Languages in Hong Kong

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Languages in Hong Kong

Hong Kong's written official languages are Chinese and English, and the spoken official languages are Cantonese and English.

The local language is Cantonese. The Hong Kong variant is basically the same as in Guangzhou on the mainland but tends to incorporate some English words and slang, which frequently sounds strange to other Cantonese speakers. (Like "我唔sure得唔得", means "I am not sure if it's okay") Cantonese is the lingua franca in many overseas Chinese communities and Guangdong and Guangxi province. Like all Chinese languages, Cantonese is a tonal language and definitely not easy for foreigners to master, but locals always appreciate any effort by visitors to speak it, so learning a few simple greetings will get you aquainted with locals much more easily.

Unlike Hanyu Pinyin - standard romanization system for phoneticizing Mandarin, Cantonese so far hasn't developed a well recognised romanization system and local people seldom bother to learn them. However, some accurate phonetics system do exist for learners, such as the Yale system or Jyutpin.

As English is an official language of Hong Kong, government offices are required by law to have English-speaking staff on duty. There are two terrestrial English language TV stations: TVB Pearl and ATV World. English-language films in cinemas are almost always shown with the original soundtrack and Chinese subtitles, though children's films, especially animations, are often dubbed into Cantonese. British English is still widely used in Hong Kong, especially in government and legal documents. In the media, the South China Morning Post and both terrestrial TV channels use British English. Place names, such as Victoria Harbour (not Harbor) serve as a record of Hong Kong's colonial heritage. Also, modern buildings, such as the International Finance Centre (not Center) maintain the tradition of using British spellings. Most secondary and tertiary institutions adopt English for instruction, even though in most cases lectures are conducted in Cantonese.As a former British colony, English is the most common second language, and while it is far from ubiquitous, your chances of encountering an English speaker in Hong Kong are still much better than in other East Asian cities. Education in English begins in kindergarten, and fluency in English is often a prerequisite for securing a good job. As a result, English is spoken fluently by most professionals and business people. In contrast, English proficiency tends to be more limited among the average working class person, particularly outside the main tourist areas. In addition, while many people are able to understand written English pretty well, they may not necessarily be comfortable speaking it. Nevertheless, most locals under the age of 40 (and many over that as well) know enough English for basic communication. To improve your chances of being understood, speak slowly, stick to basic words and sentences, and avoid using slang.

It is also important to note that many English street names are seldom used among local people including those who can speak fluent English. Before you go to anywhere, ask hotel staff to write down the street names using Chinese characters.

Most locals are not fluent in Mandarin, but can comprehend it to some degree. However, due to the large number of tourists from the mainland, as well as the fact that Mandarin has been compulsory in all government schools since the handover, people in the tourist industry will often speak Mandarin, and most shops in the main tourist areas, as well as all government offices will have Mandarin-speaking staff on duty.

All official signs are bilingual in Chinese and English. Under the "one country, two systems" policy, Hong Kong continues to use traditional Chinese characters, and not the simplified Chinese characters used in the mainland.

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