Learning Mandarin vs Cantonese

Hong Kong Skyline

Lim Ashley/Flickr/CC BY 2.0


Mandarin Chinese is the official language of Mainland China and Taiwan, but it is not the only language spoken in the Chinese world.

Besides the regional variations of Mandarin, there are several Chinese languages that are mutually unintelligible with Mandarin.

Cantonese is one of these languages. Cantonese is spoken in Guangdong and Guangxi provinces, Hainan Island, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, Malaysia, and many overseas Chinese communities.

Worldwide, there are about 66 million Cantonese speakers. Compare this with Mandarin, which is spoken by about 1 billion people worldwide. Of all languages, Mandarin is the most widely-spoken.

Learning Cantonese

With 66 million speakers, Cantonese cannot be considered an impractical language to learn. If your main objective, however, is to do business or travel in Mainland China, you would be better off learning Mandarin.

But if you want to do business in Hong Kong or Guangdong Province, is it better to learn Cantonese? Consider these points taken from hanyu.com:

  • Cantonese has a lack of good learning materials.
  • Cantonese does not have a standard Romanization system (like Pinyin for Mandarin). Yale Romanization is most commonly used in textbooks, but it is unknown to native Cantonese speakers.
  • Cantonese is heard less often in Overseas Chinese communities as new Mandarin-speaking immigrants arrive from Mainland China. And Cantonese speakers are increasingly learning Mandarin to find work in Mainland China.

So it seems as though Mandarin is more practical than Cantonese. That’s not to say that learning Cantonese is a waste of time, and for some people, it may be the better choice, but for most people wanting to speak "Chinese", Mandarin is the way to go.

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Su, Qiu Gui. "Learning Mandarin vs Cantonese." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/should-i-learn-mandarin-or-cantonese-2278434. Su, Qiu Gui. (2023, April 5). Learning Mandarin vs Cantonese. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/should-i-learn-mandarin-or-cantonese-2278434 Su, Qiu Gui. "Learning Mandarin vs Cantonese." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/should-i-learn-mandarin-or-cantonese-2278434 (accessed May 28, 2023).