That said, people throughout the Mainland do not speak Mandarin, and every locality has their own accent and dialect. Even in the Northeast, from which Mandarin comes, there are dialects of Mandarin that are nearly incomprehensible. This is why Mainland news programs are always subtitled when non-standard speakers (to which roughly 90% of the population belongs) speak. The further south and west one travels in China, the less one finds proper Mandarin. It's only in larger cities and more educated populations that one finds standard speakers. That the nation is fully fluent in Mandarin is a myth.
I'm not saying that learning Mandarin isn't useful -- it is, and you should learn it, because learning languages is fun, it's an amazing language, and if you're a native English speaker, certain features, e.g. syntax, may be easier for you to comprehend than those of Cantonese -- but that its usefulness is often overstated. But while you're here in Hong Kong, it seems silly to not study at least a bit of Cantonese.
I agree with PP that you need to determine your useage first. If living in HK then Cantonese is the way to go but it is a dying language () as outside HK it is not that widely used so business wise - Mandarin is the way to go.
My DDs are learning Mandarin which is great for their future but I would have preferred, living in HK that it was Cantonese.
There's no time like the present to start them in Cantonese lessons. ; )
Also, speaking as a linguist and a native speaker of a truly dying language (around 1000 fluent speakers remaining, most of whom are 60+), Cantonese is far from dying out.
Last edited by Hokuto; 15-07-2009 at 11:50 AM.
My 2 cents worth from a native English speaker.
First year - learned nothing except "jo sun" (good morning) and " mm goy" (thank you) in Cantonese. Inhibited my work or life not one jot.
Second year - started learning mandarin from chinesepod.com (I'm just not a formal lesson person) mainly because I wanted to travel in China and, unlike in HK, the mainlanders REALLY DON'T speak much English! Even a few phrases in Mandarin is hugely valuable.
It's fun, not that hard (hard to be sucessful, not hard to give it a go ) and learning abit of grammar and word-order/sentence structure has really improved my understanding of local HK-ers speaking English (the poor speakers use English words with Chinese grammar, it comes across as abrupt and rude if you have not figured out what they are doing!)
SO, I'd learn Mandarin grammar and structure before you arrive, then pick up some Canto while immersed here and decide later which to keep going with if you want to.
Unless you're planning on living an exceedingly long life, I don't think Cantonese is in any way dying.
1. It's by far the most established non-Mandarin dialect of Chinese, with it's own TV, music industry, and huge film industry. Many mainlanders actually learn Cantonese so they can watch films made here.
2. Despite being in the 'real' China, other dialects of Chinese such as Shanghaiese are still alive and used for daily communication in their respective provinces or areas. People just speak Mandarin at work/school and their own language the rest of the time. Please bear in mind this is after 60 years of PRC rule.. a PRC that is now relaxing... bit by bit.
So, HK still has 38 years of the 'One country, two systems' autonomy left before it enters its first year of 'real' China in 2047. Add on another 60 years to get to the point where Chinese cities are at now, and you're talking about the year 2107. I don't know about you but I'm not expecting to get a lot more than half way to 2107 and I'm pretty young!!
Admittedly the world standing of China might alter so much over the next century that you cannot apply the model we've seen over the last 60 years to any future time period. Despite Chinese rule relaxing, Mandarin has the potential to become more widespread. But there are many other variables which could go against that too.
If you have no plan to live or do business in mainland China, then please do not convince yourself Mandarin useful, especially when compared with living in Hong Kong and learning to speak Cantonese. If you are interested in learning Mandarin for enjoyment or because you are a bit of a linguist and learning languages is a hobby, then by all means go for it!
I can only speak from a learning point of view (as I live in Toronto right now) but if you are in HK, learning Canto is much easier due to the HK immersion. I took Mandarin courses at the University of Toronto and was fine when I was in class and what have you. However, now that I am finished and have not used it for, at least 3 months, it's pretty much gone since I speak either English at work or English/Cantonese at home. It's one thing to learn but it's another to retain it.
Last edited by yellowsponge; 29-07-2009 at 02:06 AM.