There are more than 50 dialects spoken in China, but the traditional written characters are the same for all.
The characters are pronounced differently in every dialect. Cantonese is the most widely spoken Chinese dialect in Hong Kong, followed by Mandarin. English is also used in most areas. All three are recognized as the city’s official languages.
If you want to take on the challenge of learning Cantonese during your time here, enrolling in a course at a local language institute or university is a good way to get started. You can also hire a private tutor to conduct lessons in the comfort of your own home.
Cantonese, a dialect of southern China, is a tonal language of between six and nine tones depending on who you ask. It has a reputation for being tricky to learn. A single word can have many meanings, depending on the tone and the written character. Because the tones are hard to master, you may find yourself saying something entirely wrong — or extremely rude!
Because the tones are hard to master, you may find yourself saying something entirely wrong — or extremely rude!
The tones used in Cantonese make puns a regular feature of local humor, and many foreigners add to the humor by their unintended mispronunciation of words.
Mandarin (Putonghua), China’s official national language, has only four tones. For this reason, foreigners find it slightly easier to learn over Cantonese. Knowing Putonghua will prove useful if you do much traveling and business in the mainland.
Chinese Language Centers
There are several Chinese language institutes and centers where you can set your own pace studying part-time, weekends or evenings. Those wishing to move faster can enroll in a full-time course. Some even offer online tuition assistance. You can also look for a Chinese tutor online.
In addition to European languages, the Berlitz Language Center on Leighton Road in Causeway Bay offers Cantonese and Mandarin courses ranging from home study to full private tuition.
Chinese Language Professional
Chinese Language Professional’s training center is conveniently located in the Cheung Kong Centre on Queen’s Road Central. It offers an integrated and individually tailored teaching approach to each student. Courses include Cantonese, Mandarin and Shanghainese.
Hong Kong Language Learning Centre
Hong Kong Language Learning Centre teaches students how to read, write, speak and listen in Cantonese and Mandarin. Located on Johnston Road in Wan Chai, the center specializes in teaching people with little pre-existing knowledge of the Chinese language.
New Concept Mandarin
Located on Connaught Road in Central, New Concept Mandarin offers in-person classes and online courses in Mandarin, from beginner to advanced level. The center also offers after-school Chinese tutoring, HSK test preparation courses and classes in Business Chinese.
Yale-China Chinese Language Centre
The Chinese University of Hong Kong’s Yale-China Chinese Language Centre offers Certificate, Diploma, and Advanced Diploma Programs in Chinese as a foreign/second language. Students can choose between part-time evening or weekend classes (currently being offered online due to the pandemic) and daytime intensive classes.
Other Foreign Languages
If you wish to learn a language other than Chinese, take a look at some of the following foreign language centers. Many centers now offer classes online as well.
- Alliance Française (French)
Locations in Wan Chai, Jordan and Sha Tin
- Berlitz Language Center (East Asian & European languages) (Causeway Bay)
- Goethe Institut (German) (Wan Chai)
- Hong Kong Institute of Languages (European & Asian languages) (Central)