Have you decided to learn Chinese but are confused about whether to learn Mandarin or Cantonese?
If you have decided to learn Chinese, you must have already heard about Mandarin and Cantonese. What exactly are they? Though they are languages under the Chinese umbrella, technically speaking they may not be termed as dialects because according to the common definition of dialects the languages must be intelligible to its collective speech communities. As per this definition, Cantonese and Mandarin are two different languages because Cantonese is not completely intelligible to a Mandarin speaker. However, they share many similarities as well, such as the written system and belong to the same umbrella family Chinese and hence can be considered as dialects.
Though, this is a debatable issue, let us focus on whether you should learn Cantonese or Mandarin.
Looking at some elements like which language is more widely used, the differences of both the dialects, their importance, a region where they are spoken and ease of learning you can pick either of them.
Here we try to compare both the languages in certain aspects which will make it easier for you to decide.
Number of tones
Chinese is a tonal language which means the meaning of a word is determined by the tone or the pitch of the word.
Both Mandarin and Cantonese have tones. Mandarin has four major tones, five if you include the neutral tone whereas Cantonese has six major tones and including the additional high, mid and low-level tones makes it nine.
Tones are considered difficult to master and if you would like to start with something comparatively easy Mandarin can be your choice.
Regions where Cantonese and Mandarin are spoken
Mandarin is the official language of China and is the lingua franca of China. It is the language taught in schools, used in media and is one of the six official languages of the United Nations. It is the language of most of northern and central China which includes Beijing.
Cantonese is used in the Southeast corner of China. It is the main language of HongKong, Guangdong province, southern Guangxi province and Macau.
Different character systems for both
Character writing system not only makes Chinese unique but also difficult to learn for many. These characters are also divided into traditional and simplified characters.
Cantonese used the traditional character system which is complex when compared to Mandarin that uses a more simplified character system.
Different vocabulary and grammar, expressions and idioms
Though both Cantonese and Mandarin belong to the same language family, their vocabulary and grammar are quite different, sometimes making the languages unintelligible to each other.
Idioms not only make a language-rich but are also a window into the culture of the people who speak the language. Idioms and expressions used in both Cantonese and Mandarin could be quite different and even if a Mandarin speaker understands Cantonese, he/she may not quite grasp the meaning if a person is using an idiomatic language or colloquialism.
It is your need and personal interest that would finally decide whether to learn Mandarin or Cantonese
Depending on your reason, you can choose to learn either Cantonese or Mandarin. if you intend to stay in Hong Kong for a prolonged period or would like to enjoy the Tang poetry, learning Cantonese could be a good choice.
If it is mainland China where you plan to move or would like to communicate to a wider group of people, Mandarin could be your first choice. Also, if you would like to learn the standardised language used across the country, Mandarin would be your go to language.
Decide to learn Cantonese or Mandarin based on your reason to learn Chinese and how you are going to use it.
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