If you have decided to learn how to speak Cantonese, you have probably been met by utterances of dismay from those around you. The reason for this is that it has a reputation for being one of the most difficult languages to learn. However, this is not necessarily the case. It is more true to say that when it comes to how to learn to speak Cantonese, methodologies are just very different.

Do not be put off by this because with the right Cantonese classes, and the right Cantonese tutor, it can be one of the most fascinating learning endeavours of your entire life.

Granted, Cantonese characters are completely different from any Latin-based language which makes it more challenging to learn. And sure, you will need to learn Cantonese tones and pronunciation which will be unfamiliar, but all of this makes for an exciting journey into a whole new world.

In this article, we will look at some of the easiest ways to learn how to speak Cantonese and you’ll probably be really surprised to find out that it is not as difficult as you might think it is.

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Why Learn How to Speak Cantonese?

The name ‘Cantonese’ which comes from the Anglophone version ‘Canton’ is spoken in the city of Guangzhou in the region of Guangdong. Today, if you really want to learn Cantonese tones, you will still hear them here as well as in the cities of Hong Kong and Macau where it is spoken as an official language.

In addition to these regions, you would find many a native Cantonese tutor in Guangxi, as well as in Malaysia and Vietnam where it is a lingua franca. Today, there are 60 million native Cantonese speakers, however, this number is on the decline as Mandarin Chinese is more readily favoured. Having said that, the citizens of Guangzhou seem determined to not allow their language to become extinct.

Culture and Cantonese

Learning any new language is good for you, however, if you have a love for Hong Kong, or any intention to spend time there, then you should find a native Cantonese tutor who could also introduce you to the many fascinating aspects of the culture too.

A Cantonese library
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In Hong Kong, the pop music scene called Cantopop is extremely popular. To acquaint yourself, check out any YouTube footage you can find on Alan Tam, Anita Mui, or Leslie Cheung.

In the same way, the Hong Kong film business is one of the most prolific in the world with stars like Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan putting Cantonese culture on the map all across the globe. Of course, using cultural resources like cinema and television is an excellent way to learn Cantonese tones and supplement the education you receive in your Cantonese classes.

Remember that learning any second language will take you further in life, but when you embark on a journey of how to learn to speak Cantonese, you will find a whole new cultural experience that would otherwise be undiscovered.

Commit to Cantonese Classes  

Your Cantonese classes should not be more difficult than learning any other new language. The common challenge with studying all new languages is finding the commitment to study.

Whether you decide to take private Cantonese classes or attend a school, your challenge will be to find the time in between to sit down, do your homework, and revise what you learnt in your lessons. If you can do this, even with the tricky aspects like needing to learn Cantonese tones, you will be halfway there to eventually mastering Cantonese.

So, when it comes to how to learn to speak Cantonese, you will need to make a deliberate attempt to put the time aside!

Without this, you will never achieve what you need to and this is just a fact.

Even if the road ahead looks daunting, remember that your first step to fluency is the one where you allocate time.

The amount of time you decide to dedicate to how to learn to speak Cantonese depends on how quickly you would like to improve. When you consider how much new information it takes to grasp Cantonese like learning Chinese characters, vocabulary, pronunciation, and grammar, it makes sense that the more time you can dedicate the better.

This could be daily or twice weekly, it depends on how quickly you hope to see results. The main thing is to commit to time slots and ensure that they are regular.

One important tip for how to learn to speak Cantonese is to not focus on the writing aspect of it at first.

Doing this will immediately remove the most intimidating part of your journey. Any non-Latin script, whether that is from the Chinese, Arabic, or Cyrillic languages could send you running for the hills before you even start.

The Cantonese script, which is pretty much the same as standard Mandarin also has simplified and traditional forms.

All of this makes it true that writing and reading Cantonese is difficult. In fact, so much so that many Chinese natives dispense with the idea themselves! This is why it is advisable, to begin with, the Romanised versions of the letter and to practise your conversational Cantonese before tackling the written text. Doing it this way will remove much of the hardship.

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Nkosikhona
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Chen
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Victor
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Tshepang
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Marie
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Tarisai m
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Lauren
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Lauren
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Randy
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1st lesson free!
Nkosikhona
Nkosikhona
R300
/h
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1st lesson free!
Chen
Chen
R175
/h
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1st lesson free!
Victor
Victor
R160
/h
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1st lesson free!
Tshepang
5
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Tshepang
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Marie
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Tarisai m
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Learn Cantonese Tones 

The other infamous thing about how to learn to speak Cantonese is that you will have to learn Cantonese tones. In English, we fail to understand that a vowel could be pronounced in six different ways.

However, that’s actually what we do in English too – it just does not alter the semantic content of the words.

When you learn Cantonese tones you will encounter six types: dark departing, dark flat, dark rising, light departing, light flat, light rising. In the Romanised written form, you will notice that these are numbered from one to six.

Your Cantonese tutor will most likely use a diagram-based tone chart to take you through the respective sounds which you will need to learn by heart.

Immerse Yourself in Cantonese

To truly understand the essence of the language, you will need more than a good Cantonese tutor. One way to do this is to make sure that you supplement your Cantonese classes with as much language immersion as possible.

This means that in your effort to learn how to speak Cantonese you could adopt practices like watching Cantonese films and TV, listening to Cantonese radio and podcasts, and reading as much content as you can.

The reading aspect will naturally come later once you have integrated writing into your learning programme. The point here, however, is that to truly learn how to speak Cantonese, you will need to live and breathe the language as much as possible.

Apart from the help of your Cantonese tutor, using apps like Duolingo, Memrise, and Babbel, as you go about your day, could help to make all the difference. Alternatively, make sure that you write down phrases and new vocabulary onto flashcards and practise memorising them throughout the day.

A sign in Cantonese
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The Power of Goals

One of the important methods to learn any new language is to set achievable goals and work towards them with commitment. This of course is true if you want to learn how to speak Cantonese too.

Goals work when you direct your focus and attention on something and set a date by which to achieve it. So why not give it some thought? Set a date for nailing the phonetic part of the language including how to learn Cantonese tones, and set another date for learning the main Chinese characters. Set yet another date by which you want to be able to have your first conversation in Cantonese!

Having good goals will set you up to not only practise what you know but help you to improve too.

Follow What Interests You

If you want to learn how to speak Cantonese, it’s important that you follow content on subject matter that is of interest to you. One way to do this is to make your Cantonese tutor aware of what interests you so that you can stay inspired.

If you are a sports fan, don’t listen to a show about hairdressing. If you work as an attorney, don’t listen to information that is aimed at teachers.

Find something to listen to that is interesting to you and it will help you to stay motivated during even the most challenging aspects of your Cantonese studies.

Find a Cantonese Language Buddy

Finally, there is absolutely no better way to learn a foreign language than to talk to a fluent native!

Whether this is your Cantonese tutor, friend, or a language buddy that you found on social media, it will improve your spoken Cantonese by miles.

Find someone who will be patient with you and commit to regular interactions. Why not find someone who wants to improve their English at the same time and make it a mutually beneficial exercise?

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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.