to the elders who don’t understand Mandarin. Surprisingly, Cantonese is also used in mass media such as print and electronic. Also in Hong Kong and Macau, Cantonese is the official language used in education, business, mass media, and administration. The other language is English.


There is an overall interest in learning Chinese. This is particularly felt in the United States where they see China as the next economic frontier and also by the Africans more so as a result of the heavy investment by the Chinese in the continent. Around the world, since 2005 there has never been such a huge interest shown by people to learn Chinese, over 1000% increase. This is more than any other language in the world. However, more and more people are opting to learn Mandarin than Cantonese. This is perplexing as Cantonese and English are the official languages in Hong Kong, a mega player in the business world.

Most people are opting for Mandarin particularly because there are more centers that teach Mandarin and which are stocked with the latest course materials. Also, this maybe because most find Mandarin easier to learn and write as they use fewer strokes than the Cantonese which is more expressive in writing requiring many strokes to form a character.

Also, a spectacle to behold is that more and more Chinese students are preferring to learn English and Mandarin to Cantonese. More so the native students in southern part China. The reason Given is that Cantonese Chinese characters are difficult and tedious compared the freeing nature of English alphabets.


The business hub in China is spaced out between Hong Kong and Beijing. The south is mainly focused on the finance sector and the north with the manufacturing and service sector. In learning Cantonese, you will most likely be at a better place as more business opportunities are opened for you. You will not only be at a better place in Hong Kong (interacting with local and international businessmen and women) but also with the majority of the Chinese elderly and those who don’t understand Mandarin who has opened up stalls in the streets. These types are many considering the fact that 70 percent of Chinese people prefer to communicate in Cantonese which logically means that more business opportunities are opened up for you.

Also is the fact that the Administration use and enforce Mandarin to the republic means that most writing and documents are in Mandarin. This means with a prior knowledge in it will mean an easier path for you without much hustle. Another fact is that the northern part of China which speaks Mandarin is far more accessible by road, unlike the southern part which is mountainous. This means easier and cheaper transport and the probability of business growing due to better interaction with the environment.

Another fact is that as with the current trend, more and more people are choosing to learn Mandarin which is opening new frontiers in business as more teachers are needed. Also, more books are needed and new applications are developed to assist with the learning.


Over the years, more and more students from all over the world are choosing to learn Mandarin, especially in the prospect that China will become the new financial frontier. This has led to many start asking questions about the future of this language. While many say that Mandarin will overtake English, that seems to be an over exaggeration. Mandarin has raised in terms of speakers but will take more years to beat English out of its title. The rise in Mandarin has been attributed to more schools introducing Chinese language in their curriculum and doing away with the German and French. All of these usually end up being hogwash since they have little practicality after school. However, since the elite members in China send their children to learn these international schools, little can be said apart from money talks.

Mandarin will continue to grow and may one day be a global language since there are more Chinese emigrants now than before. Also, there are new investment targets by the Chinese government such as Africa which is churning out thousands of new speakers every year.

The future of Cantonese is grim. 15 years ago, Hong Kong city was dominated by Cantonese speakers and even the television watched was in Cantonese. However, over the years, Mandarin has started encroaching this place and even the education system is being proposed to be changed from Cantonese based to Mandarin based.


Culture is the way of the people.  Mandarin and Cantonese are both Chinese and share similar cultural settings. Cantonese being the older of the two has a rich deep culture starting from the middle Chinese ages. Therefore, you expect the speakers to talk in a way you don’t understand. As stated above, Cantonese has over six tones and a rich vocabulary spoken by the southerners. Also, there is that part that both languages use characters when being written in the book. The culture of the Cantonese is to use the traditional form of writing which incorporates many strokes unlike that of the Mandarin which has fewer strokes.

Also Cantonese tend to have more phrases and slang developed over a long period of time that tend to be harder for the new learners. This variety also tends to have phrases related to its volatile history and has acquired some culture of it conquerors such as the Portuguese and the Brits during the 1880’s. Cantonese art and cuisine (notable for its use of fresh produce and seafood) are widespread and known worldwide and can be easily differentiated from the mainland Mandarin. Mandarin is quite simple and developing a culture of its own. Due to this, it is far much easier to learn and understand than the Cantonese.


China is a great country with many different dialects of which only two are more popular to the world. Cantonese in the southeastern part has been in the picture for ages but is now facing a major shove from the Mandarin which was officiated in 1932. Choosing the right one to learn will be a success considering the dynamic world we live in.


Is Cantonese a dying language to learn?