Languages in Hong Kong - What to Know Before You Go

During the prolonged British colonial period in Hong Kong, English was extensively used as the only language in Hong Kong. However, as the number of inhabitants from the Canton Province of China significantly stood majority, Cantonese also merged as another primary linguistic. Other natives from the east and west improvised the list of spoken and written languages in Hong Kong. The administrative region is now an amalgamation of diverse tongues and written dialects. 

Official Languages in Hong Kong

Official Languages, Hong Kong
Bilingual name boards (Source)
According to the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, initiated in 1990 and officiated in 1997, English and Mandarin are the official languages of the country.

The Chinese Dialect
Both, Mandarin and Cantonese are difficult to learn, as the way a word is pronounced basis vowel sounds, the difference in brush strokes (simple vs traditional), and characters, can change the meaning and intention of any term or sentence. While Mandarin has four tones, Cantonese has nine.

Cantonese vs Mandarin

Cantonese Language, Hong Kong
A Cantonese signboard in Hong Kong (Source)
Cantonese is a Southern dialect of the Chinese language, emanating from Guangdong Region. Hong Kong’s political disassociation from mainland China during the British rule secluded Cantonese from the other parts of China in the spread of Mandarin. Due to its extensive use in the country, there has been a long-standing debate over whether Cantonese is a dialect of Mandarin, or a separate language altogether.

Whereas local schools teach Cantonese, all the government and official communication are usually carried out in Mandarin, due to their increased interaction with Mainland China, where Mandarin is preferred and used among other languages in Hong Kong. Both these languages are not mutually comprehensible, which poses a problem, as even though both of them use the same Chinese alphabet, neither of these languages are easy to learn. A person who knows one dialect wouldn’t understand the other lingo due to the complexity of the primary languages in Hong Kong.

The following interactive Language Map of the languages used in Hong Kong will give you a good idea of the Cantonese speakers in different areas-

While English is widespread and commonly used in the Central part of the country, the further you move from there, lesser the number of English speakers you’ll come across. 

The English Understanding
Comprehension, fluency, and proficiency in English, in spite of it being the second official language of the country, is not that great, as the natives resort to using Chinese in their common parlance. But even then, it is widely spoken as it is a pre-requisite for many jobs and businesses.

Other Languages

Shanghainese and Taishanese are a few other Chinese dialects are used among the languages in Hong Kong. Apart from these, German, French, Arabic, Korean, Indonesian, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, and even Indian languages such as Punjabi, Urdu, Sindhi, Tamil and Hindi are also sparsely used by people, usually immigrants from other parts of the world.

This post was published by Simranjeet Kaur

Share this post on social media
Google +

Top Hotels In Hong Kong

Hong Kong Packages

Compare quotes from upto 3 travel agents for free

Book Hong Kong Activities

Related Articles


Cycling in Hong Kong - Exploring the Town in 10 Ways!


Theme Parks in Hong Kong


Water Parks in Hong Kong


Bridges in hong kong


17 Spas in Hong Kong for that Much-Needed Traveller Pampering!


5 Ways to Celebrate the New Year in Hong Kong

Travel Tips

Safety in Hong Kong - Tips to Ensure a Secure Vacation


Shopping in Hong Kong - Where to Go & What to Buy on Your Vacation

Food & Drink

Street Food in Hong Kong That Every Foodie Traveller Ought to Try!

Road Trips

Renting a Car in Hong Kong - The Complete Manual


Religion in Hong Kong - An Interfaith Harmony

Hiking in Hong Kong - Top Trails for Every Adventure Junkie!


11 Nightclubs in Hong Kong to Dance Through the Night


10 Best Camping Sites in Hong Kong for a Memorable Camping Experience!


Airports in Hong Kong - The Current & Former Airports of the Region

Travel Tips

Currency of Hong Kong - Traveller Knowledge about the HKD

Historical & Heritage

Museums in Hong Kong


Malls in Hong Kong

Wildlife & Nature

Zoos in Hong Kong


Street Markets in Hong Kong

Art & Culture

Culture of Hong Kong: A Classic Melting Pot

Fairs & Festivals

Festivals in Hong Kong

Food & Drink

Food of Hong Kong – 20 Amazing Delicacies And Where To Find Them

Wildlife & Nature

Wildlife in Hong Kong - Rare Species & 10 Best Places to Spot Them!

Travel Tips

What to Wear in Hong Kong for Each Season & Occasion

Historical & Heritage

History of Hong Kong - The City with a Golden Past and a Promising Future


Rock Climbing in Hong Kong - 15 Best Sites for the Best Experience


Horse Riding in Hong Kong - 7 Best Horse Riding Schools

Beaches & Islands

Islands in Hong Kong

Food & Drink

10 Coffee Shops in Hong Kong to Stop by for the Best Coffee


13 Hong Kong Travel Tips for a Smoother Vacation

Comments on this post