By now you should know that there is no language called “Chinese”. In China, the most widely spoken languages are Mandarin and Cantonese. Some of China’s residents even speak both languages. If you are stuck on which you should learn, ask yourself the follow questions and take these factors into consideration before you make your final decision.
WHY DO YOU WANT TO LEARN CHINESE LANGUAGE?
Ask yourself, why do I want to learn them? Is it for business or work? Is it for school? Do you plan to travel to China? Or is it your own personal challenge?
If it is for work or business, it is recommended that you begin learning Mandarin language. This is because this is the official business language of the region and almost everyone speaks Mandarin. However, if you are working with a company who is in an area where Cantonese dominates, go ahead. This is especially true for long-term settlement in regions such as Hong Kong. You can impress them with the fact that you are aware of local customs.
If it is for education, you are better off learning Mandarin. One reason you should choose Mandarin courses in Singapore over Cantonese classes is that the language of learning in most schools in mainland China and its other territories is in Mandarin.
If it is for a personal desire, you can choose whatever seems easier or more convenient to you. However, if you wish to watch TV shows, movies and even listen to the radio or songs in the “Chinese language” your best bet is Mandarin. If you are one who appreciates the exclusiveness of speaking a “dying” or lesser-spoken language then go ahead and learn Cantonese.
WHAT COUNTRY WILL YOU BE VISITING?
If you plan to visit Mainland China or Taiwan, it is recommended you learn Mandarin as it is the most common language. However, if you are visiting Hong Kong, Macau or the wider Guangdong province, Cantonese is a good bet.
HOW MUCH TIME DO YOU HAVE?
While learning any language isn’t a walk in the park, especially when learning Mandarin, one is actually said to be easier to learn than the other. It all has to do with tones. As you may or may not know, in the “Chinese Language”, the same words can have different meaning based on the tone in which it is said. So, for instance, the Mandarin word that means ‘holiday’ in its fourth tone, is understood to be ‘fake’ in its third tone. Another example is the Mandarin word that means ‘must/should’ in its first tone, is understood to mean ‘respond to/deal with’ in its fourth tone. While Mandarin has four tones, Cantonese has from six to nine tones. Also, Mandarin learning material and classes are much easier to source and attend than Cantonese materials or classes. However, if you have the time, you can try learning Cantonese.
If you’re looking to be understood throughout China, or in most Chinese speaking countries, Mandarin is the way to go. However, if you are going to an area dominated by Cantonese speakers, having a functional grasp of Cantonese can make your travels or stay much more enjoyable.