The pros and cons of learning Mandarin in Hong Kong

Hong Kong is on China’s southern coast, with a humid subtropical climate. Typhoons occur quite often during the summer. Winters are usually cloudy and damp. Weather-wise, I would not say Hong Kong is the best place to visit or to stay. On everything else, Hong Kong is a very attractive city. 

learn Mandarin in Hong Kong

Our question of this article is, is Hong Kong a good place to learn Mandarin? 

I am letting out a spoiler. I believe HK is a fabulous place to learn Mandarin, and I’ll explain why. First, let’s take a look at Hong Kong’s language terrain.

Languages in Hong Kong

In Hong Kong, you hear many different language. Cantonese, Mandarin, English, Tagalog, Indonesian, Hakka, and many European languages all have their places in the city. 

According to Hong Kong Population By-Census 2016, the number one language widely spoken in the city is Cantonese. 92% of the Hong Kong population speak Cantonese. This is because most of Hong Kong people came from Guangdong region originally. The next dominate language is English, 4.3% are native English speakers, and 48.9% speak it as a second language. Mandarin is almost as prevalent as English, with 1.9% native speakers and 46.7% speaking Mandarin as a second language.

Technically speaking, anyone who speaks English can get around the city fine. This is the reason that many expats who have lived in Hong Kong for a decade do not feel the need to learn the local language. And tourists who can speak English will have no difficulties in getting around the city.

Under this circumstance, learning Cantonese or Mandarin arises purely from curiosity or interests.

Cantonese or Mandarin?

Both Cantonese and Mandarin are among the many Chinese dialects, and these two dialects have their differences and similarities.

The biggest advantage of learning Cantonese is that one will be learning a language in its native environment. Opportunities to interact with local people can motivate students, and help them make great progress.

I think there are only two places offering such genuine Cantonese speaking environment. One is Hong Kong and the other Macao. 

In other places where Cantonese is a local language, such as Guangzhou, the demography has changed greatly due to China’s economic expansion starting in the 1980s. Millions of people came to Guangzhou from all over China to seek new opportunities. These late comers do not speak Cantonese. Therefore, in public spaces, One hears Mandarin all the time.

Therefore, Cantonese is the number one choice for people to learn if they want to interact with local Hong Kong people using their native language.

If anyone wants to interact with Chinese people in the Greater China Region, Mandarin is the first choice.

Disadvantages of learning Mandarin in Hong Kong

In Hong Kong, the biggest advantage of learning Cantonese is the biggest disadvantage of learning Mandarin, that Hong Kong does not offer Mandarin learners a native Mandarin speaking environment. 

If students want to be immersed in a native Mandarin speaking environment, they need to go to Shenzhen, the nearest city to Hong Kong. Even though it is really convenient to go to there, and many people go often, Shenzhen is still a train ride away. During the long lasting COVID-19 pandemic and China’s dynamic zero policy, travelling to China became really difficult. 

Another issue for Mandarin learners is that traditional Chinese characters are used in Hong Kong. 

Traditional characters and simplified characters are two overlapping writing systems of Chinese. For students who have learned simplified Chinese characters, it takes time for them to adjust to the traditional characters. 

Advantages of learning Mandarin in Hong Kong

Although there are inconveniences for people to learn Mandarin in Hong Kong, there are also great benefits for them to do so. 

The first one is that Hong Kong makes great contributions to students’ experience outside of the Chinese classroom, which is as important as their experience inside the classroom. 

Hong Kong is the place to enjoy a hybrid culture of the East and the West, offering a dazzling array of food choices, fantastic cultural events, interesting street performances, and active nightlife.

Hong Kong has a distinctive identity. Traditional Chinese values are very much alive, emphasising family and education. The best of the Western ideals are also at the core of the city, such as the freedom of press and the rule of law.

Many people came to Hong Kong and fell in love with it instantly. 

The second one is Hong Kong’s diversified language environment, which can put beginner students at ease. They don’t have to use Mandarin if they are not ready. For people who are good at Mandarin, they know they can communicate with half of the population. There is no stress, no headache, no surviving pressure on the streets. 

The third one is that there are lots of choices of Chinese language schools in Hong Kong. MSL Master is one of them. 

With all the good schools out there, we really appreciate that students come to work with us. We thank all students who, with their endless patience, have helped us grow and have recommended our learning materials to others.


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April Zhang
Chinese Teacher
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