Learning varieties of Chinese

The other day I was talking with a lad from Hong Kong. We were speaking mainly in Mandarin, with odd bits of Cantonese thrown in from time to time – I speak Mandarin fluently, but only know a little Cantonese. I asked him how he had learned Mandarin, and he said that he had just picked it up through listening and speaking, and that it wasn’t too difficult. I’ve heard similar stories from other people from Hong Kong and Macau, and suspect that it is easier for Cantonese speakers to pick up Mandarin than it is for Mandarin speakers to pick up Cantonese or other varieties of Chinese. This is partly because Mandarin is phonetically and grammatically somewhat simpler than the other varieties, and also because there are far more Mandarin speakers, and media in Mandarin is far more common.

Have you experience of the relative difficult/ease of learning different varieties of Chinese?

This entry was posted in Chinese, Language, Language learning.

3 Responses to Learning varieties of Chinese

  1. Natee says:

    I’m Thai and my grand parents came from Southern China. They spoke Teochew. My parents (born in Thailand) can also speak Teochew but I and my brother don’t. I’ve learnt Mandarin for 5 years ago and I’m interested in Teochew and Cantonese too. About morpho-syntax of these languages, I think they are quite similar. But the pronunciation differ. Mandarin has four tones which are easy for Thai speakers, and each syllable ends with a nasal or none. In Cantonese and Teochew there are more tones and finals which are more difficult to pronounce correctly.

  2. Edmund Yong says:

    Most Malaysian Chinese pick up Cantonese by watching Hong Kong drama. I’m not very fluent but I can understand very well and speak around B12/C1 level

  3. Julien says:

    Despite being European, I have been living and working in China for quite some time. With time I realised that I can understand a whole variety of dialects, and not necessarily Northern dialects: many Southerners are actually also pretty understandable when they speak in their home dialect, provided they speak a variety of Guanhua (which indeed is “Mandarin”). Regarding other big groups, I believe they are also understandable with some effort and context, except maybe Minnan dialects… These are basically really impossible to understand without spending time to actually study the language, otherwise even the syllables themselves are hard to pick…

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