Learning a new language has its own benefits, that being as simple as impressing your friends and co-workers, exciting the kah cheh (家姐) in the cha cha teng when you order the food and last and most useful of them all, impress your date on a night out. Now who wouldn’t want some of that charm aye? So us from team Localhood took this chance to look at the options that are out there to achieve this. Our members Saravanan, Pooja and Fiona write about their experience in learning Cantonese and Mandarin and where this can be done.
I’ve been in HK for the past 10 years. 2 years ago, I finally decided to learn Chinese.
Cantonese and Mandarin what should I choose, was the obvious question.
I asked a couple of friends, local or expats speaking Chinese, for suggestions. I had realized that Putonghua was becoming more useful in business, and they confirmed this. Two American friends of mine who speaks fluently (at least for me) observed that the general trend in the city was leaning towards Mandarin so it was possible to practice it here too. And finally, the majority said that the two languages were not that different so I should be able to read a good part of Cantonese if I learn Putonghua.
I started looking for group Putonghua classes. I did go to 1 for a paid trial class in Central. The levels of the "debuting" students I soon realized was quite different. Also, the class was an evening class, and I personally didn't like that as the evenings are for family. I stopped the class.
An Aussie colleague of mine from LocalHood, suggested that a private class might be better suited. I got in touch with the Tutor Group which is a hub of
freelancers Mandarin tutors. A good way to go and costs around 200 HKD/hr.
I decided to give it a try. Overall quality of tutors was good but not consistent. Finally, I got a just-out-of-uni tutor with whom I was making some progress. Unfortunately, 3 months later, she left tutor group as she found a full-time corporate job.
I was back to square one!
Presently take private lessons with a teacher that I like very much. The classes are on zoom, while personally I prefer face to face classes. The pros of private classes are that you can progress quickly as you get undivided attention from the teacher. The timing is also flexible.
The thing that I don’t like is that I would like to practice speaking with some similar level students, something you could do in a group class. Also, it is the costlier option of the 3.
All I would like to conclude with is that, if you are serious about it, you've got to know that it will take you years of hard work before you can be conversant. So, brace up for the long but exciting ride!
Having been in Hong Kong for over a decade, it was clear my Cantonese had not improved much over the years. Using TVB as a learning anchor was a poor choice as I had learned the most normal phrases such as m4 goi1 (唔 該) and do1 ze6 (多謝), the rest of the words were mostly alien to me. I had always wanted to take the initiative to learn more Cantonese words and expand my vocabulary and being stuck in one place during the pandemic not only made me appreciate the beauty of Hong Kong from all the hikes around nature, it had also made me more aware of the different courses offered to the residents of Hong Kong.
It started out with me doing a bit of research and asking my circle of friends (which are mostly locals who wanted to teach me but of course this would not happen!), I got to know about “HOPE” Centre. Located in Wan Chai, HOPE centre is a centre offering support services for Ethnic Minorities and offers Cantonese courses that caters not only for beginners but allows intermediate and advanced learners to enrol in it as well.
Costing HKD100, the Cantonese course offered by HOPE centre is not only affordable, it is also do-able as its usually carried out over the weekends. Having completed their basic Cantonese course before, I can vouch they will teach you simple yet useful phrases and vocabularies that can be used on a day to day basis. The class starts with the different intonations, tones and pronunciations, then dives right into ways of introducing yourself and where you come from and the best bit I personally find most useful, I had learned how to get the attention of the waiter and order food, ask for directions to the closest mini-bus stop and MTR stations, and not forgetting the most useful phrase of them all… “peng4 di1 la” (平 啲) to haggle the price in the market. During covid the classes were carried out via zoom, whereas now they offer in person classes in HOPE Centre itself. Their latest class is available this coming November and contact details are as follows.
HOPE centre, 3 /F, Tak Lee Commercial Building, 113-117 Wan Chai Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong, Hong Kong.
So for me, I am fluent in Mandarin but did not speak a word of Canto upon arriving in HK more than 3 years ago. I remember trying to order a bowl of chicken noodles (鸡丝面 – Ji Si Mian), but it came topped with cheese sausages instead because the waiter thought I said CHEESE! From then on, I knew that I needed to pick up the language – what better motivation than food eh!
I was too cheap to pay for private classes then, so I started to watch YouTube channels in Canto. My favourite ones are Lau Dinha in Hong Kong, and some fashion/beauty/mummy channels such as CheerS Beauty, Sona Tina, Coffee Lam and Emi Wong. The videos are subbed in traditional Chinese characters which I could mostly read, and I picked up a lot of Cantonese that way (plus many beauty tips!).
Screenshot of one of the YouTube channels I follow
Another method I used to learn was via the mobile app Drops. It is free to use for a certain amount of words each day, and you can pay for upgraded features. I liked this app as it was almost like playing a game. Also, it’s not just for Cantonese – there are more than 45 languages you can learn on this app!
After awhile, I could understand most Cantonese, but speaking it was a whole different level. At this point, I decided to pay for a private tutor. I advertised my request in the Hong Kong Part Time Jobs for Teen Facebook group, and received many applications from mostly university students. I picked one and we had one-hour lessons every weekend for HKD200. I was able to practice speaking Cantonese one-on-one and it helped a lot with my confidence and conversational skills. I am happy to report that I can now confidently order my favorite dishes accurately (most of the time!).