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Improve Your Cantonese Conversation Skills in 2022

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Have you ever started a conversation only to blurt out a bunch of inarticulate words? Or have you asked a question, but when the other person answered, you couldn’t make anything out of it?

This guide will teach you how to improve your Cantonese conversation skills, not just general Cantonese-speaking skills but specifically how to deal with Cantonese conversations: It all starts with making your own unique conversation “language profile cheat sheet”, then identifying the words and sentences YOU need the most.

The Art of conversation is one you can’t learn from academic teaching and books. You need to learn about specific ‘oral’ tricks such as filler words, reaction phrases, or conversation starters. 

Once you’ve got it all lined up, there will be nothing stopping you from making new friends and starting conversations with fellow students, coworkers, or random strangers in Cantonese.

Four Friends Chatting with Coffee Drinks

Make new friends by polishing your Cantonese conversation skills!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Cantonese Table of Contents
  1. Make Your Own Language Profile
  2. Learn Cantonese Reactions and Replies
  3. Learn Cantonese Filler Words
  4. Learn Common Cantonese Questions and Answers
  5. Learn Cantonese Conversation Starters
  6. Bonus: How to Improve Conversation Skills
  7. How CantoneseClass101.com Can Help You Learn More Cantonese

1. Make Your Own Language Profile

1- What’s a language profile?

A language profile is your cheat sheet with all of the relevant phrases you need, based on who you are and what you’re interested in.

There is no one-size-fits-all ready-made cheat sheet that you’d find online, and you certainly won’t find one in this article. We’re talking about something personal that you will assemble based on your background, age, lifestyle, and interests.

2- Why would I need one?

We all introduce ourselves and talk about ourselves when meeting new people. There is a reason why writing a self-introduction is typically one of the first things you should do when you start learning a new language. 

But it doesn’t stop there! Being able to answer questions about your story, hobbies, and what motivates you to learn the language will go a long way in building relationships. 

Not only will it make the conversation smoother if you’re already prepared and know the vocabulary that’s relevant to what you have to say, but it will also make you more confident when meeting people: confident in your ability to answer personal questions.

3- How do I make one?

Every conversation cheat sheet is unique. If you’re 40 years old, with family and kids, working toward buying your house, and a lover of electronic music, your conversation cheat will be very different from a 20 years old photography student who loves traveling and watching horror movies.

You can start with writing your own self-introduction, then quickly write about your hobbies and interests. Here’s an example of what it could look like:

你好,我個名係米高。我二十七歲,嚟自香港。我係老師。我其中一個嗜好係睇書。
nei5 hou2, ngo5 go3 meng2 hai6 mai5 gou1. ngo5 ji6 sap6 cat1 seoi3, lei4 zi6 hoeng1 gong2. ngo5 hai6 lou5 si1. ngo5 kei4 zung1 jat1 go3 si3 hou3 hai6 tai2 syu1.
“Hello, my name is Michael. I’m 27 years old and I’m from Hong Kong. I’m a teacher. One of my hobbies is reading.

Then, you can elaborate on individual parts and imagine how you would answer specific questions by gathering phrases and words specifically tailored to your needs:

  • 我喺香港住咗兩年。 
    • Romanization: ngo5 hai2 hoeng1 gong2 zyu6 zo2 loeng5 nin4.
    • Meaning: “I’ve been living in Hong Kong for 2 years.”
  • 我鍾意食牛肉。
    • Romanization: ngo5 zung1 ji3 sik6 ngau4 juk6.
    • Meaning: “I like eating beef.”
  • 我學咗廣東話十年。 
    • Romanization: ngo5 hok6 zo2 gwong2 dung1 waa2 sap6 nin4.
    • Meaning: “I’ve been learning Cantonese for 10 years.”

4- Getting off to a good start

If you’re a beginner, this might look like a daunting task, but it’s not! There are plenty of resources you can use, depending on your level:

  1. Online translators are still carrying a bad reputation, but nowadays, they’re truly doing wonders. They can occasionally struggle with slang and idiomatic expressions, but for your first draft, they’ll do just fine. Google translate is the most popular option, but I’d personally recommend DeepL.

  2. Other online tools such as Reverso context can help you with idioms and expressions. They’re really not flawless but still a nice resource to tap into.

  3. CantoneseClass101 has tons of free content, blog articles, and vocabulary lists you can use. The lists are especially useful if you’re looking for a specific topic, as they’ll provide sentences and vocabulary that suit your specific needs. For example, if you want to know more about Hong Kong food, you can check this one out.

  4. A personal teacher is the ultimate weapon for learning fast and hard. Your teacher can guide you through the process of writing your conversation cheat sheet and fix any tiny mistakes. Be sure to check our private coaching service from our Premium PLUS offer.

2. Learn Cantonese Reactions and Replies

In this section, we’ll learn how you can react to a statement and express enthusiasm, annoyance, curiosity, or disbelief.

On your road to fluency, being able to express interesting and nuanced reactions rather than just saying yes or no is a great step that will add a lot of flavor to your conversations.

A Little Toddler Making the What Gesture

What?

Here are 8 common lower intermediate reaction phrases you can use for everyday conversations:

  • When someone wrongly accuses you of stealing his/her phone, you can say…

1- 你錯喇!

Romanization: nei5 co3 laa3!
Meaning: You’re wrong!
Literal translation: You wrong!

  • When someone does not believe his/her best friend is dating, you can say…

2- 係真㗎! 

Romanization: hai6 zan1 gaa3!
Meaning: That’s true!
Literal translation: Is true!

  • When someone enquires if your best friend is out of town that you haven’t heard of, you can say…

3- 我諗唔係。

Romanization: ngo5 lam2 m4 hai6.
Meaning: I don’t think so.
Literal translation: I think no.

  • When you are leaving a house party, you can say…

4- 今晚好開心。 

Romanization: gam1 maan5 hou2 hoi1 sam1.
Meaning: That was a great evening.
Literal translation: Tonight very happy.

  • When someone asks if your aloof roommate is heartbroken, you can say…

5- 我都唔肯定。 

Romanization: ngo5 dou1 m4 hang2 ding6.
Meaning: Well, I’m not sure.
Literal translation: I too not sure.

  • When someone praises a man you are highly approved of, you can say…

6- 係呀,你講得啱

Romanization: hai6 aa3, nei5 gong2 dak1 aam1.
Meaning: Yes, you’re right.
Literal translation: Yes, you speak right.

  • After an “all-you-can-eat” dinner at your favourite restaurant, you can say…

7- 好爽!

Romanization: hou2 song2!
Meaning: That’s great!
Literal translation: very cool!

  • After watching a captivating movie, you can say…

8- 正!

Romanization: zeng3!
Meaning: Awesome!
Literal translation: straight!

    ➜ Want to stay positive? Learn The Top 20 Words For Positive Emotions with CantoneseClass101’s positive emotion list!

3. Learn Cantonese Filler Words

Um… Hmm… Well…

Have you ever heard or used these words in a conversation? In linguistics, they’re called “filler words.” While they may seem meaningless, and while many associate them with uncertainty and nervousness, filler words can actually be useful. For example, they can help your speech sound more genuine and diplomatic and even help you jump into a conversation.

Woman Thinking about Something

1 – 即係 (zik1 hai6)

Function / Indication: “like” [used to add emphasis]

Example Dialogue

Person A:

  • Chinese: 唔知點解會搞成咁。
  • Romanization: m4 zi1 dim2 gaai2 wui5 gaau2 seng4 gam2.
  • Meaning: I don’t know why it will end this way.

Person B:

  • Chinese: 衰咗咪認囉,即係你又唔係第一次。
  • Romanization: seoi1 zo2 mai6 jing6 lo1, zik1 hai6 nei5 jau6 m4 hai6 dai6 jat1 ci3.
  • Meaning: You should just admit it if you’ve made a fool of yourself, like it’s not the first time.

2 – 誒 (e6)

Function / Indication: “oh” [indicates hesitation]

Example Dialogue

Person A:

  • Chinese: 邊個食咗我啲朱古力?
  • Romanization: bin1 go3 sik6 zo2 ngo5 di1 zyu1 gu1 lik1?
  • Meaning: Who ate my chocolate?

Person B:

  • Chinese: 誒,係我呀。
  • Romanization: e6, hai6 ngo5 aa3.
  • Meaning: Oh… it was me.

3 – 咁 (gam2)

Function / Indication: “if that’s the case,” “then” [indicates that you understood the other party; use it before replying or making suggestions based on what they’ve just said]

Example Dialogue

Person A:

  • Chinese: 我唔想食牛肉麵。
  • Romanization: ngo5 m4 soeng2 sik6 ngau4 juk6 min6.
  • Meaning: I don’t want beef noodles.

Person B:

  • Chinese: 咁一係我哋食雲吞
  • Romanization: gam2 jat1 hai6 ngo5 dei6 sik6 wan4 tan1?
  • Meaning: Then how about wonton?

4 – 咁呀 (gam2 aa4)

Function / Indication: indicates you’re thinking (the “aa4” sound is usually prolonged)

Example Dialogue

Person A:

  • Chinese: 我唔想食燒鵝
  • Romanization: ngo5 m4 soeng2 sik6 siu1 ngo2.
  • Meaning: I don’t want to get roast goose.

Person B:

  • Chinese: 咁呀,不如我哋食日本菜?
  • Romanization: gam2 aa4, bat1 jyu4 ngo5 dei6 sik6 jat6 bun2 coi3?
  • Meaning: Well…how about Japanese (cuisine) then?

5 – 其實呢 (kei4 sat6 ne1)

Function / Indication: “well”

Example Dialogue

Person A:

  • Chinese: 我使唔使再減肥?
  • Romanization: ngo5 sai2 m4 sai2 zoi3 gaam2 fei4?
  • Meaning: Do you think I need to lose more weight?

Person B:

  • Chinese: 其實呢唔使太誇張,唔係暴飲暴食我覺得無問題。
  • Romanization: kei4 sat6 ne1 m4 sai2 taai3 kwaa1 zoeng1, m4 hai6 bou6 jam2 bou6 sik6 ngo5 gok3 dak1 mou5 man6 tai4.
  • Meaning: Well, don’t exaggerate. I think you will be fine as long as you don’t eat like a horse.


4. Learn Common Cantonese Questions and Answers

Just imagine: You’re going out with a group of native Cantonese speakers. This is the perfect opportunity to make friends and practice your Cantonese in a real-life situation! But how do you break the ice? What should you say if you run out of topics or if your Cantonese isn’t solid enough to fuel the conversation?

The universal answer is: ask questions!

A Man Flirting with a Lady

1. What’s your name?

Q: 你叫咩名?

“What’s your name?” has to be the most common conversation starter of all. Make sure you keep it in your pocket list!

Romanization: nei5 giu3 me1 meng2

Breakdown:

Character RomanizationMeaning
nei5 You
giu3 Call
me1 What
meng2Name

A: 我叫

The answer to this question is pretty straightforward. You either state your name directly or add the words 我叫before your name and make it “我叫.”

Romanization: ngo5 giu3 .

Breakdown:

Character RomanizationMeaning
ngo5I
giu3 Call

See some examples of how to answer this question in Cantonese below!

Example 1
Chinese Characters: 我叫欣怡。
Meaning: My name is Yan-yee.
Romanization: ngo5 giu3 jan1 ji4

Example 2
Chinese Characters: 我叫俊傑。
Meaning: My name is Chun-kit.
Romanization: ngo5 giu3 zeon3 git6

Example 3
Chinese Characters: 我叫詠珊。
Meaning: My name is Wing-shan.
Romanization: ngo5 giu3 wing6 saan1

Example 4
Chinese Characters: 我叫偉文。
Meaning: My name is Wai-man.
Romanization: ngo5 giu3 wai5 man4

2. Where are you from?

Q: 你邊度嚟㗎?

This Cantonese question opens up a lot of possible conversation topics, such as cultural differences and must-see places, for you and your new Cantonese friends!

Romanization: nei5 bin1 dou6 lei4 gaa3

Breakdown:

Character RomanizationMeaning
nei5 You
邊度bin1 dou6Where
lei4Come
gaa3a Cantonese question particle that indicates a question or doubt

A: 我嚟嘅。

There are two ways you can answer this question. The first is by answering directly with your city or country: 

  • 香港 (hoeng1 gong2) – “Hong Kong”

You may also add the word 我 before “Hong Kong” and 嚟嘅 after it: 我香港嚟嘅.

Romanization: ngo5 lei4 ge3

Breakdown:

Character RomanizationMeaning
ngo5I
lei4To come
ge3a final particle that implies assertion with emphasis

Here are some examples:

Example 1
Chinese Characters: 我美國嚟嘅。
Meaning: I’m from the U.S.
Romanization: ngo5 mei5 gwok3 lei4 ge3

Example 2
Chinese Characters: 我英國嚟嘅。
Meaning: I’m from England.
Romanization: ngo5 jing1 gwok3 lei4 ge3

Example 3
Chinese Characters: 我中國嚟嘅。
Meaning: I’m from China.
Romanization: ngo5 zung1 gwok3 lei4 ge3

Example 4
Chinese Characters: 我德國嚟嘅。
Meaning: I’m from Germany.
Romanization: ngo5 dak1 gwok3 lei4 ge3


3. Do you speak Cantonese?

Q: 你識唔識講

This is one of those basic Cantonese questions that you may be asked when you meet new friends in Hong Kong!

Romanization: nei5 sik1 m4 sik1 gong2

Breakdown:

Character RomanizationMeaning
nei5 You
識唔識sik1 m4 sik1To know or not
gong2Speak

Here’s an example:

Chinese Characters: 你識唔識講廣東話?
Meaning: Do you speak Cantonese?
Romanization: nei5 sik1 m4 sik1 gong2 gwong2 dung1 waa2

A: Varies

Depending on how well you know the language, you can answer with one of the below phrases!

AnswerRomanizationMeaning
識少少。sik1 siu2 siu2Yes, I speak a little.
識一啲。sik1 jat1 di1Yes, I speak some.
識啲啲。sik1 di1 di1Yes, I speak a little bit.
識好多。sik1 hou2 do1Yes, I speak quite a lot.

4. Have you been to [country/city]?

Q: 你有冇去過

Another great conversation starter. You can share your travel stories and learn more about your Cantonese friends’ adventures!

Romanization: nei5 jau5 mou5 heoi3 gwo3

Breakdown:

Character RomanizationMeaning
nei5 You
有冇jau5 mou5 To have or to not have
去過heoi3 gwo3Have been

Here’s an example:

Chinese Characters: 你有冇去過香港?
Meaning: Have you been to Hong Kong?
Romanization: nei5 jau5 mou5 heoi3 gwo3 hoeng1 gong2

A: Varies

AnswerRomanizationMeaning
有呀,去過兩次。jau5 aa3, heoi3 gwo3 loeng5 ci3Yes, I’ve been twice.
有呀,去過四次。jau5 aa3, heoi3 gwo3 sei3 ci3Yes, I’ve been four times.
有呀,去過一次。jau5 aa3, heoi3 gwo3 jat1 ci3Yes, I’ve been once.
冇呀。mou5 aa3No. (I have never been.)

5. How are you?

Q: 你好嗎?

This is one of the most useful Cantonese questions to know, especially once you’ve made some good friends and want to inquire about their well-being.

Romanization: nei5 hou2 maa3

Breakdown:

Character RomanizationMeaning
nei5 You
hou2Good
maa3a Cantonese question particle

A: Varies 

AnswerRomanizationMeaning
我幾好。ngo5 gei2 hou2I’m fine.
我好好。ngo5 hou2 hou2I’m great.
我非常好。ngo5 fei1 soeng4 hou2I’m very good.
我唔係幾好。ngo5 m4 hai6 gei2 hou2I’m not so well.


6. What are you doing?

Q: 你做緊咩?

Are you curious about what your new bestie is up to? Ask them in Cantonese! 

Romanization: nei5 zou6 gan2 me1

Breakdown:

Character RomanizationMeaning
nei5 You
做緊zou6 gan2 Doing
me1What

A: Varies 

AnswerRomanizationMeaning
我諗緊嘢。ngo5 nam2 gan2 je5I’m thinking.
我食緊嘢。ngo5 sik6 gan2 je5I’m eating.
我做緊嘢。ngo5 zou6 gan2 je5I’m working.
我畫緊嘢。ngo5 waak6 gan2 je5I’m drawing.


5. Learn Cantonese Conversation Starters

Starting a conversation comes naturally to some people: they follow their instincts and just say whatever pops up in their heads. But some find it intimidating – especially when you’re using a foreign language!

Once you are talking to someone, and you’re both engaged in an interesting topic, it’s easier to keep it going. But just like a slow and cold engine, the difficult part is to pick the right conversation starter. 

A Car Salesman Shaking Hands with a Woman

Meeting someone new can be exciting!

1- 你識唔識講英文*?

Romanization: nei5 sik1 m4 sik1 gong2 jing1 man2?
Meaning: Do you speak English?
Breakdown:

  • 你 (nei5) = “you”
  • 識 (sik1) = “know”
  • 唔識 (m4 sik1) = “not know”
  • 講 (gong2) = “speak”
  • 英文 (jing1 man2) = “English”

2- 我唔識講英文*。

Romanization: ngo5 m4 sik1 gong2 jing1 man2.
Meaning: No, I don’t speak English.
Breakdown:

  • 我 (ngo5) = “I”
  • 唔識 (m4 sik1) = “not know”
  • 講 (gong2) = “speak”
  • 英文 (jing1 man2) = “English”

* You can change the underlined word with the language you intend to express. For a list of languages in Cantonese, visit our website, where we have listed the Top 38 Languages Spoken in the World!

3 – 天氣點呀?

Romanization: tin1 hei3 dim2 aa3?
Meaning: How’s the weather?
Breakdown:

  • 天氣 (tin1 hei3) = “weather”
  • (dim2) = “how”
  • (aa3) is a question particle.

4 – 我覺得好*。

Romanization: ngo5 gok3 dak1 hou2 jit6.
Meaning: I feel very hot.
Breakdown:

  • (ngo5) = “I”
  • 覺得 (gok3 dak1) = “feel”
  • (hou2) = “very”
  • (jit6) = “hot”

* You can change the underlined word with the word “凍” (dung3) if you feel cold.

5- 你做咩架?

Romanization: nei5 zou6 me1 gaa3?
Meaning: What do you do for a living?
Breakdown:

  • (nei5) = “you”
  • (zou6) = “do”
  • (me1) = “what”
  • (gaa3) is a question particle.

6- 我係老師*。

Romanization: ngo5 hai6 lou5 si1.
Meaning: I’m a teacher.
Breakdown:

  • (ngo5) = “I”
  • (hai6) = “to be”
  • 老師 (lou5 si1) = “teacher”

* You can change the underlined word with the occupation you intend to express. For a list of occupations in Cantonese, visit 20 Common Words for Occupations.

6. Bonus: How to Improve Conversation Skills

1- Learn the romanization system.

Pronunciation might be hard, but with the romanization system, you’ll be able to learn the correct pronunciation of a word. This way, you don’t have to keep guessing and going over your vocabulary nonstop! 

Literacy in Cantonese requires the memorization of thousands of components and characters, which can be quite daunting for new Cantonese learners. To start learning the sounds of Cantonese without the baggage of characters, Cantonese jyutping (also referred to as Cantonese romanization) comes in. This is essentially a way to help translate Cantonese pronunciation into English pronunciation.

2-  Focus on speaking.

Many Cantonese beginners find it tempting to learn both reading and writing at the same time. But we believe that it may be better to start learning how to speak before you get into reading and writing at all! This will keep you from using up all of your mental energy and getting burned out at the beginning of your studies and provide a more solid base for your language studies.

As mentioned earlier, there are thousands of Cantonese characters, and they were created based on abstract ideas. It takes a long time to gradually memorize and become familiar with all of them. Instead, focus on speaking first. Master it. This will also give you a chance to practice speaking with locals! 

3- Practice makes perfect.

The truth is that the only way you’re going to get a standard accent, well-ordered sentences, and a better understanding of tones is by speaking. So just get out there and practice! Even if you make a mistake, Cantonese people can usually guess what you’re saying, especially when there’s context. And if they can’t understand, there’s always charades. 

4- Immersion.

Immersion is truly the best way to learn a language, whether it’s deep immersion like living/working/studying in the local country or soft immersion like watching Netflix/TV/movies in your target language. Immersion is helpful because it’s much more authentic, and you can observe how the language is being used in different scenarios—the underlying rules of the language. Over time, you’ll also know much more about the language and culture. If you’re engaging in deep immersion, you can make local friends too!

5- Get some feedback.

Practicing is one thing, but getting valuable feedback is even better. Without feedback, we always run the risk of getting stuck in our mistakes and never being able to spot and correct them.

Finding a language partner (online or in person) is one way to go. If your partner is interested in your native language, you’ll both benefit from the relationship, and it could quickly flourish into a lasting friendship. 

Language coaches are also very effective, as a private teacher will be able to set you on the right path, guide you toward fluency and correct your grammar mistakes or your pronunciation. You can likely find a private teacher or classroom-based sessions in your area or subscribe to an online service such as our Premium PLUS coaching on CantoneseClass101.

7. How CantoneseClass101.com Can Help You Learn More Cantonese

After reading the above, do you want to put more Cantonese words and phrases into your pockets so that you can manage the conversation well with expressive words?

With CantoneseClass101.com, you can have your daily dose of Cantonese whenever and wherever you want through mobile apps, desktop software, and our website. We offer entertaining, engaging, and effective lessons on various aspects of the Cantonese language and culture.

Until now, we’ve delivered more than 750,000,000 lessons to thousands of happy students from all around the globe. You can learn Cantonese with over 1060 audio and video lessons delivered by our knowledgeable and energetic hosts, detailed PDF lesson notes, an abundance of vocabulary learning tools, spaced repetition flashcards, and a lively community to discuss the lessons with fellow learners. What are you waiting for? Download our lessons, enjoy our audio and video files, and start learning now!

And keep in mind that if you prefer a one-on-one learning approach and want to further accelerate your Cantonese learning, you can take advantage of our MyTeacher program

Know that your hard work will pay off, and before you know it, you’ll be speaking Cantonese like a native! 

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Cantonese