Cantonese is the third largest Chinese language in terms of number of speakers, after Mandarin and Wu. It is spoken by more than 70 million people, mainly in southern China, as well as wu, gan, xiang, hakka and min. It is of course the official language of Macao and Hong Kong but also mainly that of the Chinese diaspora. 97% of the Hong Kong population speaks Cantonese and manifests it as an element of differentiation from mainland China. Although it is less spoken than Mandarin in China, it is still a very important but also very difficult language to learn. Cantonese is very different from Mandarin: a largely different vocabulary, a much more varied pronunciation due to the nine tones, a different structure and a significant number of particles that do not exist in Mandarin. (See: Compare Mandarin and Cantonese language) Fortunately, in writing it becomes easier thanks to the characters that are identical.
Indeed, the Chinese language, if it seems complicated to learn, and seems to require Chinese courses, has become very useful, whether it is speakers of Beijing, Taiwanese Chinese words or intensive courses of Shanghai Chinese. Far from the Great Wall of China and the cliché of Cantonese rice, Cantonese Chinese stands out from other Chinese. (See:
Sometimes considered as a dialect, it can in fact be related to a real Chinese language, whose civilization and writing system are unique to it. A real immersion in the languages spoken in China, from Beijing to Hong Kong. Travelling to China through languages has never seemed so interesting with Cantonese. According to a study, one third of the citizens of the People’s Republic of China (which is equivalent to more than 400 million people) do not speak Mandarin Shia called “putonghua”, i. e. “common language”. This figure simply shows that Cantonese is a version of Chinese that just needs to be developed, so that it can be read and written in the best possible way.
If you have decided to immerse yourself in Cantonese and learn to speak this form of Chinese, That’s a very good idea, congratulations! (See: The advantage of Learning Cantonese over Mandarin)It should be noted that Cantonese is a language that is often thought to be a Chinese dialect, but not in the original sense. It turns out that this language, spoken especially in southern China, is a good way to understand and assimilate oral pronunciation as well as the Chinese origin of certain terms. Because yes, like all languages, Chinese, and more particularly Cantonese Chinese, has a history, an origin, and memorizing some of its constructions allows us to pronounce as well as possible the language we want to speak. However, Mandarin Chinese is one of those so-called “languages” that are often compared to other “languages” of the same country, starting with Mandarin Chinese, therefore. The defenders of Cantonese Chinese announced the creation of Mandarin only about 100 years ago, while Cantonese is said to be 1000 years old. A real pillar of Chinese culture, which has even given its name to a famous local dish, Cantonese rice, of course! Cantonese Chinese is also the main language in Hong Kong, which was a British colony until 1997, but belongs to the Chinese nation. It is this administrative capital that gives Cantonese its strength to a large extent and keeps the language alive. Cantonese was therefore born in Canton (which is located in mainland China), where it can be spoken without concern. During a language stay on site, do not hesitate to find out more about what makes up the history, originality and identity of this language, which is also suitable for Westerners. Chinese culture at its height!
The particularities of Cantonese Chinese
Cantonese, which is very difficult to learn because it has nine “tones” instead of four for Mandarin, is officially a dialect of Mandarin. However, a number of linguists consider it a distinct language, with more than fifty million users in southern China, Hong Kong and the Chinese diaspora, and a large cultural production, including film production, in this language. Chinese people who do not come from Guangdong province cannot understand it, but they are used to hearing it because of Hong Kong’s cultural influence (films, music) in mainland China.
But then what are the particularities of Cantonese Chinese? First of all, it is generally considered as a spoken dialect, not a written language. A dialect spoken in the Canton region of Mainland China, but also in the Hong Kong administrative region, as we have seen previously. Indeed, the border makes things look different, and the two languages differ in a few respects. For example, Chinese characters are not the same in Canton, where they are simplified, as in Hong Kong. There are also many linguistic differences and distinctions that a non-bilingual or non-Chinese native beginner French cannot really understand. Nevertheless, to take a symbolic example, between Cantonese Chinese and Hong Kong Chinese, the initials ch and ts are constantly confused. Some people, on the other hand, are unable to make a difference between the two. This sometimes leads to pronunciation problems in language learning. On the same principle, the initial “s”, in Cantonese, can be perceived and understood as the initial “sh” and vice versa. As we have understood, Cantonese Chinese is a very particular language, which is even different from other forms of Cantonese, but also and above all from the official national language: Mandarin Chinese.
The differences between Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese Chinese
Mandarin Chinese is the official language of the country, and the language spoken by almost all the Chinese population. Cantonese then imposes itself there as a simple dialect, which is behind the only defenders of this way of speaking, specific to certain regions. However, Cantonese can be fully understood by Mandarin speakers, with some differences, of course. These are two very different dialects, almost languages, even if there are obviously common origins. The grammar of Cantonese is much richer than that of Mandarin. There are also large differences in pronunciation (especially in tones). Linguistic elements that are a sign that each language has its own identity, its own path, and its own Chinese language. An example of a typical difference in language and particular identity is, for example, that Cantonese Chinese has many syllables that end in a consonant. This element makes the sound of the language close to that of Korean. Mandarin Chinese is much less focused on this linguistic principle. In a few details, it is therefore easy to understand that Canton Chinese and Mandarin Chinese have little to do with each other, apart from being the fundamental basis of a language and culture. However, those who choose Cantonese will be keen to make their learning as smooth and simple as possible, and all this is possible, thanks to Superprof, private tuition, or simply an internship to progress quickly.
Learn Cantonese Chinese
Learning Mandarin is good, learning Cantonese is also good, yes yes yes! Indeed, this language, if presented as a Chinese dialect, turns out to be a language like any other, that can be learned as well as Spanish, French or Mandarin. Because, let us not forget, Cantonese is built like other foreign languages. It could even be an excellent way to stand out in a job interview, as other candidates probably do not speak Cantonese,but perhaps more Mandarin, much more widespread in the West. And yes, the language spoken in Hong Kong is not (yet?) the same as the one spoken in Beijing, that’s a fact! A strong, unique and original linguistic tool that will certainly make you talk about yourself.
Taking Mandarin class in Hong Kong is good, taking Cantonese class in Hong Kong is also worth to do. Taking private lessons via a teacher, an online platform, or simply an intensive internship is a good idea, if your project is fluent in this type of Chinese. Indeed, a teacher will then place himself as a guide, a support, a support, in this quest for Chinese knowledge through language. Yes, let us not forget that a foreign language is a whole part of a culture and a civilization that is open to us, and succeeding in learning a language like Cantonese Chinese is a real challenge, one that is confused with the pleasure of succeeding and progressing. There is nothing like mastering a subject like this to feel ready to face many other languages in the future. Chinese characters, typography, pronunciation, none of this is like our good old French, and giving ourselves the means to make all this familiar is a stimulating idea, which will allow us to progress, but also to rediscover ourselves and our motivation, our self-confidence, or our ability to adapt and our ability to be curious, to be interested in others.
Cantonese Chinese, if it is not really a dialect, but not quite a language in its own right, has the merit of being this kind of rich language, interesting from a cultural point of view, and carrying a singular meaning, whether we are in Paris, Hong Kong or Tokyo? Indeed, all this leads us to focus on a strong language, whose history may change over the years. Cantonese currently enjoys special treatment. Unlike other provinces, Guangdong television was allowed to use the regional language in the 1980s to reach audiences in Hong Kong and Macau, former British and Portuguese colonies that returned to Beijing in the 1990s, but remained outside the mainstream of Mandarin.
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