Expatify

Travel & Expat Lifestyle Magazine

Learning the Languages of Hong Kong

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In Hong Kong, English and Chinese are the official languages. As there is a wide-ranged population of expatriates, several others are spoken.

Hong Kong is considered to be “biliterate and trilingual.” This means that Standard Cantonese, Standard Mandarin and English are all of the same status. All of the road and government signs in Hong Kong are printed in English and Chinese. Code-switching is common in Hong Kong, as people will switch between English and Chinese phrases while speaking.

Many educational resources are also becoming available for students to learn to different speak foreign languages.

Chinese

In Hong Kong, the majority of the Chinese-descended population communicate using spoken Cantonese. Most people who speak English would say that Cantonese is their native tongue. Many of the the shops in Hong Kong where only locals go to will only print signs in Chinese. At home, the majority of Hongkongers speak in Cantonese.

There are some pronunciation differences between Hong Kong Cantonese and the type of Cantonese spoken in Guandong, which is the closest Chinese province. Because a large number of foreigners live in Hong Kong, this regional type of Cantonese has been influenced by several other languages, with many imported loanwords.

Mandarin was not used very much during the colonial era, but it is starting to spread more now that Hong Kong is connected with mainland China.

English

As Hong Kong used to be a British colony, English is one of its official languages. From 1883 through 1974, it was listed as the only official language. Today, the government, as well as the business and service industries, will most commonly communicate in English. Young people, hotel employees and business residents are likely to understand and speak English to some degree.

Those who interact with the expatriate community or have been or lived in English-speaking countries will likely still speak English with a Cantonese-influenced accent. English is often considered a second language used mostly in writing and other forms of formal communication.

Japanese and Korean

There are approximately 25,000 Japanese people living in Hong Kong, so hearing this language is not unusual. Some aspects of Japanese culture are also present in Hong Kong, including sushi, anime and pop music. The Korean community is small, but some aspects of Korean culture have been imported.

Southeast Asian Languages

Vietnamese is spoken both by Vietnamese expatriates, and also by Chinese people who had once moved to Vietnam and then to Hong Kong. As there is a Filipino population in Hong Kong, Tagalog and some other languages from the Philippines are also spoken. A handful of churches will provide services in Tagalog, and there is easy access to Tagalog newspapers and other printed materials. There are also some Thai and Indonesian workers in Hong Kong who speak their respective languages.

South Asian Languages

A significant number of South Asians live and travel in Hong Kong. As a result, there are signs in languages like Hindi and Urdu in neighborhoods where many of them live.

European Languages

French and German are often studied as second languages in Hong Kong. Many institutions will provide lessons in these dialects, and a handful of businesses use French names.

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