I realize that it is fairly easy to Google it but I'd never know how to pronounce it. Are there any audio recordings out there?

  • 2
    Mandarin: Click on the 'Loudspeaker' icon translate.google.com/#zh-CN/en/…
    – imrek
    Commented Jul 27, 2015 at 16:14
  • Shouldn't this question be asked in a language other than Chinese?
    – jf328
    Commented Jul 28, 2015 at 9:10
  • You can tentatively ask "How do you do?" If he / she replies "I'm fine thank you and you?" you can safely assume he / she speak Chinese.
    – Zhang
    Commented Jun 2, 2021 at 2:52
  • 1
    @Zhang It is Q: "How are you?" A: "Fine! Thank you! And you?" Q "How do you do?" A: "How do you do!" Guess you have been away for a long time.
    – River
    Commented Jun 2, 2021 at 14:36
  • @jf328 When speaking to any East Asian looking strangers, I often ask this question in Chinese just to make sure we can carry on the conversation in Chinese. This is to avoid the situation that both of us are speaking in our second language.
    – River
    Commented Jun 2, 2021 at 14:44

4 Answers 4



你会说汉语吗? (Ni3 hui4 shuo1 han4 yu3 ma5)

Or polite form: 您会说汉语吗?(Nin2 hui4 shuo1 han4 yu3 ma5)

Of course, you can say 中文 (zhong1 wen2) instead of 汉语. That is not the big question here, but rather that you have to include 会, which underlines that you ask if the person you are speaking to, can speak Chinese or not. Only asking 你说汉语吗? is not sufficient, it means "Do you use Chinese (in general)?, e.g. 你家里说中文吗? Do you speak Chinese at home? (what is being asked is not the ability, but the fact if Chinese is spoken or not.)

你識唔識講中文啊? (Nei5/Lei5 sik1 m4 sik1 gong2 zung1 man4 aa3, I am using Jyutping here, but Yale is a similar transcription).

If you want to ask "Do you speak Chinese?" in Cantonese, you ask Chinese (中文), not Cantonese. I really don't understand why one would think Cantonese is not Chinese. So ask for 中文 not 廣東話. If you want to ask if someone specifically can speak Cantonese, then use 廣東話.


(1) The Mandarin text uses simplified characters, as most Mandarin speakers use these, the Cantonese question uses the traditional ones, as most Cantonese speakers who are familiar with writing Cantonese are Hongkongers, who use traditional characters, but simplified characters are used by Cantonese native Mainland Chinese who can read and write Cantonese or at least have some experience with it.

(2) The Cantonese pronunciation is difficult to transcribe, there is a difference between Mainland Cantonese and Hong Kong Cantonese, e.g. 你 begins with 'l-' in "lazy speech", i.e. casual Hong Kong Cantonese, but 'n-' is a more formal, "proper" sound, especially used in the Mainland.

(3) The word "Chinese (language)" has many equivalents in (Mandarin) Chinese, all differ in some way.

  • 汉语, the language of the Han
  • 中文, the (written) language of the Chinese civilization
  • 华语, Chinese as the language of Overseas Chinese, whether Mandarin, Cantonese, Hakka, or any other dialect, as contrasted to the non-Chinese languages, like English, Malay or Thai, etc.
  • 中国话, less used, means "the (spoken) language of China".
  • 国语, ("national language"), i.e. Mandarin Chinese, this expression is mostly used outside the PRC
  • 普通话 ("general language"), also Mandarin Chinese (or sometimes called Standard Chinese), this word is used in the PRC, which promotes Mandarin Chinese and discourages speaking dialects in public.
  • 官话 ("official language"), Mandarin Chinese, this word has historic connotations, the Ming and Qing-dynasties, under which the Northern dialects gained the status of official language of the administration and the "Mandarins".
  • 中文 is the official Chinese language, and 廣東話 is a local dialogue. So it is not appropriate to say a local dialogue is the language of the country it resides in.
    – r13
    Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 23:15

Once I tried to learn some Cantonese, only to find out that the teaching materials are a chaos. Every textbook author seems to use a different self invented transcription system, whereas the tone system is more complicated than in Mandarin. Sometimes the spelling doesn't fit at all, e.g. for the word "keuideih", meaning "they", people just write 他們 or 他们 instead of using the proper characters as mentioned in the textbook. Compare in English the £ Libra sign, pronounced as "Pound". When, after some hard study, I tried to start a simple conversation with some Hong Kong students, they just burst out laughing and kept laughing, while it was so funny to hear a Westerner speaking Cantonese. So I had some success anyway.

  • While I share your opinion on Cantonese textbooks, this does not answer the question.
    – L Parker
    Commented Mar 31, 2021 at 0:21
  1. Ni hui shuo putong hua / Zhongwen ma?
  2. Ni hui jiang putong hua /Zhongwen ma?

So I'll just tell you the pinyin for the mandarin:

你说中文吗? (Do you speak Chinese?) ni3 shuo1 zhong1 wen2 ma?

Or if you want to be specific:

你说普通话吗? (Do you speak Mandarin?) ni3 shuo1 pu2 tong1 hua4 ma?

But the pinyin of Cantonese is very complicated. It has 6 tones and a lot of weird symbols and stuff so I'll just give you the sentence:

你係咪講中文架? (Do you speak Chinese?)

  • 1
    Can you understand Cantonese: 你識唔識聽廣東話?
    – Mou某
    Commented Jul 28, 2015 at 8:49
  • 2
    Well "聽" means listen and the OP is not asking about listening. You can say 你識唔識講廣東話?
    – Sweeper
    Commented Jul 28, 2015 at 8:51
  • changed it to understand, good catch
    – Mou某
    Commented Jul 28, 2015 at 8:52
  • 你说中文吗? is not what is meant here. When we ask "Do you speak X?" we mean "Can you speak X?". We are not asking if someone is speaking X at the moment or uses X in general.
    – imrek
    Commented Jul 28, 2015 at 9:08
  • Also 廣東話 is not "Chinese". Generally, if a Cantonese speaker wanted to say that they speak English and Chinese, they would use 英文 and 中文, because Cantonese is also Chinese, so no Cantonese speaker would say: "I don't speak Chinese, I speak Cantonese".
    – imrek
    Commented Jul 28, 2015 at 9:12

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