Parenting & Family

Chinese school - Cantonese or Mandarin?

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Deal Expert
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Aug 18, 2005
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Burlington-Hamilton
If you want the kid to have an advantage in the workplace, Mandarin for sure. If it's for integrating with family culture, do Cantonese since your family speaks it.

That said, my observation from having done business in China is that anyone who does not visually look Chinese will always be an outsider from the perspective of Chinese people, even if your Mandarin is flawless.
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Newbie
May 25, 2019
3 posts
1 upvote
We speak only Cantonese at home, but send my 4 year old to mandarin class (sat). I find the smaller class size works better at this age. He speaks fluent English and Cantonese, and understands a little mandarin.

By the way, Angus Glen Montessori (the school my son goes to) if offering a Montessori mandarin program with both traditional and simpler characters. They use Montessori chinese material instead of traditional worksheets. And small class sizes for kids 3-6. I have enrolled mine for the summer (July to aug). Check it out if you live in Markham.
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Newbie
May 2, 2016
86 posts
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Toronto
From someone who went to Mandarin school from Kindergarten - Grade 10, approximately 12 years of Friday night two hour classes -- no I didn't actually pick up that much Mandarin. For the similar reason others have stated, my mother decided that since "Mandarin is the world's most spoken language", she decided to send her kids to Mandarin school instead of Cantonese school. But my first language was Cantonese, my parents spoke Cantonese, my relatives spoke Cantonese - about half of my classmates in my entire primary and secondary Canadian education classes were from Cantonese-speaking families (some could speak, some couldn't but they understood). My family watched TVB at home together, and my parents listened to Cantonese radio/music. So being surrounded by Cantonese, or English (not many Mandarin speaking kids in my day, and those that were Mandarin ended up learning Cantonese! Smiling Face With Open Mouth And Smiling Eyes), at home and at school, it is quite obvious that all those Mandarin school classes were almost all for naught, because no one around me spoke Mandarin. I sometimes can understand about 50% of a Mandarin TV show but only if they don't speak too quickly. But I think too slowly to be able to converse in Mandarin at a normal pace. As for my siblings, Mandarin school was a total waste on them (they kept their Cantonese though! The power of TVB! Smiling Face With Sunglasses).

Now that I'm a parent, I only hope to pass on Cantonese to my child. Somehow, I find myself falling into my first language, even though I've lived in Canada most of my life and I think/speak/write/read 1000000% faster in English. I can only read and write a tiny bit in Chinese. But still, Cantonese was my first language...I think that's why when I speak to my toddler, sometimes straight Cantonese just comes out, so then I would repeat what I just said in English also, so she won't get confused when she goes to school in the future! Haha.

As for Mandarin - my child can learn in the future. Like how she will be taught French someday in school. She can learn in the future. If she wants to learn Japanese or Korean or Spanish or any other language in world, she can learn when she decides that she wants to learn. I have friends who decided to learn Japanese when they were in university at a level where they have achieved certain Japanese language level exam certificates. Or friends who decided to take French at university level and can actually translate for a living now (true Canadian bilinguals!). I'd rather that my toddler learn our family's mother tongue Cantonese, along with English (already learning from TV and electronic toys) FIRST, than another language that we don't speak at home. If she wants to pick up any additional languages in the future, I am sure she will, if she truly wants to. So if my husband and I ever decided to send our child to Chinese school, we would choose Cantonese school -- because Cantonese is our mother tongue.
Deal Fanatic
Oct 7, 2010
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MP3_SKY wrote: And die faster if even the parents now is not letting their kids to learn and speak Cantonese at this generation.

I agreed that Mandarin is more useful but if the parent is Cantonese, I would try my best to teach my next generation to speak the same language as their father, grand father, etc..
That's what the northern Chinese wants us to do. Give up Cantonese for Mandarin. Then the assimilation plan will be complete, they want to wipe out the minor dialects. Cantonese speak more of southern Chinese identity than the actual usefulness.
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Nov 24, 2004
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spike1128 wrote: That's what the northern Chinese wants us to do. Give up Cantonese for Mandarin.
This was kind of my point above. China wants to "regionalize" the minority languages to promote Mandarin as a universal national language.

I'm not Chinese, but my understanding is that Cantonese is somewhat closer to the phonology / structure of classical Chinese than Mandarin is -- the latter having taken in more non-Chinese influences over time. I have heard that native Cantonese speakers have an easier time making sense of some of the classical or poetic Chinese works from antiquity. Is this true?

Also, what is the predominant spoken language in Hong Kong these days? Is Cantonese still the common spoken language "on the street"? Would a unilingual Mandarin speaker (or a unilingual Cantonese speaker) be in trouble there?

Asking these questions solely out of curiosity.
Sr. Member
Sep 30, 2004
708 posts
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Markham
I was also one of those kids sent to cantonese classes since I was young. I can carry out conversations perfectly without any problems. I can get by for reading. Not too much for writing. I think watching Chinese shows probably helped more than the classes.

I've never went to mandarin classes before but I am still able to understand, if people speak slow enough and I'm able to respond in my broken mandarin but they understand. Granted I've only ever needed it in the Chinese grocery stores.

Now with my kids, I've sent them to cantonese classes as that is what our family speaks. If they want to learn mandarin after they can. Ability to write and read will already be there.
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Jul 12, 2003
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JHW wrote: This was kind of my point above. China wants to "regionalize" the minority languages to promote Mandarin as a universal national language.

I'm not Chinese, but my understanding is that Cantonese is somewhat closer to the phonology / structure of classical Chinese than Mandarin is -- the latter having taken in more non-Chinese influences over time. I have heard that native Cantonese speakers have an easier time making sense of some of the classical or poetic Chinese works from antiquity. Is this true?

Also, what is the predominant spoken language in Hong Kong these days? Is Cantonese still the common spoken language "on the street"? Would a unilingual Mandarin speaker (or a unilingual Cantonese speaker) be in trouble there?

Asking these questions solely out of curiosity.
Cantonese is still the main spoken language in HK.
Most of people in HK do understand and speak Mandarin in certain degree, same as English.
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Sr. Member
Jan 29, 2010
882 posts
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Toronto
Cantonese will die in 20 years. Look at Hong Kong right now. China will swallow it in no time and the education system has already been slowly aligned to be similar to China’s. No one values Cantonese anymore. When I was in HK working a few years back, good mandarin was key to get a upper management position (paired with good English of course). No one cared if you could speak Cantonese at management + positions.

Also, learning Cantonese means learning traditional Chinese characters, which is slowly becoming extinct as only HK and Taiwan uses it.
Deal Addict
Feb 17, 2013
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I speak both. Although I am more comfortable with Cantonese, I play dumb and use Mandarin whenever I understand the person's accent and... girls... Yeah, I'm alot more fluent when talking to girls. I could care less if I'm talking to guys. 方便泡妞嘛,lol!

Didn't Agincourt Collegiate used to have Mandarin classes? That's where I learned Mandarin back in the day. They had Taiwanese textbooks and preferably taught zhuyin which I had completely forgotten. I deemed it useless since I can read Chinese.
Newbie
Jul 30, 2018
26 posts
28 upvotes
Why do you want your child to enroll in Chinese school? Is it to be connected to their heritage? Or is it for the benefit that they can communicate with a lot of people? Cantonese people have their own culture that is very distinct from mainland China. A lot of people in Hong Kong and Macau still only speak Cantonese, and even if they do speak or understand Mandarin, they might act unfavourably towards you if you try to speak Mandarin to them. If you want your child to be immersed in Cantonese culture, which is your heritage and their heritage, then enroll them in the Cantonese classes.
Newbie
Jun 12, 2019
2 posts
1 upvote
Culture & Heritage = Cantonese
Usefulness = Mandarin

They have to be an environment that they'll be able to practice in.
Deal Addict
Nov 10, 2018
3225 posts
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After Hong Kong goes back to being under China's rule in 2049, you can kiss Cantonese good bye, and I'd be shocked if Hong Kong doesn't go back under China rule before then. You see their attempts, even today, with the extradition treaty debacle.
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Mar 21, 2010
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Toronto
VeronicaL45911 wrote: They have to be an environment that they'll be able to practice in.
And also want to practice in, because you can only support them up to a certain point. Classes and other 'forced' situations will eventually end even if you have lots of money. If this isn't a language you speak at home and that they don't naturally speak with friends or otherwise integrate in their day-to-day life, i.e. it's a classroom language, then it will get forgotten. You can say that Mandarin will be important for getting a good job, much like French is important for getting a good government job - but when the time comes, that's something that he will have to drive himself. If you and other family members can't speak the language, you're gambling that he will want to continue trying to speak it by himself once all the classes are over.
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Jul 7, 2017
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SW corner of the cou…
The mandarin vs. regional dialect dilemma/conversation is replicated all over SE Asia where you have Chinese communities - you see an increasing number of Mandarin-only speaking people in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia (latter started Mandarinizing much earlier). Of course it doesn't help when you have 5 or more pretty much mutually-incomprehensible dialects (my father and his 4 siblings didn't speak any Chinese as youths as both his parents spoke different dialects - Hokkein and Hakka - and it seems none in common). Singapore has not only converted most of the Chinese speakers to Mandarin but their anglicised Chinese names as well. Malaysia has cities and towns where one dialect is dominant over others yet I see (or rather, hear) the Chinese school children speaking Mandarin.

I remember being in Penang (Hokkein stronghold) with some local clan having a sign saying that Hokkein was supposedly the dialect of the Tang dynasty. Not sure if this is rearguard action or whether there is a successful push to keep the "local" dialects alive.

Supposedly, Mandarin was chosen because its broad linguistic family represents 70% of Han Chinese speakers. I was in GuangXi ("west Guang", vs. GuangDong, "east Guang") and the guides told me their particular local dialect was very similar to PuTongHua ("common language") with just the tones being different. As for forced or otherwise linguistic integration, I also visited a couple of villages in the province where the population were non-Han ethnic minorities but had long, long (apparently way before the PRC came into being) lost their native language and speak Mandarin only. Remember that it was the RoC that pushed Mandarin.
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Jan 19, 2007
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Toronto
Manatus wrote: And also want to practice in, because you can only support them up to a certain point. Classes and other 'forced' situations will eventually end even if you have lots of money. If this isn't a language you speak at home and that they don't naturally speak with friends or otherwise integrate in their day-to-day life, i.e. it's a classroom language, then it will get forgotten. You can say that Mandarin will be important for getting a good job, much like French is important for getting a good government job - but when the time comes, that's something that he will have to drive himself. If you and other family members can't speak the language, you're gambling that he will want to continue trying to speak it by himself once all the classes are over.
So true. I had top marks and excelled at French in school. But reality was that after it wasn't mandatory - where and when did I get to use it? Now I can remember less than basic phrases compared to when I could have full conversations relatively seamlessly.

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