Anonymous asked in TravelAsia PacificChina · 1 decade ago

How useful is Mandarin in Hong Kong for a short trip?

I am currently learning Mandarin, but will be visiting Hong Kong shortly and was wondering how useful the language is there for getting around in comparison to English? I know the native language of the region is Cantonese, and that Mandarin for the majority is pretty much a foreign language, but I'm guessing the majority of people from HK are resonably proficient in Mandarin?

Also, with foreigners, do the people have any preferance over whether they use English or Mandarin to speak with foreigners? If a white person were to address someone from HK in Mandarin (assuming it was pronounced well enough for comprehension) would they be more likely to respond in Mandarin or English?

I'm a bit worried as I'd like to practice Mandarin, but some people have been giving me the impression that Cantonese speakers in general don't like Mandarin and that in HK it's essentually useless if you speak English better than your Mandarin.


14 Answers

  • 1 decade ago
    Favorite Answer

    Hong Kong people won't necessarily appreciate your use of Mandarin. It's equivalent maybe to speaking in Spanish while visiting Portugal. However, you won't need any Chinese to get around to the most basic sites. Most street signs and maps are bilingual, and the tube is very easy to navigate. (Purchase an Octopus card as soon as you arrive.) Also, have your hotel concierge write everywhere you want to go in Chinese characters, for instance the name and address of a particular restaurant you want to go to.

    If you still feel insecure, another tip to get you past the inevitable language challenge here or there is to carry a small pocket sized phrasebook or dictionary. When you have challenges communicating you can refer to the Chinese character in the book. (Most likely, you won't be able to pronounce it, but they can read it.) In China I regularly used a dictionary like this for the first two years I lived there, though in Hong Kong I never felt a need to carry a phrasebook.

    All that said, your Mandarin won't hurt you. Most Hong Kong people of any age will know enough Mandarin to understand anything you could say after one or two years of study. For instance, if you ask for a xi zao jian or wei sheng jian, or if you say yao or bu yao, everyone will know what you mean. Also, you will overhear many native Mandarin speakers talking to each other in Putonghua. Feel free to practice speaking with them; they will be delighted with your interest.

    A final tip is that it's quite worthwhile, IMO, to learn basic phrases in Cantonese, particularly "thank you" (m'goi), counting and money words (yat yi sam, gei cheena, etc). A little bit goes a long way in communicating that you respect another culture enough to try and learn some of their language.

    I hope you make it over to China, where you can experience the vast difference between China and Hong Kong and practice your Putonghua.

    Source(s): Lived there
  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    I've never been to south-east Asia, but I do know a lot of people from hong kong. From what I'm told, among the younger generation, there are many who are proficient in english, however mandarin speakers are very few and far between.

    So I would say you're better of using english, and perhaps bringing a cantonese phrase book would be handy ? I would presume that the languages are very similar, so learning cantonese should be a lot easier for you, if you already know mandarin.

  • 1 decade ago

    Because HK is such a tourist attraction, I think you'll be fine with just English. That doesn't mean that you should stop learning Mandarin though. Yes, Cantonese would be recommended for this trip over Mandarin. But it's not a big deal if you don't know much Cantonese though. Chances are, most of the people there should know Mandarin because it's the main dialect they use in China. You should learn some Cantonese just in case though, like the key phrases such as numbers, asking about the bathroom, asking for an English translation, and anything you find that may be important.

    As I said, people in HK are used to having Americans around because it's a tourist attraction (but you'll get some stares once in a while). If you speak English with them, they're gonna try to answer you in English. If they don't know English, then they would try to tell you that either in Cantonese (most likely) or Mandarin. They might also try to get someone who knows English to communicate with you. So my point is, they will try their best to respond to you in whatever language you speak to them with.

    I highly encourage you to continue learning Mandarin because of the important role that China is playing on global economics. As for this trip, it would be nice to know some Cantonese. Don't get too stressed over not knowing Cantonese though, you'll be fine with just English and Mandarin for most parts.

  • 1 decade ago

    Like the above had said, I am sad to say that their Mandarin is no good and their language is always in Cantonese and English for those youngsters and middle aged Hong Konger. When I was in Hong Kong earlier this year and a Hong Kong couple was losing their way and they ask me in Cantonese on how to get there !!! I can't speak Mandarin in Hong Kong as I tried before and in the end I had to speak in English, even to the police. Oh, I think people in Macau are speaking Mandarin better than Hong Konger as they don't even speak a little !!!

    Source(s): I am a Singaporean and Taiwanese descent and frequent traveler to Hong Kong & Macau. Just went to HK, Macau and Shenzhen this Feb for 3 weeks.
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  • Susan
    Lv 4
    5 years ago

    When The Chinese Communist Party annex Hong Kong from the white people(England people) in 1997. The Chinese Communist Party makes use of mandarin language in Hong Kong and make English and Cantonese useless. Because the CCP does not want local culture to be bigger than central government. The Party will keep make useless of foreigner western national language English and Cantonese, and make bigger of mandarin in Hong Kong.

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    I would say that you will be very disappointed by the amount of mandarin you are able to practice if you are going on a short trip to Hong Kong. As you said you already know, the native language of people in Hong Kong is Cantonese. If you go to Hong Kong and speak Mandarin a very small percentage of people will respond to you in Mandarin. Most will just respond to you in English. The majority of people in Hong Kong can speak English. Currently I am living and working in Guangzhou. Even the people here will respond to me in English if I speak to them in Mandarin.

  • 1 decade ago

    Singapore or Malaysia are the countries you wish to compare concerning the ability of Mandarin and English. Only about half of the people in HK understand in these 2, with very good level very low.

  • 1 decade ago

    Usually you will end up speaking English in HK unless you meet someone who lets you practice your Mandarin. You can hear Mandarin in some of the recordings on the subway etc.

  • 1 decade ago

    I lived in HK for a short while and i only used English, which is really popular. But when my sister came to visit me she practiced her Mandarin quite a bit. Though it is really not so popular among natives.

  • 1 decade ago

    English is more useful than Mandarin here in HK. but anyway, no matter what r u speaking....u r stil a tourist in their eyes. we speak cantonese in HK....but we started to learn Eng since kindergarten. although stil not fluent enuf compare w/ u guys enuf to deal w/ daily life i guess. after 1997, a lot mainlanders started to come visit HK as tourists HKnese started to learn or speak more mandarin.... mainly in those shopping area. so u no worry!

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