Scarlet asked in TravelAsia PacificChina · 1 decade ago

How similar are Cantonese and Mandarin Chinese?

If I were to learn one, would I be able to pick up on the other easily? From what I understand, people who speak Mandarin can't understand those who speak Cantonese and vice versa, but I wonder if knowing one will give me an advantage on learning the other.

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  • 1 decade ago
    Favorite Answer

    Some of the words are similar but unless you're extremely skillful with the dialect, it will be impossible to pick up the other one just by knowing one and even if you could understand it, it's quite difficult to speak the other dialect fluently. With my limilted encounters, Cantonese tend to understand Mandarin quicker than the other way around, doenst mean they can speak Mandarin fluently though, pronunciations and phrases are quite different between the 2.

    Really depends on where you're staying and working, if you plan to stay in northern part of China then Mandarin helps. Cantonese is widely used in Hong Kong, S.E. Asia and in China Towns of the west. It has almost become the official dialect, only loosing to Mandarin by a few votes back in the early 20th Century. The Most important Chinese ie Dr Sun Yat Sen, the Soong sisters, Mr Li Ka Shing, Bruce Li are all Cantonese/Hongkongers. Those that say Cantonese only popular in HK largely because they have never been to S.E. Asia and China Towns in the West.

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  • Leisa
    Lv 4
    4 years ago

    I only speak Mandarin, so I can't really cover much on Cantonese, but I know that the written language is the same (meaning they both use Chinese characters) but the pronunciation is very different. In Mandarin, there are four tones. In Cantonese, I believe there are 8(?) Mandarin speakers can differentiate Mandarin and Cantonese by the sentence syntax, for example if it were Cantonese the grammar would look really weird or strange. Once someone asked for a translation from "Chinese" to English but when I clicked on it, it was in fact Cantonese, not Mandarin. I could get the general idea of the sentence but I couldn't fully understand it.

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  • 1 decade ago

    The best comparison I can give on this is that it has the same difference as Spanish and Portuguese, if that makes any sense. There are more tones which are very pronounced in Cantonese, however, as opposed to Portuguese and Spanish lacking that difference. Han Chinese(Mandarin) originated from a language most similar to current day Mandarin, and can be considered a root language for most regions of China. It's also the only language you can get by with anywhere you go in China, as it is the standard language there. I would go with Mandarin first, then Cantonese. It used to be much higher, but still now a day's over half of overseas Chinese derive from Cantonese speaking areas of China making Cantonese a good second best Chinese language to know.

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  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    Cantonese is a dialect, it is most widely used in Hong Kong, and Guangzhou area. Mandarin is used Mainland China, Taiwan and even in Malaysia and Singapore!! People who speak Mandarin might be from different parts of China, so they don't understand the Cantonese dialect. Mandarin is "pu tong hua" which means General/ Common Language.

    Mandarin has 4 tones (each sound pronounced differently would have a different meaning) Cantonese has 9 tones. So learning Cantonese would be more difficult. You'll learn to speak Mandarin properly quicker than you would learning Cantonese.

    When you learn mandarin, you'll learn something called "pin ying", which helps with your pronunciation, once you know your "pin ying" you can easily type Chinese.

    I find Mandarin more useful :)

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  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    Kevin S, Have you ever visited Chinatowns in Americas, Europe, Australia, New Zealand? Bet you've never and you probably have never been to Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia or even Taiwan whereby Cantonese are widely understood. Do you know that Guangdong, Guangxi, Macau and Hong Kong whose dialect is Cantonese, combined with a population of over 0.2 billion. Dont forget that many people in China nowadays still dont speak Mandarin ie most of the minorities (in Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, Yunan, Sichuan, Tibet etc), old people including Shanghainese, Fujianese, Sichuanese and people living in the mountains dont speak mandarin either.

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  • 1 decade ago

    I'm Bilinguel in Chinese.both Mandarin and Cantonese.but I have to say it's better to learn Mandarin.after you master it,it's a super plus for you to find a good job in China and Taiwan,sometimes in Hongkong,it's also a extra to speak Mandarin.but if you pick up Cantonese,i have to say only in Hongkong,govenment set it as an official language,though it's widely used in Canton,Hongkong,Macau and some Chinese society in North America,but most Chinese ethnics still communicate in Mandarin.that means,once you'v mastered Mandarin,it's ok to be in PRChina,ROChina(Taiwan),Hongkong SAR,Macau SAR,Singapore. and also ok to communicate with almost every Chinese people nowadays especially those so called"ABC""BBC"..

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  • 1 decade ago

    actually there are certain words that are similar since cantonese was derived from mandarin. So sometimes you can pick up certain words. its really up to you when it comes to which language you want to learn. a lot of people say that cantonese is harder to pronounce due to its nasal pronunciation. but its grammar is way easier than mandarin.

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  • 1 decade ago

    Without a doubt learn Mandarin, it is the official language of China and since there are hundreds if dialects, Mandarin in the lingua franca of China. Best idea is to go to Beijing to learn Mandarin for the best pronunciation. Most people all understand Mandarin, but for many it is their second language but needed for communication. Outside of Guangdong/HK Cantonese not very useful.

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  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    "Chinese" is actually a family of languages. "Mandarin" is the socially-favored dialect, common in northern China and the "official" form of Chinese, Cantonese is another dialect, common in southern China.

    Cantonese and Mandarin are dialects of the Chinese-Sinitic language or group of languages.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spoken_Chinese

    Chinese is the common languange use by the Chinese, Cantonese is a local language use by Hongkongnese and a small number opf Chinese, Mandarin is just the same as Chinese. Get it?? hehe..

    --I hope it helps.

    http://www.visitchn.com/travel

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  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    Learning Mandarin first is wise, at least it helps you understand quicker why so many foreigners are commenting on here that Mainland Chinese are the most rude people on earth who love breaking rules and orders and have nil consideration for others.

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