Anissa’s Journal #2: The Language of Hong Kong

Title: The Language of Hong Kong

Abstract: The native language to Hong Kong is a dialect of the Chinese language called Cantonese. Because Hong Kong was once colonized by Britain, the second most common language is English, but with an accent.


There are many dialects of the Chinese language. You can often tell where someone is from by the dialect they speak. For example, in Mainland China, the spoken language is Mandarin. In Hong Kong, the spoken language is also Chinese, but in a different dialect called Cantonese. This is one of the main ways that Hong Kong locals distinguish themselves from the Mainland Chinese that have migrated to Hong Kong.

The second main language spoken is English. Hong Kong was colonized by the British and there is a lot of Western influence in terms of language and culture here. Most Hong Kong locals speak both English and Cantonese. However, they speak English with a British accent. After being surrounded by so many Hong Kong students, I have noticed that my vocabulary is slightly changing and becoming more proper than what I am used to speaking back in California.

During my first week in Hong Kong it was very hard to choose what to eat because everything was written in Chinese. Most of the time, people who work in restaurants don’t speak English. Thankfully, I am not a picky eater so I would simply use hand gestures and point to whatever the person next to me is eating. I figured that if someone has ordered it, it must be delicious. Indeed, I was right and have discovered some new dishes just by pointing. Over time, I have learned the names of the foods I like to eat and can order it on my own in Chinese! However, I feel the need to learn more names of foods because often times I am stuck only eating the things I know how to order.

In order to make it easier for people who have just arrived in America without speaking English, I would recommend knowing a few important words and phrases to get by such as: foods, streets, addresses and bathrooms. Not knowing the native tongue in a country can be a very frustrating experience and can leave one feeling very vulnerable and lost. Having a guidebook of some sort, pictures to point at, and simple phrases written down can be very useful. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help. There will always be someone to help you find your way even though it may feel like it is impossible.

Knowing another language is very useful in helping you understand a country’s culture and get to where you need to be easier. After being immersed in a culture for a certain period of time, you are bound to catch on to a few words and phrases. If you are brave enough and want to learn the language faster, practice with locals and limit yourself to only speaking their language. You don’t necessarily need to be studying abroad to learn a language, you can study on your own in a language course, but make sure to find someone to practice with a little bit every day!

I can’t say I’ve learned a lot of Cantonese here in Hong Kong, but I can tell you that I know more than I ever did before arriving here three months ago. I can get to school, get to the city, ride a subway and not get lost, ask for directions and order a meal. That is quite an accomplishment for me!

My first meal in Hong Kong, duck noodle soup

My first meal in Hong Kong, duck noodle soup

Exploring Hong Kong with exchange friends

Exploring Hong Kong with exchange friends

Choosing pastries at a local bakery in Hong Kong

Choosing pastries at a local bakery in Hong Kong

On campus at HKU

On campus at HKU

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