Cantonese, or Standard Cantonese (廣東話, 广东话; originally known as 廣州話, 广州话), is the second major Chinese language, dialect of Yue Chinese originated in the vicinity of Canton in southern China. However, it is considered by some scholars as a separate language.

In English, the term “Cantonese” is ambiguous. Proper Cantonese is the variety native to the city of Canton, which is the traditional English name of Guangzhou. This meaning may be specified as “Canton language” or “Guangzhou language” in English.


Hong Kong

The official languages of Hong Kong are Chinese and English, as defined by the Hong Kong Basic Law. The Chinese language has five major (and many other) different varieties. Cantonese is the second most used one. Given the traditional predominance of Cantonese in Hong Kong, it is the de facto official spoken form of the Chinese language used in the Hong Kong authorities. Schools also use it as a medium of instruction, alongside English.


A similar situation also exists in neighboring Macau, where Chinese is an official language alongside Portuguese. As in Hong Kong, Macanese predominantly use in everyday life.


Cantonese shows distinctions from modern standard Chinese because it has far fewer consonant sounds at the start of words. Another particularity of the Cantonese dialect is its use of tones to differentiate between words that are similar in their arrangement of consonant and vowel sounds. Without tonal distinction they sound identical. While modern Chinese has only four tones, the Cantonese dialect has at least six (used to teach to non-chinese speakers), although in reality the total number of them is nine.


In addition to the more than 55 million speakers in China, we also find Cantonese speakers throughout South-East Asia in Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam. It is also the dominant Chinese language in overseas Chinese communities in United States, Canada, Australia and elsewhere. Therefore, there are an estimated 20 million additional Cantonese speakers around the world.

For foreigners living in South China, a basic knowledge of Cantonese can be very useful, as in some very local areas communication in English can be challenging.

Find out more in our Cantonese classes and book a trial lesson!

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