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Guest Post: Do I learn Mandarin Chinese or is it best I try Cantonese?

Below is a guest post from Learn Mandarin Now, which tackles the question: should one learn Mandarin Chinese or Cantonese? This is especially interesting for me as I’ve been taking some steps into Cantonese recently myself.

Have a read and leave your comments below!

With so many people planning to learn Chinese these days, an early decision needs to be made whether to learn Mandarin Chinese or Cantonese. That’s where we come in as we at Learn Mandarin Now always try to help you in studying Chinese via our various articles, informative advice and tips.

But, before we begin, at this point, we’d like to thank Greg for his contribution to our recent Infographic: How to learn Chinese: read the views of over 50 experts where you can check out Greg’s and other 50+ experts suggestions on their preferred ways to learn Chinese.

Right, so, prior to making your choice, let’s look at some of the things to consider and which may affect your decision to learn Mandarin Chinese or Cantonese:

Diversity of the Chinese Language

The home to almost one quarter of the world’s population, and with the majority of people speaking Mandarin Chinese, China is a vast country. However, given the diversity of people and the expansive geography, naturally there are a huge range of regional variations, dialects and accents—whilst, in some ways, similar to the UK or Australia where local variations in word usage or of slang is common, the sheer scale of China means the differences are more pronounced. For example, in an extreme case, some people in the southern areas such as Guangzhou might have difficulty understanding people from the northern areas around like Harbin because of the local terms and accents, even though they all speak Mandarin.

This issue was more apparent in the past but, as most of the younger generation learn the correct way to speak Mandarin at school, communications are now much easier.

Well known regional variations of Chinese

Whilst most people in Mainland China and Taiwan speak Mandarin, one of most well known alternatives is Cantonese. Cantonese is spoken by some 80-100 million people in Hong Kong, Macau, the Guangzhou (Canton) and Guangxi provincial areas; it is also widely spoken throughout most of the overseas Chinese communities in Australia, Europe, North America and other parts of the world.

To learn Mandarin or Cantonese?

At the end of the day, the choice is yours, and depends primarily on your motivations and purposes to learn such new language.

If you have been offered a job in or are planning to relocate to Hong Kong, Macau or the Guangzhou area then maybe consider Cantonese; on the other hand, some people simply enjoy watching Hong Kong movies, and wish to learn the language to better understand what’s really going on—especially as sometimes some of the local nuances can be lost in translation to Mandarin or English.

Alternatively, if you want to work in Taiwan or Mainland China (especially the northern part), then learning Mandarin may be a better choice. In fact, on balance, new students will start to learn Mandarin first. Some reasons for this are that it is spoken by the greater share of the population in China, thereby offering more job opportunities once you have mastered the language; plus, there are generally more courses and learning materials available for Mandarin.

So, have a careful think before you decide… but, in any event, keep reading our blog posts at Learn Mandarin Now for more sound information and advice—as we said, we’re here to help!

4 thoughts on “Guest Post: Do I learn Mandarin Chinese or is it best I try Cantonese?”

  1. Ever thought about learning both at the same time? One could profit from similarities and learn the differences right from the start.

    1. I’ve actually been wondering about that, and considering trying to ladder both at the same time. That is, learning one through the other. Like, using Mandarin definitions for new Cantonese words if that makes sense.

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