Big FAQ: How Long Does It Take To Learn Cantonese?

How long does it take to learn Cantonese, given that it’s considered a hard language to learn? Does it take months or years? Let’s find it out!

Cantonese is the official language spoken in Hong Kong, Macau, and Guangdong Province in Mainland China. It’s one of the Chinese languages that are spoken in different Chinese countries and communities. When we talk about Chinese languages, we usually think that they are hard and it takes a long time to learn Chinese because written Chinese and spoken language are way different. But the truth is, it will all depend on different factors.

In learning a new language like Cantonese, there’s no such thing as a hard or easy language to learn. Whether the language is quick to learn or will take a long time depends on someone’s abilities, motivation, and nature as a language learner. In this blog, we will discover how long it takes to learn Cantonese. We will also learn some factors involved in learning Cantonese, which will define your speed pace.


Factors Involved In Learning Cantonese

In answering the question, “How long does it take to learn Cantonese?” we should first enumerate the factors involved. These factors will greatly determine how long it will take for Cantonese learners to learn Cantonese.


The first factor that affects the speed of your progress is the time you’re willing to give. How many hours in a day are you willing to spend? How many days in a week would you want to have your lesson? Your motivation to spend time learning Cantonese greatly affects your progress.

Learning a new language can be too tiring and frustrating. You’ll encounter a lot of challenges and hardships, so you need patience and motivation. When you’re motivated to do something, you don’t need to force yourself to make an effort and spare time for learning. So, if you want to start your Cantonese learning journey, gather a lot of motivation.

The Language(s) You Speak

The languages you speak can greatly affect your Cantonese learning journey. If your native language or the languages you know are way far from your target language, which is Cantonese, it may take a while.

Cantonese is a tonal language, and the writing system is far from what other countries use. This will affect your pace in learning Cantonese because you’ll have to learn the Cantonese pronunciation, Cantonese tones, Cantonese grammar, and more. The Chinese characters can also be challenging, especially if you’re unfamiliar with any East Asian languages.

Knowing how to speak Chinese languages like Mandarin might help you learn Cantonese quickly because Cantonese uses traditional characters. If you are a Korean and you know how to write in Hanja, you might use that as a springboard in learning Cantonese. This might speed up your learning.

Length Of Language Learning Experience

How long have you been learning a foreign language? If you have been learning a new language for a while, then you might already have the idea of hacks on how to learn a new language effectively. You already know your learning style and where to get resources. You also have your routine, so all you need to do is find resources for learning Cantonese. This can speed up the learning process.

Aside from the routine and resources, the languages you have been exposed to in your span of learning languages can also make you progress faster. The more language you’re exposed to, especially East-Asian languages, the quicker it may take to successfully learn Cantonese.

But, if you’re a total beginner and you start learning the Cantonese language, it might take a while because you have no idea about how language learning goes. You have to look or invest in different kinds of resources, and you’ll have to find the learning style that suits you.

Desire For Learning Chinese Characters

The challenge between learning spoken Cantonese and learning the writing system is different. Logograms are Chinese characters. Each Chinese character has its own pronunciation, and memorizing 2000-3000 of them is required to read a newspaper. It does take some time to recognize the characters and how to write them.

As you are probably aware, the Cantonese script contains an estimated fifty thousand characters. In fact, it’s information like this that frequently turns people off.

If you decide to learn how to speak Cantonese like native Cantonese speakers, you only have to learn the nine tones and the romanization system. There are different romanization systems used in learning Cantonese, such as the Jyutping Romanization system and the Yale romanization system. Bypassing learning Cantonese characters will definitely speed up your progress.


There are lots of available resources nowadays, ranging from print resources like books to digital resources like language learning apps. But, the kind of resources you’ll use can also affect the speed of your progress.

If you have resources that develop almost all the language skills you need, then you’ll definitely learn fast. But, if you start with resources that only aim for you to learn some Cantonese words, then it might take a while.

Where Do You Live?

If you’re living in Cantonese-speaking places like Hong Kong, Macau, and Southern China, like the Guangdong Province in China, learning Cantonese is easier because you can actually hear native speakers speaking Cantonese. Immersion is important for language learners, and there’s no better way to immerse yourself than using than talking to a native speaker.

However, if you live in a country whose language is way different from the Chinese language, it would be more challenging but not impossible. You may not learn as fast as the ones who live near a community who speak the Cantonese language because you’ll have to search for resources or tutors. You won’t hear native speakers talk unless you have Cantonese-speaking friends around you.


How Long Does It Take To Learn Cantonese Based On Levels?

Beginner Level

Beginner Level - How Long Does It Take To Learn Cantonese?

The beginner level is equivalent to A1-A2 of CEFR. At this level, you’re not expected to learn that much, only the most basic and easiest things.

Skills Needed

For the speaking and listening skills, you only need to learn some survival Cantonese. You also need to learn how to conduct simple conversations like introducing yourself, ordering food, basic greetings, and asking for directions). In short, you have to learn all the most basic but essential vocabulary in the Cantonese language that is used in everyday life.

Unlike the Romance languages, there is no verb conjugation chart and no gender in the language, so you don’t have to worry about those things.

Now, for the reading and writing skills, you’ll only have to learn the Jyutping romanization system because written Cantonese is challenging to learn for beginners.

How Long?

If you spend at least one hour per day learning Cantonese, you’ll learn in 2-3 months on average. It will speed up your learning curve if you know how to speak Mandarin.

Tips And Suggestions

Since you’ll focus on learning basic words and phrases, flashcards will be useful. You can make your own flashcard the traditional way with pen and paper, or you can make use of digital flashcards and apps like Ling App.

Having a notebook to write all the Cantonese words you have learned can also be helpful. Writing is a proven effective way for language learners to improve their retention. So, try to put that in your system.

Another tip is learning the romanization system like the Jyutping romanization. You can quickly learn how to pronounce Cantonese words. No need for Chinese characters or guesswork. You can begin learning the sounds of Cantonese without the burden of characters.

Intermediate Level

Intermediate Level - How Long Does It Take To Learn Cantonese

The intermediate level is equivalent to B1 of CEFR. At this level, you’re expected to learn a lot more, so expect that this would take longer.

Skills Needed

At this level, you are expected to learn how to express more complex ideas, use a variety of sentence constructions, pronounce words more accurately using the nine tones, and manage brief exchanges or chats with locals. This will speed up the development of speaking and listening skills as a Cantonese speaker.

Your understanding of Jyutping will have to improve, but your reading and writing abilities will still be rather limited.

How Long?

The duration of learning Cantonese if you spend at least 1 hour a day is 6 months on average. But, if you know how to speak Mandarin, you can do it for 3-4 months.

Tips And Suggestions

Practice is very important when you’re at this level. You are expected to learn more vocabulary and understand sentence patterns. Keeping your flashcards with you is still helpful but this time, make sure to practice speaking and make sure that you use correct pronunciation.

To practice speaking effectively, you can find a language partner or simply talk with your Cantonese-speaking friends. You could also hire a tutor online or engage in language exchange in an online community.

In finding a language partner, make sure to look for a native speaker or a near-native speaker. If you have a language partner that is a native speaker, it would be easier to get feedback and correct mistakes when there are tricky Cantonese words.

At this level, you have to remember that it’s okay to make mistakes. It’s a part of learning a language, so do not feel down or frustrated. Take that as an opportunity for improvement and progress.

Advanced Level

Advanced Level - How Long Does It Take To Learn Cantonese

The advanced level is definitely the hardest level to reach. At this level, you are expected to be a fluent speaker. This level is equivalent to C1 of CEFR.

Skills Needed

At this level, you are expected to confidently and easily converse with locals. You should also be able to speak Cantonese fluently and deliver speeches fluently.

Aside from advanced listening and speaking skills, you are also expected to recognize 2000-3000 Cantonese characters aside from Jyutping. With this, you can read different kinds of print materials like newspapers.

How Long?

The duration of learning just how to speak Cantonese at an advanced level is 1-2 years considering that you give at least one hour per day. But, if you want to learn also the writing system at the advanced level, the average time needed is 3 years.

Tips And Suggestions

At the advanced level, you’re expected to have deep immersion. This should go beyond having different resources. Making friends with the locals or experiencing the life of the locals is the greatest thing you can do. If you have the means to go to Hong Kong or other Cantonese-speaking communities, then go with it.


How Long Does It Take To Learn Cantonese Based On Proficiency?

Learning a language does not begin and end with just learning new words and phrases. It is a long journey of work that will speed up when you speak regularly using that language. In the case of Cantonese, many people are daunted by how challenging this language can be compared to learning Mandarin, so let us discover how long it takes to learn Cantonese.

Elementary Proficiency

Elementary Proficiency - How Long Does It Take To Learn Cantonese

If you’ll be having a trip to Hong Kong and you wanna learn basic Cantonese words and phrases, you’re reaching elementary proficiency. This level can be easily achievable, especially if you’re in Hong Kong because you can already practice the words and phrases you have learned in different situations. Achieving elementary proficiency can take 1-3 months to learn at least 50 words or phrases easily.

To help you learn Cantonese at this level, you need to have helpful resources like dictionaries, language learning apps, and others. These resources will aid your language learning journey and make everything easier.

Limited Working And Social Proficiency

Elementary Proficiency - How Long Does It Take To Learn Cantonese

After building up your vocabulary, it’s time to use them in simple work and social interactions. A person is said to have limited working and social proficiency when they can handle rudimentary work and social contacts, which enables them to function independently in fundamental dialogues.

This level is a big step from the elementary level because you won’t be depending too much on the use of different resources like dictionaries and vocabulary books. It might take 4-12 months to reach this level, but it will be much faster if you are currently living and working in Hong Kong. The hack is immersing yourself fully in Cantonese and having conversations with the locals.

Professional Working And Social Proficiency

Professional Working and Social Proficiency - How Long Does It Take To Learn Cantonese

Hong Kong is a perfect place for job seekers and people who want to achieve career growth. But, with this goal, you’ll need to learn Cantonese to easily work with the locals. This might take 1-2 years, but it’ll be a lot easier and faster when you’re in Hong Kong.

If you are able to reach this level, it indicates that you have mastered the fundamentals, are able to carry on conversations with people at a normal pace, have a vocabulary that is sizeable, and are confident in your ability to carry out requests and interact with people on an everyday social and professional level.

Full Professional Working And Social Proficiency

Full Professional Working and Social Proficiency -  How Long Does It Take To Learn Cantonese

To engage in conversations at this level, you will need to have advanced abilities that allow you to hold advanced talks on a wide variety of topics in a variety of settings, including professional and social ones.

At this level, it’s expected that you can talk about topics beyond simple professional work and social conversations. You should be able to talk about deeper topics such as business, finance, science, and more.

Native/Bilingual Proficiency

Native/ Bilingual Proficiency - How Long Does It Take To Learn Cantonese

Of course, every language learner wants to speak Cantonese like a native speaker. This is the ultimate goal when learning languages. This can be achieved when you’re living in Hong Kong for quite a long time, around 8 years or longer.

When you reach this level, it’s expected that you can engage in all types of conversations fluently at any time. You have a wide range of vocabulary, including slang words, and you deeply understand the grammar structure. You’ll be sounding like a real native speaker that can make other native speakers surprised at how good you are.


Speak Cantonese Like Native Speakers

People who successfully learned Cantonese would prove how fulfilling it is to learn Cantonese despite being considered a difficult language. So if you are planning to have a good beginner’s Cantonese course, you might first wanna check Ling App to give you a head start.

Ling App is a platform that is used to learn languages. It has well-developed features that can help language learners learn a language. There are dialogues to practice your listening and speaking skills. There are quizzes and mini-games to practice that will make your learning journey fun.

Another great thing about Ling App is that it has extensive grammar explanations to help learners understand how sentences are formed. Blogs like this are available to deepen your understanding of their country’s culture. Once you have successfully learned Cantonese, you can also learn other languages because various languages are available.

So, join other language learners who have successfully learned Cantonese. Start your language learning journey with Ling App now!

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