Every traveler visiting a foreign country should have a basic knowledge of some words and phrases in the local language. It is a basic courtesy and one of the many ways you can make your trip much more pleasant. If you’re planning on going to Hong Kong and don’t know where to start, learning some basic greetings in Cantonese is a perfect starting point, as these will probably be some of the first words you’ll be using!
You don’t have to be completely fluent in a language to make an impression among local people, and simply break the ice with a single word. Simple basic Cantonese phrases and words can be enough for you to leave a mark on your passage!
As with the famous Sawasdee in Thailand, and Ciao in Italy, when in Hong Kong, using the famous phrase 你好 (néih hóu) will definitely spark some compassion with the fellow tourist and help you get through even the most unsympathetic local. I’m not telling you this from the top of my head; I’m speaking with full knowledge of the power of these little words!
How do I know that? Well, let me tell you of a simple social experiment I did (unintentionally) on my previous trip to Hong Kong. I had just arrived, and I needed some help getting to my hotel, so I kept addressing people with a somewhat friendly “Hello” and asking if they know where my hotel was. I kept getting a “sorry, I don’t know”, followed by the frown of somebody being annoyed by one more of the tourists that come to Hong Kong just for the Instagram photos and could only speak English.
I was getting frustrated, and honestly starting to panic a little bit as I was getting nervous that I would not be able to get to my hotel on time for check-in. It was at that moment that I remembered a cute little phrase from my primary school teacher Ms. Li (yes, that was her real name), who always started classes by using a friendly néih hó. I didn’t know if it was going to work, but as soon as I started approaching people by using this greeting and then talking in English, they were so much more thoughtful and caring than before! There was even a lovely older man that took me right up to the hotel lobby!
At the time, I didn’t know if it was even a proper way to address people in Chinese, but I came to realize later that this was the way to say Hello in Chinese, Mandarin, and Cantonese. Confused yet? Before I dive deeper into more types of greetings I learned during my 3 months in Hong Kong, I should probably first explain what Chinese, Mandarin, and Cantonese have in common.
Chinese vs Mandarin vs Cantonese
Chinese, Mandarin, and Cantonese are all languages that are spoken in China and other parts of East Asia. However, as you might have noticed, they are not all the same language, despite having many similarities.
Starting from the main character of this story, Chinese is a broad term that refers to a group of related languages spoken in China, including Mandarin and Cantonese, which are considered dialects of Chinese.
While Mandarin is the official language of China and is spoken by the majority of people in mainland China, Cantonese is spoken in the Guangdong province of China, as well as in Hong Kong, Macau, and other parts of Southeast Asia.
One of the main differences between Mandarin and Cantonese is how they are written. Both use Chinese characters, but Mandarin is written using simplified characters, while Cantonese is written using traditional characters. In terms of pronunciation, Mandarin and Cantonese are also quite different, because Cantonese has a more complex tonal system and tends to be more heavily influenced by regional dialects.
Greetings in Cantonese
In this article, we’re going to focus more on Cantonese, thus, let’s explore some greetings that can be used on your next trip to Hong Kong. The following table is a collection of important greeting words and phrases both in English and Cantonese.
|Hello||你好 (Nǐ hǎo)|
|How are you?||你好嗎? (néih hóu ma)|
點呀? (dím a)
|Long time no see.||好耐冇見 (hóunoih móuhgin)|
|What’s your name?||你叫(做)乜野名呀 (néih giu(jouh) mātyéh méng a)|
你點稱呼呀？ (néih dím chìngfù a)
|My name is…||我叫做 … (ngóh giujouh …)|
|I’m from…||我係 … 人 (ngóh haih … yàhn)|
|Pleased to meet you.||好開心認識你 (hóu hòisàm yihngsīk néih)|
好開心見到你 (hóu hòisàm gindóu néih)
好高興認識你 (hóu gòuhing yihngsīk néih)
|Good morning||早晨 (jóusàhn)|
|Good afternoon||午安 (ńgh ōn)|
|Good evening||晚安 (máahn ōn)|
晚上好 (máahnseuhng hóu)
|Good night||早抖 (jóutáu)|
|Excuse me||請問 (chéngmahn) – to get attention|
唔該 (m̀hgòi) – to get past
失陪 (sàtpùih) – used when leaving for a while
疏利 (sòleih) / 唆哩 (sòlì)
|Thank you||多謝 (dòjeh) – for something given|
唔該 (m̀hgòi) – for a service
Chinese itself, or any other dialect, is a very scary language to learn. Its alphabet, with an incredible diversity of characters, is a very daunting endeavor to take up. However, at the same time, this language is spoken by millions and millions of people, so if you get it, even if just the minimum to have a conversation, you’re guaranteed to be able to talk with many more people.
To start is very simple: first, you can explore our blog, where you can find many interesting topics around the Cantonese language. You can learn grammar and vocabulary, such as how to say I love in Cantonese, or explore more general topics, such as the scariest haunted places in Hong Kong.
After this, and once your love for Cantonese is in full bloom, we have an application to help explore more of this beautiful language.
Learn Cantonese With Ling
Do you want to learn Cantonese, but you’re scared and overwhelmed by this complex language? We at Ling are here to help deconstruct this hard language and lead you to full fluency in Cantonese.
Our lessons are made to be simple, fun, and interactive so that you don’t feel that you’re getting too much information at once, and through boring lessons that don’t help the information stay in your mind. We use games, puzzles, and quizzes to trigger your curiosity and help you absorb information much faster and more efficiently.
Our application is being used by millions of people that have decided to learn a second language and improve their communication skills. Join them, and let’s speak Cantonese together!
Download the Ling app and get started today!