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Is Mandarin worthless in Hong Kong?

 Language Learning Forum : Cultural Experiences in Foreign Languages Post Reply
18 messages over 3 pages: 1 2
Hong Kong
Joined 3971 days ago

28 posts - 39 votes
Speaks: Cantonese*, English, Mandarin
Studies: French, German, Spanish

 Message 17 of 18
22 January 2013 at 6:43pm | IP Logged 
Is it usual to revive an old thread...? But I'm quite driven to talk about my city.

If you come here as a tourist and plan to visit only the famous tourist sites
(referring to tourist gaze), English will do everything. In fact, English is preferred
to Mandarin. If you want to go elsewhere, say, the places we really live in, or the New
Territories (where I live), you'd better have a friend who is a local, but I do not
recommend learning Cantonese merely for touring.

If you want to live here, you can survive without Cantonese, and live quite happily
among the expat circle with English. However, if you want to UNDERSTAND most of the
Hong Kong, and be regarded as a real Hongkonger by most locals, Cantonese is a must.

Mandarin as well as standard written Chinese (closer to Mandarin; in fact quite
different from Cantonese) may seem ideal to communicate, but Cantonese is so much
different from the so-called standard Chinese, as Mandarin is known to most foreigners,
that without Cantonese, you can't really understand Hongkongers, our films, jokes, and
so on.

Cantonese culture and Cantonese language are distinct from those of the mainland as if
German and French are two distinct things in Switzerland. We actually see mainlanders
as foreigners. And, the majority, if not most, would consider the
Hong Kong which tourists know is COMPLETELY (I mean it) different from what we know of.
It's not untrue that our government has been creating another world merely for
tourists in the name of building a better place for everybody... (When non-locals tell
me Hong Kong is fascinating, I have to agree because
that world is really fantastic. But I wonder how much of that world resembles me...)

So, it depends on your purpose. If you would like to settle and live with the locals
like Mr hkboy, why don't you learn our language? Frankly, I'm proud of Cantonese
language, but have to nevertheless admit it's not that "useful".

Edited by evol on 22 January 2013 at 6:47pm

5 persons have voted this message useful

Senior Member
Joined 4085 days ago

747 posts - 1123 votes 
Speaks: Cantonese*, English, Mandarin
Studies: French

 Message 18 of 18
04 November 2013 at 4:11am | IP Logged 
Someone like myself who lived in Hong Kong & Canada would know. In Canada we have 2 official languages:
English & French. Suppose you know only English and travel into Quebec. The chance of getting services in
English would be higher in a city like Montreal where a majority of the population is bilingual. For the rest of
Quebec, if you confine yourself to the tourist areas you'd be fine. But if you are in the countryside, you better
know a few words in French or else you'd be more or less relying on phrase books and finger pointing.

Is Mandarin useless in Hong Kong? Sometime in the 1980s I was in Hong Kong for a visit. Went into a department
store. Some women supposedly from Taiwan went in to shop. There were several employees on that floor only 1
was fluent and comfortable enough to speak Mandarin to those customers. You are more likely to find services in
English than Mandarin.

And a few years back went to HK for a trip. This was over 10 years since the handover to China. Has anything
changed? After the transition, the Beijing government was determined to maintain the "1 Country, 2 Systems"
policy as part of the joint declaration with the outgoing British admin. Unlike the Mainland, the old education
system gave primary school students the choice of taking Cantonese as a first language, English as second or vice
versa. Now that you add Mandarin to the list, it is still a second language taken 1 class a day (not immersion) and
even the core subjects are taught in Cantonese.

Based on local media reports there is still a lot of "Us vs. Them" attitude. Them being the "inferior" people on the
Mainland . In the 1960s China suffered under a hardline dictatorship & the Cultural Revolution. People in HK
generally recognize they are politically tied to China but have their own government running their own affairs. A
year back the HK government launched something called: 國民教育 which translates roughly as "The Chinese
Citizen's Education". The purpose was to include passages in local Chinese textbooks that are patriotic to the
"Motherland". Right away there were protests in HK saying the text is not only "pro-China" but also "pro-
communist". On the street level, people resisted every effort to introduce "Simplified Chinese" writing in shops,
restaurants and street signs. Even local TV and movie actors like Jackie Chan & Chow Yun Fat who frequently
collaborate with actors on the Mainland for movie projects are sometimes seen as being too Pro-China.

Definitely being fluent Cantonese would be the first thing if you decide to stay put for at least 6 months. Just
across the border in Shenzhen is another story. You can do reasonably well in Mandarin.

Edited by shk00design on 04 November 2013 at 5:08pm

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