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If you’re learning Cantonese, you might have struggled to find the best way to learn the language. Since there are fewer speakers than Mandarin, there aren’t as many resources available. But look no further! This article puts together the best ways to learn Cantonese. From books to podcasts, there’s something here for every type of learner.
Yue Chinese is one of the most spoken languages in the world and refers to the Cantonese language as a whole, including its many dialects. Standard Cantonese usually refers to the dialect used in Hong Kong and cities like Guangzhou. Cantonese is the official language of Hong Kong (along with English) and Macau (along with Portuguese). It’s also commonly spoken in the Guangdong and Guangxi regions of Mainland China.
How Long Will It Take You To Learn Cantonese?
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Some people might assume Cantonese and Mandarin are very similar because they’re both spoken in China. Interestingly, they use the same written characters so they are mutually understandable when written, but not when they are spoken. In addition to having different grammar and vocabulary, the languages also have different tones. So a Mandarin speaker will have difficulty understanding a Cantonese speaker, and vice versa. But have no fear! Let’s look at some of the best ways to learn Cantonese.
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Cantonese might seem like a difficult language to learn, but with patience and persistence, you’ll be speaking in no time. The most important key to improving quickly is consistent study. Studying for a few minutes every day, or at least a few times a week, is vital to retaining what you’ve already learned and expand upon it.
It’s also a good idea to use a variety of study methods. Different methods excel at teaching certain skills, so using a few will help you improve all skills faster. For example, a language app can be useful for learning lots of new vocabulary, but books have more detailed explanations and practice questions to help you understand grammar.
Using a language app to learn Cantonese is one of the most popular ways to learn. They are convenient and you can study whenever you can access your phone. Most apps keep the lessons short and simple, so you can do a few every day. Pimsleur, Drops, and Glossika are well-known language apps that have well-developed Cantonese lessons.
Pimsleur is the best app to learn Cantonese because the focus is on conversation and speaking. The audio lessons walk you through useful, everyday conversations. You’ll learn a lot of important vocabulary and also improve your listening and speaking skills with the app. You can try Pimsleur for free for 7 days or learn more about it in this Pimsleur review.
The Drops app is the best choice if you want to learn a lot of Cantonese vocabulary quickly. The lessons are quick and interactive and there are hundreds of word lists to choose from. Each word or phrase has a unique illustration to help you remember the meaning. The best part about Drops is that it helps you review vocabulary over time and commit it to your long-term memory. You can use Drops for free for 5 minutes every day, and you can read this complete Drops review to learn more about the app.
Glossika’s premise is straightforward. You listen to a native speaker pronounce a phrase, and then you repeat it aloud. It emphasizes repetition and you will repeat the sentences several times throughout your study session. There are no actual lessons on Glossika. Instead, you absorb the grammar, vocabulary, and speaking rhythms by mimicking the audio. It’s an interesting way to learn and can help you gain confidence when you speak. You can try Glossika for free for 7 days, or click on this Glossika review to learn more about the app.
If you prefer to know exactly what to study in a specific order, an online Cantonese course is a good option for you. They provide structure and take the guesswork out of learning. Many courses use a hybrid method of learning. In addition to live classes or prerecorded videos, they also include independent study material to reinforce what you learned during the classes. Udemy, FSI Cantonese Basic Course, and Hills Learning are effective choices that will help you speak Cantonese quickly.
Udemy is a massive online learning platform that teaches all different subjects, and it also has a large number of Cantonese courses. There are currently 130+ courses to choose from. The majority of the courses are for beginners, but you can find courses that teach intermediate and advanced levels, as well as Cantonese writing courses. You can preview each course for free. Check out this Udemy review to learn more about the platform.
The Foreign Service Institute language courses have been around for a long time and are proven effective. It may not be the most interesting way to learn, but it works. This Audible course is divided into 30 lessons and each one includes explanations, drills, and conversations. You can follow along with the free FSI textbook to see how Cantonese is written. This FSI audio course is available on Audible. You can try Audible for free for 30 days.
Hills Learning offers online Cantonese courses for different levels. They are live classes with a maximum of 7 students. Classes are taken on Zoom and there are assignments between lessons to reinforce what you learned in the class. There is also the option to take private classes to have a more flexible curriculum or take Business Cantonese classes. You can learn more about the classes available and take a free level test on the Hills Learning website.
The best way to practice speaking and conversation is with a native Cantonese speaker. But if you don’t know anyone that speaks it, it can be difficult to practice. Now, you have the option to take online classes with a Cantonese tutor that lives in Hong Kong or anywhere in the world. Italki, Verbling, and Amazing Talker are reputable platforms that have qualified Cantonese tutors available to teach 1-on-1 lessons.
The italki platform connects language learners and tutors around the world. There are currently over 110 Cantonese tutors to choose from. Italki offers a lot of flexibility. Since the classes are 1-on-1, you can study exactly what you want and your teacher can create a personalized curriculum. You can also take lessons anytime. Most teachers offer a discounted trial lesson to see if they are a good fit for you. You can also learn more about the platform in this italki review.
Verbling is a similar platform to italki that lets you choose a Cantonese tutor that teaches online classes. There are currently only 9 teachers available on Verbling, but they all have excellent ratings from past students. You can search their profiles to watch an introduction video, see their qualifications, and check availability. Most teachers offer a free trial class so you can see if you enjoy their classes risk-free. You can also learn more about the platform in this Verbling review.
AmazingTalker is a platform based out of Hong Kong that offers private 1-on-1 tutoring with native Cantonese teachers. You can choose a tutor based on what you want to learn such as Business Cantonese, conversation, and even Cantonese for children. You can browse the tutors’ profiles to learn more about them. Most tutors offer a discounted trial class to see if they are a good fit for you. Find tutors and learn more about the online courses on the AmazingTalker website.
Books are a traditional way to learn Cantonese and are very effective. Most in-person language classes use books to help guide the class. Now, there are many options for self-study. In addition to practice questions and answers, many books also incorporate additional online practice that allows you to hear how Cantonese is spoken. Complete Cantonese, Learn to Speak Cantonese I, and Get Started in Cantonese are favorite choices among Cantonese language learners.
Complete Cantonese is made for self-study and can take you from a complete beginner to an intermediate level. Through the 26 units, you practice all the most important language skills: reading, writing, speaking, and listening. The book also includes cultural notes about China, progress tests, and downloadable audio tracks to hear how Cantonese is spoken. One reviewer thought this was the most well-rounded book for Cantonese learners. See what other reviewers thought about the book here.
Learn to Speak Cantonese I quickly teaches you the basics needed to start speaking. The 10 chapters follow the story of Gabriel who needs to learn Cantonese to speak to his girlfriend’s mother. It teaches the basics of conversation in an easy and approachable way. You can also download audio and flashcards from the website. One reviewer said the audio from the book is spectacular and is very helpful for learning correct pronunciation. You can learn more about this book and read other reviews here.
Get Started in Cantonese uses the discovery method of learning so you aren’t overwhelmed when first starting out. The book places a large emphasis on communicating in Cantonese. Each unit has clear goals established at the beginning, and a self-check at the end of the unit to make sure you understood. There are also cultural points, vocabulary-building activities, conversations, and more. One reviewer thought the pronunciation guide was particularly helpful. You can read more reviews here.
We all like watching YouTube videos, so why not watch them to learn Cantonese? It’s a great way to hear how the language is actually spoken and you can watch videos directly from Cantonese creators. Some channels focus on teaching in a traditional format, while others focus on Cantonese culture. The channels on this list have hundreds of videos for you to check out.
Amanda is from Hong Kong and as a language learner herself, wants to help others learn Cantonese. She makes short videos teaching the language in bite-sized chunks. Every video is less than 10 minutes and focuses on a topic or phrase. She also has a few videos about grammar and some Vlogs entirely in Cantonese. She explains everything in English and then you practice the Cantonese pronunciation. There are over 100 videos to check out, and she uploads a new video every week.
The Cantonese Corner channel has a variety of videos. There are videos that teach Cantonese language topics like vocabulary, pronunciation, and more. She also has videos about how to play mahjong and videos in English about Cantonese culture. The Cantonese Corner already has over 100 videos to help you learn Cantonese.
Mama Cheung is a food Vlogger that posts videos of her cooking traditional food from Hong Kong. Not only will her videos make you hungry, but you’ll also learn tons of vocabulary related to food and cooking. Her videos are entirely in Cantonese, but you can turn on English subtitles if you want. She has hundreds of videos for you to watch and posts a new video every Thursday.
Podcasts are another versatile way to learn Cantonese. Since they are audio-based, you can listen anywhere or while doing other activities. Podcasts let you hear exactly how Cantonese is spoken and you can focus on perfecting your pronunciation and understanding. CantoneseClass101, Cantonese Pod, and Learn Cantonese Daily have thousands of hours of material for you to listen to.
CantoneseClass101 has podcast-style lessons that feature conversations by native Cantonese speakers. You can find lessons that use text, audio, and video to study a bunch of different topics. CantoneseClass101 is a helpful tool because there are new lessons every week. With some subscription plans, you can even work with a tutor to develop a personalized learning plan. CantoneseClass101 has a 7-day free trial so you can try it risk-free.
Learn Cantonese Daily has mini podcast lessons that teach you Cantonese in less than 10 minutes. Each lesson focuses on a simple topic, such as summer activities or Mother’s Day. You learn vocabulary related to the topic and then use the words in sentences. There are PDF transcripts available so you can see how to write the words in Cantonese. There are 150 lessons available, and you can try the first 50 lessons for free to see if you enjoy this podcast.
Chatty Cantonese is a good option for intermediate and advanced learners. Each episode is a conversation between two Cantonese academics. They talk about tips for learning the language, culture, news, and more. It’s entirely in Cantonese so it’s best for learners that already understand how the language is spoken. You can find transcripts and English translations on their websites, as well as listen to all of the episodes for free.
Cantonese doesn’t have to be difficult to learn, but you do need the right tools for the job. Using a high-quality resource, such as the ones on this list, can help you improve and make learning an enjoyable experience. The more you practice, the more you’ll improve so it’s necessary to find a way to study that you like using and will stick with. With persistence and dedication, you’ll be speaking Cantonese before you know it!
Want to learn more? Check out our Cantonese resource page.
The US Department of State considers Cantonese to be a very difficult language for English speakers to learn and estimates that it takes 2200 class hours to reach a proficient level. But this amount of time is only an estimate and depends on other factors such as your natural ability to acquire languages and if you already know a language that’s similar to Cantonese.
To see how long it will take you to learn Cantonese, check out this Fluency Calculator.
To learn Cantonese quickly, you’ll need to dedicate a lot of time to studying and have a consistent learning routine. Another way to learn quickly is to use a variety of resources since each one has its own strengths. For example, podcasts can help your listening and understanding, but using a language app might be better for learning vocabulary and grammar.
There are many options to learn Cantonese at home, but one of the most popular is to learn with a language app, especially if you are a beginner. They’re convenient and can be a fun and interesting way to study. Once you reach an intermediate level, you can take online classes, either privately or in a group. There are also new options that are being developed, such as watching YouTube videos and listening to podcasts.
Cantonese is considered to be an exceptionally difficult language for English speakers to learn. This is because there are significant linguistic differences between the two languages, such as different writing systems and pronunciation. For example, Cantonese is a tonal language, whereas English is not.
You can learn Cantonese on your own with a book or language app, but to reach an advanced level, you will need to study with a qualified teacher. A teacher can give you specific feedback on areas you need to improve and help you practice conversation. You can also find a language exchange partner on an app like Tandem or HelloTalk to practice speaking.
There are many ways to learn Cantonese for free, including podcasts and watching YouTube videos. Some language apps offer some or all of their content for free, such as Duolingo and CantoneseClass101. You can also find authentic Cantonese material such as websites and newspapers for free.