Common Cantonese Phrases: #1 Helpful Guide To Fluency

A girl learning common Cantonese phrases with Ling app.

Are you planning to visit Hong Kong or Macau but don’t know how to speak Cantonese? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Many tourists struggle with the language barrier when traveling to these Chinese-speaking regions. But with our guide, you’ll be able to master the most common Cantonese phrases and easily explore daily life. From greetings to ordering food, you’ll find it here!

So join us on a journey to fluency and make your trip to Hong Kong and Macau unforgettable! Let’s start learning Cantonese now!

What Are Basic Cantonese Phrases?

你好 Néih hóu! It is good manners in Cantonese to greet people that you meet. However, this can become worrisome if you don’t know how to speak Cantonese. You might be a beginner at Cantonese, but not for long!

It may seem like memorizing is a very tedious task. To help you get started, here are some common Cantonese phrases for greetings and daily conversation:

EnglishCantonese CharactersPronunciationSound
Hello你好Néih hóu
Good morning早晨Jóu sàhn
What is your name?你 叫 咩 名 or 你有咩名Nei5 gaau1 me1 ming4 or nei5 giu3 me1 meng2
Are you hungry?你饿吗?Néih á ma?
YesSei1
NoM4
Goodbye再見Jói gáai
PleaseChíng
Thank you謝謝Sí sí
Nice to meet you很高興見到你Hàn gōu hìng gin do nei
Can (you)? or Is it possible?可唔可以Ho2 m4 ho2 ji5
I love you我愛你Ngó oi nei
Sorry or excuse me唔好意思M4 hou2 ji3
How much?幾錢?Géi chìhn?

In addition to these phrases, it’s also essential to understand the Chinese characters that make up these phrases. Chinese characters, also known as Hanzi, are the building blocks of the Cantonese language. While they may seem intimidating initially, they can be learned and mastered with practice and patience.

Here are a few examples of commonly used Chinese characters in Cantonese phrases:

EnglishCantonese CharactersPronunciationSound
GoodHóu
Happy高興Gōu hìng
MorningSàhn
SeeGin
MoneyChìhn

Navigating With Common Cantonese Phrases

Speaking common Cantonese phrases is essential for getting around in Hong Kong and Macau. Whether you’re asking for directions in Cantonese, ordering Cantonese food, or simply chatting with locals, speaking Cantonese will make your experience hassle-free. Here are a few common phrases to help you navigate daily life in Cantonese:

  • Where is the nearest train station? – 最近火車站那裡?(zeoi3 gin6 fo1 ce1 zaam1 naa5 lei4?)
  • How do I get to (place)? – 我點搭去 (mou5 dim2 daap3 heoi3)(place)
  • Help me find a nearby restaurant with an English menu. – 幫我找一間附近的餐廳有英文菜單 (bong1 ngo5 zaau2 jat1 gaan1 fu1 gin6 dik1 caan1 teng1 jau5 jing1 man4 caai4 din2)
  • I would like to order a vegetarian dish. – 我想要素食 (ngó sóng yiu suh sih)
  • I need to go to the toilet. – 我要去廁所 (ngó yiu hói chìh só)
Common Cantonese Phrases - Two Chinese ladies talking in Cantonese.

Cantonese Pronunciation And Tones

One of the most challenging aspects of learning Cantonese is mastering the pronunciation and tones. Cantonese has nine different tones, and getting the tone wrong can completely change the meaning of a word. Here are some tips and additional information on how to improve your Cantonese pronunciation and tones when speaking the phrases we covered above:

The Nine Tones

Traditionally, Cantonese has nine tones, categorized into six level tones and three contour tones. The level tones are high, mid, low, rising, falling, and high falling. The contour tones are high-rising, dipping, and low-rising.

Commonly Mispronounced Sounds

See the “ng” sound in the phrases we covered above? Well, this is actually one of the most commonly mispronounced sounds in Cantonese. It is worth noting that the “ng” sound is separate in Cantonese and not a combination of “n” and “g” sounds. Another is the “r” sound which is pronounced more with the tip of the tongue.

Use Of Tone Sandhi

Cantonese is a tonal language, and the tone of a word can change depending on the context. This is called tone sandhi. For example, the third tone, “sān” (三), becomes “sǎn” (叁) when it appears at the end of a phrase or sentence.

Practice Exercises

To improve your pronunciation and tones, it is important to practice speaking Cantonese as much as possible. Try saying tongue twisters such as “sī sām sòh” (十三十), which have many of the same sounds and tones. You can also practice with word lists and example sentences.

Common Mistakes And Useful Tips

When using the phrases we covered above, it’s natural to make mistakes because of the complexity of the Cantonese language. Here are a few common errors that English speakers make when speaking Cantonese, along with tips for avoiding them:

  • Not paying attention to tone: Getting the tone wrong can completely change the meaning of a word. Pay attention to the tone when learning new Cantonese question words, common words, and phrases.
  • Not using the right level of politeness: Cantonese, like many other Asian languages, has different levels of formality. Make sure to use the appropriate level of politeness when speaking with different people. For instance, using “don’t want to” (m4 goi1, 不要) with friends and “unwilling” (m4 sai2 haak3 hei3, 不願意) with elders or strangers.
  • Not practicing enough: Like any skill, learning to speak Cantonese takes practice. Try to practice speaking Cantonese as much as possible.

Sample Daily Conversation For Tourists

If you’re planning to visit Hong Kong or Macau, you must know some common Cantonese phrases to help you find your way around and communicate with locals. Here’s a sample conversation that you might have during your trip:

Tourist: “Good morning. Do you speak English? (早晨好,你會說英語嗎? zou2 san4 hou2, nei5 wui5 syu1 jing1 jyut6 ma4?)”

Local: “Good morning. I can speak English. How can I help you? (早晨好。我會說英語,有什麼我可以幫你? zou2 san4 hou2. ngo5 wui5 syu1 jing1 jyut6, jau5 sam1 mo1 ngo5 ho2 ji5 bong1 nei5?)”

Tourist: “Can you tell me where the nearest vegetarian restaurant is? (你可以告訴我最近素食餐廳在哪裡嗎? nei5 ho2 ji5 gao3 syu1 ngo5 zeoi3 gin6 sou3 sik6 caan1 teng1 zoi6 naa5 lei5 ma4?)”

Local: “Sure, there is a vegetarian restaurant on the next street. Just turn left when you exit the hotel, and it’s on the right side. It’s called “Green Veggie” (綠色素食 luk6 sik1 sou3 sik6) in Chinese characters. (當然可以,下一條街左轉就有一間素食餐廳,叫做 “綠色素食”,dong1 jin4 ho2 ji5 cyu1 zyun3 zau6 jau5 jat1 gaan1 sou3 sik6 caan1 teng1, giu3 zou6 “luk6 sik1 sou3 sik6″ )”

Tourist: “Thank you for your help. (多謝你的幫助) “

Local: “You’re welcome. Enjoy your meal, and have a great day! (不客氣,祝你用餐好,祝你有個美好的一天! bou2 haak1 hei3, zuk1 nei5 jyun4 caan1 hou2, zuk1 nei5 jau5 go3 mei5 hou2 dik1 jat1 tin1!)”

A Brief History Of Cantonese Language

Cantonese, also known as Yue, is a dialect spoken in the southern province of Guangdong, as well as in Hong Kong, Macau, and the overseas Chinese community. It has a rich history dating back to 220 AD after the fall of the Han Dynasty. Historically, Cantonese has been influenced by its location as a major trading center and its diverse population. This Asian language has also been shaped by literature, music, and film. Today, Cantonese is one of the world’s most widely spoken Chinese dialects, with an estimated 75 million speakers worldwide.

Additional Resources For Learning Cantonese

  • Language schools: Enrolling in a language school is one of the best ways to learn Cantonese, even if you try online classes. You’ll have the opportunity to understand from a qualified teacher, practice speaking with other students, and get feedback on your pronunciation and grammar.
  • Language exchange programs: This allows you to find a native Cantonese speaker to practice speaking with. This is a great way to get personalized attention and feedback.
  • Online resources: There are many online resources available for learning Cantonese, such as websites, apps such as the Ling app, and online courses.

Learn Cantonese With The Ling App

In a nutshell, learning Cantonese can open up a whole new world of communication and connection with the locals in Hong Kong and Macau. Whether you’re a tourist or a business professional, speaking even a few common Cantonese phrases can significantly enhance your knowledge of the Hong Kong working culture. You will experience these in vibrant and culturally rich Hong Kong cities. 

With the help of the Ling app and our blog section, you can quickly start learning Cantonese and impress the locals with your language skills. So why not give it a try? Download from Google Play or App Store and speak like a local in no time! Don’t miss out on this chance to learn new languages and make the most of your time during your travels. Start your Cantonese language journey now!

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