When learning any new language, there are things that you should learn first but often those things are related to travel expressions, dining out or at the market. I too started learning these types of expressions when I started learning Cantonese, but after years of learning, I realized that maybe I should have learned a few other things first.
We all need to learn the common travel expressions that are in every language textbook or language learning book and they are useful in every kind of a way. But, those books need to cover a lot of things in order to make them a wise dollar for value purchase.
Here I will lay out what I feel are the top 5 must learn first sentences to help you be a successful learner of Cantonese and to help you set into the language quickly. These 5 sentences are like ‘copy paste’ sentences that you can use in so many conversations and instances that you can just add the necessary vocabulary that you need for that situation.
*for ease of writing in English, we will use the Jyutping pinyin.
你有冇_________________呀? nei5 jau5 mo5 ___________aa1? Do you have ________________? lit: you have not have _____?
From my experience of using Cantonese for the last 20 years of my life, the ‘do you have or not have’ question is maybe the most used sentence of my life. There are so many reasons to use this question in daily life multiple times a day. You can just add what ever it is that you are asking of a place or person has to finish the sentence. Even if you do not know the word to ask for, you can point at a picture or use body language in some cases. It is a hugely important question and as a new learner, you can have this to use from the beginning for an almost endless amount of things.
係唔係呀? hai6 m4 hai6 aa1? Am or am not? Yes or no? Okay or not okay?
This one is so simple and yes so versatile. You can use it in so many different ways and you hear it everywhere when around Cantonese speakers. You can use it in surprise or disbelief or just to ask someone if they are okay. This one must be put in the top 5 just simply for usage volume.
我鍾意_______. 我唔鍾意________. 你鍾唔鍾意呀? ngo5 zung1 ji3. ngo5 m4 zung1 ji3. nei5 zung1 m4 zung1 ji3 aa1? I like _________. I don’t like _________? Do you like? or Do you like ___________?
This one is a sentence that you can use in so many ways and you can add a million vocabulary words into those blank spaces. This is a sentence that you can use when just meeting someone to make small talk or to get to know them better. You can also use this to show what it is that you like or dislike. This one is super useful and be ready to answer this question when asked as to what you like or don’t like of something.
點解呀? dim2 gaai2 aa1? Why?
The ‘Why?’ question is something that you will need to have to talk with people on a daily basis. So many times in the day, you will ask people or someone will be asking you why for so many things. Even just simple things are asked ‘why’ just to get a conversation going. You can use the ‘why’ with adding numbers 1, 2, or 3 from above in there too. It will help you to be able to say so much from the beginning. 點解你唔鍾意______________呀?
That’s 4 + 3 = Why don’t you like __________? The ‘why’ is a must have from the beginning.
要唔要呀? jiu1 m4 jiu1 aa1? Want or not want?
This question is here on the top 5 because you will be asked this from day one and it’s great to ask someone this question when meeting them. It’s great for lots of situations and you will need to know if say, would you like a bag for something you’re buying. It’s really something you hear and are asked often in your daily movements.
Difference in using 多謝 and 唔該 do1 ze6 and m4 goi1 Thank you or Thank you
It’s part of Cantonese and so often new learners ask how to use these two different ways of saying ‘thank you’. The rule is simple. If someone gives you a gift of any kind or a complement, use 多謝. All other instances use 唔該. When you buy something from a shop, the cashier will say 多謝 but when you get the change back use 唔該. Keep with that and you will do well.
Cantonese has a lot of colloquial expressions but with these top 5 must haves, then you will be able to use them in so many instances and will be able to just add vocabulary to them as you go along. Keep them all at the ready and you will soon be saying all kinds of things and able to be a part of many conversations from the gate.
I hope that this is helpful. Keep moving forward.