Parenting & Family

Chinese school - Cantonese or Mandarin?

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  • Sep 29th, 2020 8:18 am
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Jan 27, 2004
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Mandarin even though I speak both Cantonese and Mandarin....
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Feb 7, 2019
192 posts
How about both? I speak Cantonese and pick up Mandarin from my friends. I like the fact that I can speak/understand both!
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Jul 12, 2003
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VeronicaL45911 wrote: Culture & Heritage = Cantonese
Usefulness = Mandarin

They have to be an environment that they'll be able to practice in.

For Cantonese speaking parents, just talk to your kids in Cantonese and bring them to Mandarin Class.
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Jun 1, 2006
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Cantonese if your heritage/background is Cantonese because you need to communicate with the older generation like Grandmas/Grandpas/Aunts/Uncles who may not be proficient in English.

You can learn Mandarin later in life in high school and University. Very few classes are in Cantonese, which quite hard to master unless early in life.
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Jan 9, 2011
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I don't speak either Cantonese or Mandarin but I heard someone who speaks both compare Cantonese to Yiddish. It's grandma's language, good for heritage and family, but of little practical use going forward. There are proportionally fewer and fewer speakers all the time and it's becoming increasingly marginalized. Mandarin is the future.
Sep 18, 2020
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Hi all, sorry, I'm late to the game and this may be irrelevant at this point but my family is Chinese and we go have our child go to Toronto Chung Wah Chinese School. They offer both Mandarin and Cantonese classes along with Math, English and I think a few more (I think there's an abacus one as well?). With COVID, we weren't sure what to do but they actually came up with an option to do online and that has been helpful. I bring this up because my kiddo has been going since she was 5 (she's 14 y) and while I can't say she's picked up a lot of verbal Chinese (each child is different and sadly, I'm not as fluent as I'd like to be), for me, there's something awesome about having our culture represented for her. I didn't want to give that up just because of COVID. So, we go for Cantonese but we watch a lot of Mandarin speaking movies/sitcoms on YT. We started off with subtitles and at least have the exposure to how the words are spoken/sound. It's actually been helpful for both of us. She learns the written in her Saturday classes while hearing Cantonese (I do try and speak a bit at home too) and then we've both been picking up the Mandarin as well.
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Mar 6, 2015
681 posts
Hi all, I am late to the discussion too but speaking aside, the writing -- simplified Chinese characters to be exact -- does sacrifice some parts of the writing lineage to how each word was form by simplifying.
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Jan 12, 2017
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It seemed to me while growing up in Scarborough, that Mandarin speakers seemed to pickup Cantonese easier than the other way around. But that might have been because there were more Cantonese speakers in Canada when I was young.

I would definitely say Mandarin makes more sense since you don't speak much yourself. If you have extensive family that speaks Cantonese, then have them learn Cantonese.

Either case is better than no Chinese at all.
MrT wrote: Hi,

I have enrolled my 4yo son for Mandarin (simplified) this summer.

Now I am having second thoughts and want to enroll him in Cantonese instead because I speak Cantonese - although its barely passable- but at least I can understand and carry a basic conversation. I do not speak any Mandarin at all.

Originally, I thought Mandarin would be a better choice because more and more people are learning it and his friends at day school speak mandarin, but how much will he actually learn if no one at home speaks it is my concern. Where as Cantonese, he can at least try to talk to me at home.

Maybe he should learn Cantonese first? then pick up mandarin in the future?

Any parents have advice?
Sr. Member
Aug 14, 2015
816 posts
Burnaby, BC
I know this is an 1 year old post, but it will still apply at age 5.

I'd think from the child's perspective.
Learning an extra language will be a huge burden on his English. Not to mention, he will be with a group of predominantly Cantonese/Mandarin speaking children in a room where he couldn't understand anything anyone says for at least a couple years.

That's got to be cruel, and how effective do you think that is?

Here's what I'd suggest: Instead of a class setting where he will just be sitting there, half listening. Get a good private teacher initially and get him up to par first and then transition him to a classroom setting full of those kids.

I recall an experience where I was sitting on a taxi ride alongside a medical prof and her 8 year old child. Throughout the whole 1 hour ride, she casually taught him at least 8 English words. She's able to 'handle' her child and answer all the questions with precision.
When I think back to my own life - there were non of that privilege to make my life easier in school. You need to give your child the same experience as that 8 year old. Otherwise, his life in that school you'd send him will be harsh and a big waste of time.
Case in point: I literally didn't know basic words like what "Foam" means until Grade 9. Novel reading in school is total non-sense. How much time have I wasted in school listening to total non-sense?

If you're going to eventually sign him up to Mandarin school, and you couldn't speak the language, you need an equivalent person to teach him that same 8 words in a span of 1 hour - consistently.

If you couldn't afford it, then pair up with 1 other parent's child. Or heck, learn with your child if you decide to get him into Mandarin school.

If you're going to simply snuck him into a school thinking you needn't put in any effort, then no question - Mandarin school would be a horrible choice. Depending on your level of commitment and ability, Cantonese school can also be a horrible choice.