When it comes to language learning there is a lot to master. You will need grammar, authentic pronunciation, and syntax. It is all the same with Cantonese language learning. You will need to learn how to go from conversational Cantonese to reading and writing too. You will also need to understand the particular challenges and nuances that face every student who wants to learn how to speak Cantonese for beginners.

All this can make any new language acquisition tricky, but especially Cantonese which has its own script and non-alphabetic or logographic writing system. There are not only phonetic differences, including tonal structure but there are also no verb tenses to take into account. This can make the all-important task of how to learn Cantonese words a challenge, but not impossible.

Whether you want to learn conversational Cantonese or become fluent, you will need to learn how to speak Cantonese for beginners to help you learn Cantonese words.

In this article, you will find out some of the best ways to grow your vocabulary during your Cantonese language learning process. So whether that is with a Cantonese tutor online, your self-teaching efforts, or through resources you can use between lessons, there are bound to be some ideas here that you can use.

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Why Learn Conversational Cantonese?

Although we’re frequently told that, in this modern age, it is wise to learn the commonly spoken languages like Mandarin, Spanish or Arabic, there are also reasons why some people just happen to be drawn to a particular foreign language.

If you are one of these, perhaps you have fallen in love with Cantonese or the exciting and exotic places where it is spoken. Whatever your reason, if you are looking at how to speak Cantonese for beginners, you have probably got an interesting story to match!

If you have already begun to learn Cantonese words, you will know that it is a wonderful language to learn.

Spoken by 60 million people (the same number as spoken Italian), from some of the most impactful and cultural and commercial areas of the world (Hong Kong, Macau, and China’s Guangdong province) it is an impactful language.

Cantonese is also a lingua franca used by natives of other languages to understand each other in South East Asia especially Malaysia and Vietnam.

This of course is not enough to give you a reason to find a Cantonese tutor online, but if you are still looking for ways to learn to speak Cantonese, then keep reading.

lion statue in China
Improve your vocabulary and enjoy a richer holiday in China. - Source: Unsplash

Why Focus On How to Learn Cantonese Words?

When it comes to how to speak Cantonese for beginners there is significant emphasis on the vocabulary. This may sound obvious because without the words to driven your Cantonese language learning endeavours you are not going to get very far.

But, actually, there is more to it than that.

Expert linguists tell us that our everyday vocabularies are far smaller than we realise. For instance, even though there are over 170 000 words in the English language, we use a fraction of that number in our daily lives.

Amazingly, there are about 300 English words that make up about 65% of the things we say.

Consider that for a moment.

With 300 words, you can access most of the speech, content, and lines in most languages.

This means that with only 300 words you are about halfway to fluency. As you grow your vocabulary beyond that, your Cantonese language learning will begin to reach more advanced levels.

How to Learn Cantonese Words

We hope these astounding facts make you feel optimistic about the daunting task of Cantonese vocabulary acquisition because it will be one of the fastest ways for you to increase your fluency.

Whichever way you choose to try and master conversational Cantonese, here are some tried and tested methods for improving your vocabulary. You could try and tackle these through free online tutorials or you could find a Cantonese tutor online to guide you too.

Find Most Common Cantonese Words

If you are learning how to speak Cantonese for beginners, your first most important step in developing your vocabulary is isolating the most common words in Cantonese. You could try doing a quick Google search or use Memrise which has nifty features to do exactly this for you.

Ultimately, it will be this list of words that will make up the fundamental elements for your vocabulary development. It is a systematic and substantial way to organise how to learn Cantonese words rather than leaving you to encounter words by chance in a haphazard way. This is something you can look forward to as you advance in your Cantonese language learning.

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Chen
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Victor
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Victor
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How to Memorise New Cantonese Words

Once you have found these word lists, write them down for your personal learning.

That’s right write them down. Writing them down does not mean copy, paste or even type. This is because the process of literally writing them down will help the words to stick better and you won’t have to think about their sound, shape or spelling.

Make sure that when you initially record these words in writing that you do so in both their Romanised form and in their Chinese characters. By doing this, you will get used to both image and shape of the Chinese character, but also have a crutch for pronunciation.

To help you with this exercise, you could ensure that this information with its tones and meanings is bolstered by any mnemonic aid to help your memorisation.

Creating Flashcards and a Cantonese Dictionary  

If you are learning conversational Cantonese, one of the most worthwhile things that you can do is keep a good database of your newly acquired vocabulary.

If you have found a good Cantonese tutor online, then helping you get started here is something that they could help you set up. This could be in the form of flashcards that are easily transportable and available for flicking through at any spare moment. Flashcards are a brilliant way to constantly test yourself or rope in friends and family to test you too.

Another option is to embrace the most traditional learning method for gaining vocabulary of all – the dictionary! The only difference is that we recommend that you build it yourself.

Building a conversational Cantonese vocabulary is one thing, but if you want to really use the words, take the time to write them down to aid your memorisation of them.

Use Language Apps

Once you know the basics, you could download a good language app to your phone. Depending on which one you choose, you could practice all your language skills from writing, speaking, and listening to reading.

Apps like Duolingo, Babbel, and Memrise will organise your learning into themed stages that offer challenges, quizzes, and tests. Each stage will also provide a relevant vocabulary for the theme that you are studying, thereby reinforcing your knowledge through repetition.

These are great ways to practice your Cantonese while you are on the move, however, it is not advisable to rely on them entirely.

Immersing Yourself in Cantonese

book with Chinese inscriptions lying on step
Learn new characters and words whenever you can. - Source: Pexels

Even if you have a brilliant Cantonese tutor online, one of the best ways for you to grow your vocabulary is from the authentic situations and contexts in which you find yourself.

After you have managed to achieve your 300 words, there are many interesting ways to absorb additional vocabulary. Some of these include books, TV programmes, radio, podcasts, and films. In other words, the kinds of places that Cantonese natives would themselves pick up new words.

So to summarise at the risk of repetition, amongst other things, try and do the following.

  • Read Cantonese magazines and literature;
  • Listen to Cantonese music and radio stations;
  • Watch Cantonese films and TV;

In these places, you will find all kinds of colloquial expressions and phrases. You’ll also find that you will recognise far more words than you probably expect of yourself.

Remember, once you are past those first three hundred words, you are halfway to fluency.

Discover other Cantonese learning strategies here.

Translate Those Words You Need

At this point, you could try and translate the words that you encounter on a daily basis in the world. Try not to be tempted to use something like Google Translate. It is preferable to rather use a reliable source of information such as a dictionary with a good reputation.

Get into a simple routine of encountering a word, translating it, and then writing it down. Once you have done that you can try to memorise it.

Use Your New Words

You have a lot to look forward to, especially because the fun really starts once you begin to use your new vocabulary. Remember there is no point in learning it if you don’t intend to use it.

To find a native Cantonese tutor online and begin your journey today.

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Niki

Niki is a content writer from Cape Town, South Africa, who is passionate about words, strategic communication and using words to help create and maintain brand personas. Niki has a PR and marketing background, but her happiest place is when she is bringing a story to life on a page.