What Country Speaks Cantonese? [Surprising] - languagelearningdiy.com

Written by Dr. Nigel Ong in Learn Chinese,Learn Language

Cantonese, or Yue Chinese, is spoken in the Pearl River Delta in China, as well as in Hong Kong and Macau. Around 80 million Chinese actually speak it as their first language. But what about outside China? What country speaks Cantonese?

Cantonese is primarily spoken in Hong Kong and Macau. Outside Mainland China, you may hear it spoken widely in countries such as Vietnam, Malaysia, and Singapore. As many Chinese diasporas are Cantonese-speaking, you may also hear Cantonese in many Chinatowns worldwide.

This article explores the countries that speak Cantonese and some other relevant questions you may have about Cantonese.

Are Cantonese And Mandarin The Same?

Cantonese and Mandarin are not the same. Cantonese is a regional dialect in southeastern China, while Mandarin is originally the language spoken in northern China. Mandarin is also the national language, which means it is spoken much more widely than Cantonese in China.

Many people exploring the Chinese language may find it difficult to understand the difference between terms such as Chinese, Mandarin, or Cantonese.

Here are several ways Cantonese and Mandarin differ:


Mandarin (or Putonghua 普通话 is the official language of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Singapore, and Taiwan. Cantonese is not the official language of any country except the territory of Hong Kong.

Numbers Of Speakers

As Mandarin is the official language in many Chinese-speaking countries, schools primarily teach them. The language is also more popular, and used more widely.

This means you may assume most citizens of China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan speak Mandarin. On top of that, most Chinese diaspora also speaks Mandarin. There may be up to 1.3 billion speakers of Mandarin worldwide.

Read More: Chinese vs Japanese vs Korean Writing

Cantonese, or Yue Chinese, is a regional dialect. You may hear it often within the southeastern corner of China. It is also widely spoken outside China, as most Chinese diaspora are from southeastern China. Worldwide, there may be up to 85.5 million Cantonese speakers.


Linguistically, both are tonal languages. However, there are tonal differences. In Mandarin, you have 4 tones with a different neutral tone. In Cantonese pronunciation, however, there are 6 tones. Cantonese also has different tone markings compared to Mandarin.

As a result, when you hear Cantonese, You may hear some notable differences. Cantonese may sound more ‘sing-songy’ than Mandarin due to the higher number of tones.


Mandarin and Cantonese also have differences in vocabulary, which makes them occasionally hard to understand.

For example, umbrella in Mandarin is 雨伞 (yǔ sǎn), while native speakers of Cantonese may use the term 遮 (ze1). Note that Mandarin is written in simplified characters, while Cantonese is written in traditional characters.

What Country Speaks Cantonese?

Country/RegionApprox. Speakers
Hong Kong6.5 million
Malaysia1.4 million
Vietnam1 million
United States458,840
United Kingdom300,000
Approximate number of Cantonese speakers by country

Cantonese language may not have many speakers as Mandarin, but it is also very widely spoken. This is because many members of the Chinese diaspora are from southeastern China, and these immigrants mostly speak Cantonese.

Cantonese is the dominant language outside of Mainland China in places such as Hong Kong and Macau. 88% of Hong Kongers speak Cantonese as their native language, meaning about 6.5 million speakers. About 85% of Macanese people are native speakers of Cantonese.

Countries Where Cantonese Is A Common Language

Outside of China Proper, Cantonese can be heard quite often in many other countries. For example, Singapore and Malaysia. These countries and territories may have a larger plurality of Cantonese speakers, and there may be areas where Cantonese is used daily.


Cantonese may be spoken regularly by up to 1.4 million Malaysians, which is about 4% of its population of 33 million. Most speakers are Chinese Malaysians living in urban centers such as Kuala Lumpur and Ipoh. The number may be higher if you include those that can speak Cantonese but do not use it regularly.

The Chinese communities in Malaysia speak a wide variety of Chinese dialects too. Chinese Malaysians have also developed their own Cantonese variety, blending the local Malay language with their Cantonese.


Cantonese is spoken regularly by about 13% of the Singaporean population in their everyday life. Based on Singapore’s national population of around 5.45 million, that should translate into around 708,000 speakers.

Most speakers are also descendants of Chinese settlers who emigrated to Singapore when it was a British colony. Most Chinese emigrants from Singapore are from the Pearl River Delta, specifically Guangdong and Fujian provinces.


Vietnam has seen Chinese immigration for centuries. Many Chinese also intermarried with the locals, losing their culture and language. However, there may be around 1 million Cantonese speakers in the country out of a population of 97 million.

Countries Where Cantonese Is Spoken In Small Areas

In these countries, the Cantonese language may be spoken by a small number of people, which means you may only hear them in small pockets of the country.

Some of these countries have assimilated the Chinese population to the point that they no longer speak Cantonese. Most have a Chinese population concentrated in parts of the country, which means you may hear Cantonese in these places.


Thailand may have the largest Chinese population outside of China, but many have intermarried with Thais and assimilated into the culture. As a result, a very small number of Chinese Thais can speak Mandarin or Cantonese.

A 2000 study showed that only 231 350 people claim to be able to speak some Chinese dialects, including Cantonese.


There may be around 300,000 Cantonese speakers in Indonesia, mostly centered in the major urban centers and port cities of Jakarta, Surabaya, Medan, and Manado. Most Chinese Indonesians speak Hakka and Hokkien Chinese dialects.

United States

According to a survey by Stanford University, there may be around 458,840 Cantonese speakers in the US. Most are on the West Coast, such as Northern California, Silicon Valley, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Gabriel. There are also many Cantonese speakers in Hawaii and New York City.


Statistics Canada reported that there may be around 594,030 Cantonese speakers in the country, representing around 1 percent of Canada’s total population. Like the US, you may hear Cantonese spoken in major Canadian cities such as Vancouver, Toronto, and the capital city of Ottawa.


Australia has historically seen the migration of Chinese people since the 19th century. As a result, a sizeable population of Chinese Australians still speaks Cantonese.

Out of a population of 25 million, about 280,000 Australians speak Cantonese. Similar to Canada and the US, most Cantonese speakers center around major urban areas such as Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, and Brisbane.

United Kingdom

Most Chinese people in Britain speak Cantonese, owing to the UK’s special relationship with Hong Kong. There are about 300,000 speakers of Cantonese in the UK, again centering in urban centers such as Manchester, Cardiff, Birmingham, and the capital city of London.

Should I Learn Cantonese Over Mandarin?

Generally, it may still be better to learn Mandarin over Cantonese. This is because Mandarin is used more widely and formally in government, business, and education institutions. Mandarin may also be easier to learn as there are more resources available.

You may be keen to explore learning Cantonese since it is a popular Chinese dialect. It is also a major language in commerce and government in places such as Hong Kong.

However, generally, it may be more worthy to learn Mandarin first. The reasons include:

Mandarin Is More Widely Spoken

Suppose you are a numbers person and care about practicality. In this case, you would see much more sense in learning Mandarin.

This is because Mandarin has 1.3 billion speakers worldwide, which is much, much more than Cantonese’s meager 85.5 million. This is because all Chinese learn Mandarin to communicate with each other.

People also speak Mandarin in more places around the world. This is because most people learning Chinese choose to learn Mandarin and not other dialects.

You may also notice that Cantonese may be more limited in use, usually only in South China, Hong Kong, Macau, and some Chinatowns worldwide.

Mandarin Is The ‘Learned’ Language

You should pick Mandarin over Cantonese, as Mandarin has an image of a more ‘learned’ language.

This may point back to the imperial China days when the emperor speaks Mandarin, and the court language is Mandarin. As a result, any learned government officers must also read, write and speak Mandarin.

Today, Mandarin is also a more formal language than Cantonese. It is the language of government and business. You can see Mandarin functioning as the medium of instruction in primary schools, secondary schools, and universities.

Mandarin May Be Easier To Learn

Mandarin may also be much easier to pick up, as you can access more learning resources. The language is much more widely taught outside of China. There are many Chinese language schools, courses, and Chinese speakers you can speak Mandarin with compared to Cantonese.

Mandarin may also be easier to learn structurally, as it has fewer tones and uses simplified Chinese script. Cantonese has more tones, and Cantonese writing uses traditional Chinese script. Traditional Chinese characters have more strokes and are more complicated to write.

Learning Mandarin is already hard. There is no point in making it even harder by trying to learn Cantonese.

So, What Country Speaks Cantonese?

In this article, we discussed how many Cantonese speakers there are. We also looked into what countries have many Cantonese speakers and the numbers. Finally, we discuss if you should learn Cantonese or Mandarin.

Now that you know learning Mandarin is better, check out some of our guides about the number of words in Chinese and how you can learn Mandarin in 5 minutes every day. Also, if you want to learn the easiest Asian language for an English speaker, check this post out.