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Languages for Expats in Hong Kong

Submitted: August 2013

Chinese for Expats in Hong Kong

Chinese is not a language in itself. It is split into quite a few different languages with the most commonly known being Mandarin and Cantonese. Mandarin is the predominant language on the Chinese Mainland and spoken by more than 12% of the world’s population. However, in Hong Kong the main Chinese language is Cantonese and is spoken by more than 90% of Hong Kong individuals. Cantonese and English are the official languages in the city.

While an expat in Hong Kong will be able to live using his English language skills alone, it is always useful to know at least a little of the local language.

For those wishing to immerse themselves fully into life in their new residence, individuals can study Cantonese via e-learning course prior to arrival in the city. Verbal Planet (https://www.verbalplanet.com/learn-cantonese.asp) offers online courses using Skype for conversation practice and feedback from tutors. Very basic language skills can be learnt via https://www.learnchineseez.com/lessons/cantonese/ where the user can listen to and then repeat words and phrases. The learner also has the option to link up with a tutor for lessons via Skype charged at hourly rates.

Once in Hong Kong, the expat can chose a Cantonese language course offered by various academic institutes. The Hong Kong Language School (https://www.learn-mandarin-hk.com/) offers tuition in Cantonese and Mandarin providing full time, part time and evening courses. The Vocational Language Programme Office (VLPO) has various campuses in Hong Kong and offers short courses for non-Cantonese speakers. Courses on offer include ‘survival’ Cantonese and ‘socialising’ Cantonese. Both courses are designed to give the student tools to hold basic conversations and to communicate their requirements when shopping, using public transport and in restaurants. It also teaches how to read and write simple characters. The VLPO also offers workplace communication courses for individuals wishing to increase their career opportunities in Hong Kong. Their website address is:  https://www.vtc.edu.hk/vec/intro_eng_em.html

Once the expat has some knowledge of Cantonese, the best way of expanding on this knowledge is to speak the language as much as possible. The website https://cantonese.meetup.com/ provides links to the Cantonese-English study club (https://www.meetup.com/Hong-Kong-Cantonese-English-Language-Exchange-Club/) and the Hong Kong Expats (https://www.meetup.com/The-Hong-Kong-Expats/). Cantonese meetup also provides links to connect with Cantonese speakers in other countries such as the US, Europe and Australia. This can give learners of Cantonese a good grounding in the language prior to their move to Hong Kong.

Studies have shown that many expats in Hong Kong do not make any attempt to learn Cantonese and are happy to converse in English. The pressure to learn the local language is not as great in Hong Kong as it might be in some other countries. It is very unlikely that a non-English speaker relocating to the UK would not feel the need to at least acquire some basic knowledge of English prior to arrival. The same can be said for Spain, France, Germany and many other countries in Europe and across the globe. Wherever a would be expat plans to live and work, the advice must always be to gain a knowledge of the local language no matter how cosmopolitan the destination might be.




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