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Lesson Transcript


Hi, everybody! Olivia here. Welcome to Ask a Teacher, where I’ll answer some of your most common Cantonese questions.
The Question
The question for this lesson is: Why is Cantonese different when it's in writing?
People in Hong Kong and Macau mainly use Cantonese to communicate. The written form used in Hong Kong is standard Chinese writing, which is somewhat similar to Mandarin, though it uses traditional characters. That is why people always feel confused that the written form of Cantonese looks so similar to Mandarin.
So don’t get confused! 中文 (zung1 man2), which denotes the written language used in Hong Kong, is different than 國語 (gwok3 jyu5 ), which is the "Mandarin" dialect used in mainland China.
Let's get into more details. When is written form used in Cantonese?
You will find the written form of Cantonese very common in news articles, written notices, research articles, posters, instruction menus or pamphlets, and so on.
It is crucial to improve Cantonese listening, but it’s best to know both spoken Cantonese and written Chinese to really progress in Cantonese.
In Hong Kong, it’s required that all government documents be written in standard Chinese writing, not colloquial Cantonese.
So what happens if you just want to communicate with the native speaker verbally? Can you not learn the written form?
You can just learn the spoken Cantonese if you only want to communicate with the native speaker verbally. But sometimes, some words are used in both written and spoken Cantonese. You will find in the long run that it is not easy to clearly divide the words into written or spoken Cantonese.
Let's see an example of the difference between spoken and written forms: 我哋(ngo5 dei6) and 我們(ngo5 mun4) both mean “we”. The first one is used in speech, while the latter is in writing, which can be seen in news articles, written notices, or pamphlets.
我哋(ngo5 dei6) is used in colloquial or conversational Cantonese. You may feel 我哋(ngo5 dei6) is more commonly used because you hear it a lot, but actually that just depends on your preference of learning conversational Cantonese over written form Cantonese.


Do you have any more questions? Leave them in the comments below and I’ll try to answer them!
"See you next time!", 下次見! (haa6 ci3 gin3!)