The difference between Mandarin and Cantonese

The difference between Mandarin and Cantonese

Mandarin and Cantonese are very different from one another. When people talk about the Chinese language, they usually speak Mandarin (Putonghua), the official language. 

However, Cantonese is where most of the vocabulary from the Chinese language is used in English today, such as dim sum (点心 dim2 sam1)and taxi(的士 dik1 si2).

Then, why did words from a dialect enter English more frequently than words from the Chinese language?

It is mainly because, in past decades, most Chinese overseas immigrants came from the southern Chinese provinces of Fujian and Canton. Cantonese are primarily gathered in North America, whereas Fujianese are gathered in Southeast Asia. 

Cantonese is the language of the Canton people in the province of Guangdong. It has been more fully absorbed into English culture and is better known outside China than Mandarin.

Mandarin and Cantonese, however, differ significantly from one another. The words stated above, for instance, have the Mandarin pronunciations “diǎnxīn” and “lìzhī” even if their characters are the same. So, most Mandarin speakers think of Cantonese as a foreign language. 

The languages have various structures.

First of all, as was already mentioned, Cantonese is only a dialect in China, and Mandarin is the official language of China. It indicates that people have been studying Mandarin since they were young. Cantonese is a dialect that is usually not taught in schools. Instead, people learn it by being around their families. 

Furthermore, the two application areas are noticeably different due to their disparate placements. Cantonese is nearly exclusively spoken in Guangdong, Guangxi, Hong Kong, and Macau. Mandarin, on the other hand, is widely spoken throughout China.

Because of its broad use in elementary schools, Mandarin’s supremacy has grown increasingly visible. As a result, fewer and fewer young people use Cantonese, and many do not speak their dialect at all.

The tones of the languages differ.

The sound systems of the two languages are very different, as are their social roles and where they are used.

For instance, the Mandarin letters “zh,” “ch,” “sh,” and “r” do not exist in Cantonese. 

Due to some Cantonese vowels not existing in Mandarin, such as those ending in “m,” “b,” “d,” and “g.” These vowels have a unique pronunciation that is worth noting. If you have not been taught systematically, it’s almost impossible to say these sounds correctly. 

Additionally, Cantonese has five more tones than Mandarin. Even native Mandarin speakers are unlikely to grasp all nine tones completely.

 lamps g8f716ae89 1920

The languages use distinct vocabularies.

Mandarin and Cantonese often use different words to say the same thing or to change how it sounds. As an example:

Mandarin Cantonese English

睡觉shuìjiào 训觉fan3 gaau3 – to sleep

晚安wǎn’ān 早抖zou2 dau2 – Good night.

谢谢xièxiè 唔该m4 goi1 – Thank you.

The vocabulary system has various versions. Understandably, Cantonese and Mandarin speakers struggle to communicate with one another.

The grammar of Mandarin and Cantonese varies.

Even if you are used to the changes in pronunciation and vocabulary, the changes in grammar may make you feel strange. 

Many phrases in Cantonese are structured differently than in Mandarin. As an example:

Mandarin: 你先吃。Nǐ xiān chī.(You first eat .)

Cantonese: 你食先。nei5 sik6 sin1. (You eat first.)

Mandarin: 给你打个电话。Gěi nǐ dǎ gè diànhuà.(Give you a call.)

Cantonese: 打个电话你。daa2 go3 din6 waa2 nei5. (Give a call you.)

There are essential distinctions between Mandarin and Cantonese. Mandarin is usually easier to learn than Cantonese, even though Cantonese is used in fewer situations. 

So, if you want to learn Chinese quickly and communicate with Chinese people, focus on Mandarin. We can also help you learn Cantonese because we have Cantonese tutors from Guangzhou.

Do you want to learn more Mandarin Chinese?

If you want to learn Mandarin Chinese, feel free to REGISTER FOR A TRIAL CLASS HERE or send us an email:

We offer private lessons and group classes at all levels, HSK 1-6, children, adults, and business. All Mandarin Chinese classes are offered either in classrooms or online.

WeChat Image 20210427081950 3 1 300x273 1

Sign up for a free trial class here.

Sign up for classes here.

Learn more about our Chinese Summer Camp for Children here.

Learn about our Internship Program in China.

Get free Chinese learning resources.

Learn about China’s 2024 Offical Holiday Schedule

Ønsker du en gratis prøveklasse? Registrer deg!

Bli med på en gratis prøveklasse i kinesisk!

Do you want a Free Trial Chinese Class? Register now!

Join a Free Trial Chinese Class!