A Complete Guide to Languages of Macau

Cantonese and Portuguese are the two official languages of Macau. Other languages spoken in Macau include Mandarin, Macanese Portuguese and English. The most spoken language is Cantonese followed by Mandarin. Portuguese is spoken by only 0.3 percent of the people, despite being one of the official languages. About 1.5 percent of the population of Macau speaks English, while the rest of the people speak other Chinese variants. English is usually spoken by those who are engaged in trade, commerce and tourism.

Language Percentage of Population

Cantonese in Macau

Cantonese in Macau
Name of the bakery is written in Cantonese (Source)

Cantonese is a variety of the Chinese language spoken in Macau, Hong Kong and Southern China. It is also the common language of Chinese community living in North America and Southeast Asian countries. Though Cantonese is a dialect of Chinese, Mandarin and Cantonese are mutually unintelligible. Cantonese dialect is a tonal language, where one word has several meanings depending on the pronunciation and intonations. Cantonese uses up to nine tones (making it one of the most difficult languages to learn), while Mandarin uses only four.

Cantonese Translation Guide

Hello- Néih hóu

How are you?- Néih hóu ma?

What is your name?- Néih giu māt'yéh mèhng a?

My name is ______   Ngóh go méng giu ______.

Thank you.  M̀h'gōi.

You're welcome M̀h'sái haak-hei.

Excuse me. M̀h'gōi jeje.

Goodbye- Bāaibaai

Do you speak English?   Néih sīk-m̀h-sīk góng Yīngmán a

I can't speak Cantonese.  Ngóh m̀h'sīk góng Gwóngdōngwá.

Is there someone here who speaks English?  nī douh yáuh móuh yàhn sīk góng Yīngmán a?

I don't understand.  Ngóh m̀h'mìhng.

Please help me.- M̀h'gōi bōng ngóh

I'm lost- Ngóh dohngsāt louh.

Portuguese in Macau

Portuguese in Macau
 A nameplate in Portuguese (Source)

Macau was under Portuguese rule for over 400 years, until 1999 when it came under Chinese jurisdiction. Among many other things, the language influences the city even today. Portuguese is one of the two official languages of Macau. Portuguese is commonly spoken in spheres of law and journalism. Macau has an active Portuguese press, including three dailies, one radio station and a TV channel.

Macau has its own version of Portuguese known as Macanese Portuguese. The language is unique as it is influenced by Cantonese, Sinhalese, Konkani, Marathi and Malay languages.

Portuguese Translation Guide

Good Morning Bom dia.

How are you? Como vai você

Where are you? Onde você está

I’m sorry- Desculpe

Goodbye- Adeus

I don’t understand- Não compreendo

Please speak more slowly- Fale mais devagar

Do you speak English?  Você fala inglês?

Please say that again? Pode repetir isso, por favor?

Macanese Patois

Known as the “sunset creole of Macau”, Macanese Patois is a Portuguese-derived creole, which is grammatically divergent from native Portuguese language. It is a fusion of several other languages and is different from Macanese Portuguese. It is believed to be influenced by Cantonese, Spanish, English and Indian Canarim languages.

Many believe that the language developed among the descendants of Portuguese settlers, who married women from Malaysia, Sri Lanka and India during the 16th Century. It has no standardized orthography. The language, however, is in decline from the time Macau became Portuguese territory. It is also listed in UNESCO's Red Book of Endangered Languages from the year 2009.

English in Macau

English in Macau
Names inscribed on the wall in English (Source)

While Cantonese and Portuguese are the official languages of Macau, English is also widely understood especially in casino resorts and main tourist areas. The language is also used by those involved in business and trade. Many restaurants and malls also use English in their business communication. However, English does not have an institutional status in Macau. Yet, the number of English speakers in the region continues to grow.


Mandarin in Macau
Mandarin's House in Macau (Source)
Most local people in Macau understand and speak mandarin, although with varying degrees of fluency. The people of Macau speak better Mandarin than their neighbours in Hong Kong. Some believe that this is due to the huge influx of tourists coming from mainland China, compelling the locals to learn their language. The special administrative region’s government is also trying to promote Mandarin by teaching the languages in most primary and middle schools.

Like the English language, Mandarin is also tonal. Every word in Mandarin has several meanings depending on the tone that is used. Mandarin is also made up of thousands of characters. Each character is made up of specific strokes rather than a combination of letters.

Mandarin Translation Guide

Hello- Nǐhǎo (Nee how)

Thank you- Xièxiè (Shieh-shieh)

Good morning- Zǎo (Zhow)

My name is…- Wǒ jiào... (Wuh jeow...)

Where is the bathroom- Xǐshǒujiān zài nǎlǐ? (See-sow-jian zai na-lee?)

How much?- Duō shǎo? (Dwuh shauw?)

I don't understand- Wǒ bù dǒng (Wuh boo dong)

Check, please- Măi dān (My dahn)

Let's go!- Wǒmen zǒu ba! (Wuh-men zoew bah!)

Good- Hǎo (How)

No- Bù shì (Bu-sheh)

Yes- Shì (Sheh)

Nice to meet you-  Hěn gāoxìng rènshi nǐ (Hun gaow shing run shrr nee)

Do you speak English?- (Nǐ) huì shuō yīngwén ma (Nee hway shwor yeeng wun ma)

Could you speak more slowly?- Kěyǐ shuō de màn yīdiǎn ma? (Kuh yee shwor duh mun yee dyen ma)

This guide will help you navigate this diverse city with ease. These common phrases are spoken across Macau, and will help you in starting a conversation with a native and making friends. With this guide in hand, you can avoid the cost of hiring a local guide. If you want to learn the language professionally, there are several mobile applications and websites that provide professional training in these languages of Macau. Happy Travelling!

This post was published by Sravya Vemuri

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