How can I learn Cantonese on my own? What resources can I use and what is the right way to do it?

I have friends who are from Hong Kong so I have people to "talk at" I guess who will honestly evaluate me (although they will probably make fun of the guailo in the process) but I can live with that.

I learned some Mandarin while I was in the Marine Corp as part of my service but its not helping me with Cantonese AT ALL. To those who understand Mandarin I can use a few choice words to express my frustration but I want to be able to communicate with them in Cantonese.

  • @CA55CE37 how is learning Cantonese the same as Mandarin? This is not a duplicate. Feb 2, 2014 at 16:44
  • It is a torture for mandarin speakers to do so. T_T Feb 5, 2014 at 3:55

5 Answers 5


Old post, but those answers make the language hobbyist in me cry, so... Are you willing to pay for the privilege? If you are, I recommend Complete Cantonese from Teach Yourself, Basic Cantonese from Routledge, Colloquial Cantonese, and if you want something fun to start with then the Berlitz Cantonese phrasebook with CD. And a heads up, you want something fun to start with.

Basic and Colloquial don't have Chinese characters but the Berlitz phrasebook does, Teach Yourself can escalate a tad too quickly for my taste but it's pretty comprehensive, so between them there's enough overlap and different strengths to give you a reasonable course.

Berlitz into Basic into Colloquial into Teach Yourself would be the easiest order in my opinion, though Berlitz into TY could work. I started with TY and wouldn't recommend it unless you felt like a challenge, though you'll likely progress a little slower even if you do. Each chapter introduces vocabulary, the next chapter uses it, and they stop translating into English after a few chapters; hence why the other books go first.

You could also go Berlitz into Basic/TY, or Berlitz into Basic, into Colloquial/TY, as using TY along with Colloquial would be much nicer and you'll have a reasonable foundation to build on. It will still be challenging, just not 'lead weights strapped to the ankles while swimming over the Mariana Trench' challenging.

You obviously don't need to buy them all at once, so it shouldn't cost too much in money up front. Just time.


YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=learn%20cantonese&sm=3

Google: https://www.google.com/search?q=learn+cantonese

You can search for specific websites focusing on Cantonese, use dictionaries to look up pronunication. Watch (via YouTube) news, TV shows, movies with subtitles to get a feel of Cantonese.

A few links to get you started:






  • 1
    I have tried the google searches and youtube videos, not my first rodeo, and much of it is very scattered and unlikely to be useful in a structured and consistent teaching style. I will give what you listed a shot though. Feb 1, 2014 at 19:59

I think you should learn some daily phrases from your friends first like 食左飯未? (Had lunch?), 做緊咩? (What are you doing?) to build up your vocabulary base and the 'feeling' of Cantonese grammar.

If you find difficulty building up a complete sentence in Cantonese, you may try to mix up English and Cantonese like '個 party cancel 左' (The party is canceled, 個派對取消左). Hong Kong people often speak like that so it shouldn't feel odd. Of course, you should ask your friends to correct your sentences.

Hong Kong people are usually willing to teach so don't give up!


Learning always beings with interest and talking as well. So first you can chat with your friends and live with them for ages. Later, you can learn from watching videos such as: 快速学粤语

Besides, singing more songs in GuangDong dialect will also help you to enchance the feeling of the language (such as 万里长城永不倒)

  • Yeah I live with it already :) so that's covered, I listen to it constantly (they act like I am not there half the time) and I pick up more of what they are saying than they know. I just want to be able to engage in the conversation at some point too. So I will take a look at what you suggested, thank you. Feb 1, 2014 at 19:52

Make friends with Cantonese and talk with them every day. It is a direct and effective way. Speaking Cantonese need to think in Cantonese instead of Mandarin. Mandarin can't make you understand Cantonese at all. Cantonese evolved from ancient Chinese but Mandarin was influenced by Tungus deeply. Though them use the same Chinese characters but their pronunciation are different at all. I think Mandarin even is not Cantonese's cousin.

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