Imagine your first day at university: you enroll in Physics I, just to realize you have to enroll in Physics II next semester. Well, if Mandarin is Physics, then Cantonese is Physics II. What is Cantonese? It’s the traditional form of Chinese (making it even more difficult to learn than Mandarin), and remains one of the major dialects spoken in China – it is even one of the few dialects other than Mandarin used in official contexts. Learning Cantonese can unlock a whole new understanding of what it means to be “Chinese.” Sign up for Cantonese language courses and get some Canto-pop stuck in your ears, some dim sum stuck in your teeth, and your heart stuck in south China.
There are about 80 million Cantonese speakers in the world – you might already be thinking your number of Instagram followers is about to go through the roof. But after that initial thought wanders out your mind, you’ll want to bust out a map and look towards southern China. So, where is Cantonese spoken? Primarily the countries of China, Hong Kong, and Macau.
Hong Kong is by far the most famous and notorious place for learning Cantonese, as it’s the most international city in Asia. Learning Cantonese in Hong Kong is the best of both worlds. In the city center, you’ll have access to non-stop urban amenities while on the south side of the island, there are countless blue water beaches. If you’re a foodie, Kowloon district will be your dream come true. If you want to tap into your inner childhood and chat with Mickey Mouse using your new language skills, check out Hong Kong Disneyland! No matter your calling, a Cantonese course in Hong Kong is unparalleled.
For those who want a more traditional approach for learning Cantonese, Guangzhou, China provides great options. It’s the vanguard of China’s Tier 1 cities; with 10 to 12 million people, you won’t get lonely! You’ll see Cantonese language programs scattered all across Guangzhou. Guangzhou houses a world famous opera house for your listening pleasure. For the sports fans, Tianhe Stadium will host all your soccer events, so get ready to yell your heart out at the Shanghai vs. Guangzhou annual game.
For the social butterfly, Shenzhen can be your nest. Shenzhen, located just north of Hong Kong, has the infamous “Window of the World,” a theme park with miniature figures of worldly structures (imagine seeing Big Ben at seven feet tall!). Its recently experienced an influx of foreigners, so whenever you need a break from learning Cantonese and want to speak English, you’ll have plenty of friends to discuss the difficulties of catching a taxi or learning the different tones.
If you aren’t sure where to study, it’s all a matter of preference. But if you want to know how to learn Cantonese fast, stick to the above suggestions. To find the best Cantonese language course, just read the reviews over there on the left!
Cantonese Language Programs
You stare on your computer screen with a frantic glare as uncertainty fills your thoughts. As you switch back and forth between tabs deciding between a language school or a university program, asking yourself “Should I learn Cantonese or Mandarin?!,” and suddenly, your computer goes ballistic, and you decide to go take a nap and recover. Take a load off and don’t worry too much about which program is the best. The best way to learn Cantonese is to find a program that’s the best for you.
Cantonese language programs at a private school can be a bit more expensive, but also consider that you get what you pay for. If you want a school that only focuses on Cantonese, then a language school is a sure win. Language schools will have very small classes averaging under 10 people. These schools offer a lot of activities to encompass your new skills, such as Chinese corner, trip excursions, and Chinese calligraphy lessons.
Your university options may be limited in Shenzhen and Guangzhou, as the official language is Mandarin, so you might have to get your fingernails dirty and dig around on Google or Baidu. All of the universities in Hong Kong offer Cantonese programs. Universities will be a bit more social, as your classes will have between 15-25 people depending the level. University language programs vary in intensity depending on your goals, and can range from two hours weekly to 20 hours weekly!
Tutors are easy to come by as it’s a campus and everyone needs some help at some point, and there’s always someone willing to help.
Tips for Learning Cantonese
If you’re a native English speaker, then learning another Latin-based language such as French or Spanish can be a familiar rodeo. Cantonese is a completely different show. Cantonese can be a bit challenging but as the phrase says, “no risk, no reward.”
Why learn Cantonese? Depending on your goals and level of commitment, you can reach an advanced level of Cantonese in as little as two to three years—that’s a lot cheaper and faster than a graduate degree if you’re comparing your options. You’ll want to commit about 15 to 20 hours weekly for intensive homework marathons. Yes, this does sound like a lot, but once you start, you won’t want to stop (just like eating pringles).
The best Cantonese language courses will want to help you make connections while abroad. To add to your regular studies and help speed up your comprehension, you are better off finding a language partner or friend. As English is the number one language being taught in China, you can find a language exchange partner or group to practice in real time – high quality Cantonese courses can help facilitate these introductions.
If you’re tech savvy and love to learn on the go, arm your favorite device with podcasts to keep you company. Listening to music or audio lessons in the target language will help you subtly learn the flox and syntax of the language, as well as slang and varied phrasing that textbooks are just too stiff to help with!
Benefits & Challenges
Like any other major decision, such as buying a car, going to graduate school, or buying a new iPhone even though yours is one model behind, you have to weigh both sides of the board.
Studying Cantonese can be a bit difficult if you’re coming from a Latin-based speaking country, so get ready to slur your words. Cantonese is spoken in a very limited region in China, so if you have no long-term interests in the area, it might not be worth your time.
Cantonese is spoken in two metropolitan and financial hubs: Hong Kong and Shenzhen. If you’re looking for international business opportunities, why not look in the world’s second largest economy? Beyond improving your business prospects, learning a new language is a part of learning a new culture. Now, when others ask “What is Cantonese?!”, you’ll be armed-and-ready to WOW them with your new skills.
If you’re still wondering “Should I learn Cantonese or Mandarin?!”, stop already! The answer is clear: learning Cantonese will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Instead of spending your money on things that will go out of style the second you buy them, invest in a life changing experience. You’ll be ordering hot pot and dim sum like you’ve lived in Asia since Confucian times before you know it!