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10 Word Cantonese
How You Can be Understood in Cantonese
10 Word Cantonese
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Pronunciation Guide

Ch 1: Your First 100 Words of Mainland Cantonese

Basic words, Counting & Numbers
Ch 2: 100 More Essential Words
Time; Cardinality & Relativity; The Elements; Colours; Gems, Jewellery & Metals etc
Ch 3: You Hungry?
Eating, Restaurants, Food
Ch 4: Drinks, Sports and getting around

Drinking, Transportation, Sports
Ch 5: People
Family, Friends, Romance, Famous People
Ch 6: World Atlas
Cities, Countries, Peoples of the World
Ch 7: Flora and Fauna
The natural world as you will encounter it
Ch 8: Daily Lives
Passports, Police, Visa, Banks, and Officialdom. Around the House, Kitchen Utensils and Appliances, Consumer Electronics
Ch 9: Understanding and Being Understood
Clothing, Accessories, Stationary, Words for Teachers, Traditional Measurements
Ch 10: Mixing it
The Body, Cosmetics, Questions, Important Words and Phrases

• China Expats Forum

This guide to making yourself understood in Cantonese is written by a severely linguistically challenged Englishman who has lived continually in Mainland China for 6-years. The writer does not understand any of the various linguistic tools often used for learning a language, and as used in other phrasebooks. Neither does he understand very much about Grammar! However, this is the actual Cantonese language as spoken on my local streets in Foshan - Today!…

This is a guide to what the author considers the most important words you need to know. It is written in a very simple way and designed to take you through learning your first words of Cantonese in an orderly progression. If you wish to skip sections, please do so.

These 1,000 words will give you the confidence to face any situation daily life throws at you.

The aim of this guide is to teach you the general and basic form of Cantonese as spoken by ordinary people in the Pearl River Delta region of Mainland China, and specifically in Guangzhou and Foshan. There are seven distinct Cantonese dialects, plus each City will doubtless have it’s own local language. Of these seven dialects, four can be considered to be major dialects. The most southern is Toisanwah (Taishanese) , which is quite different and spoken by many Chinese in California. Two others are extremely similar; and I will call them Guangzhou hua and North Guangdong Speaking for simple reference.

The last one is spoken by only a few rich and influential people from Hong Kong – and is the version all Western Phrasebooks currently use. Best advice: Unless you are fully proficient in this dialect – you will never be understood by ordinary Cantonese speakers on the Mainland!

This guide will teach you the sounds you need to know, to be easily understood by virtually all Cantonese people worldwide. It will teach you simple, yet important words. It will not teach you complicated phrases with little relevance to the basic language you need to know for daily living

I am not a linguist, and neither am I inclined to apply algebraic formulae to letters of the alphabet in order to miraculously divine a given sound. Get real! Instead we simply use upper and lower case letters which can appear anywhere in the word. Therefore most letter sounds will be phonetic, but where a capital letter appears, the capital letter sound is to be used.

Cantonese has up to nine levels of intonation, is spoken from the front of the mouth using tongue and teeth a lot, but not exclusively, (Similar to English). Nasal sounds (L, M, N and O) are also significantly important – think seal sounds here, and also a humming intonation

When you listen to Cantonese, it is a very musical and expressive language. If you are not linguistically gifted, then you need to cheat a little to be understood:
1. Speak as quickly as possible = less identifiable intonations
2. Listen to how locals say the words you are using, and adapt your speaking. Repeat!

I have made little attempt to include Chinese characters in the first chapters, as each one has to be learned separately. Characters are nearly always used in groups of two (Occasionally singly, and rarely in threes), each of only one syllable. If you plan an extended stay, or wish to use public transport (Inter-city coaches are best), then you will need to learn the two characters that represent each city, especially your home city

Pronunciation Key:
Click here to open our 'Pronunciation Guide'
Opens in a New Window

We acknowledge that this guide is for helping you be readily understood by local Cantonese peoples, immediately! I have used expressions that everybody ‘here’ (in Foshan) says in normal conversation - not the ones from any official ‘language pack’.

For additional Cantonese support and character analysis, please visit the totally free and excellent resources provided by Adam Sheik at
but remember this is Hong Kong Cantonese from the minor dialect, and not as spoken on the Mainland

Your First 100 Words of Real Cantonese
(Opens in New Window)

This work is sole Copyright of Jonno Morris, and no reproduction is permitted for commercial activity or any financial gain. This is published for personal use, and restricted to helping the reader personally speak Cantonese for personal usage in daily life. All International Property Rights of this Electronic Copy are owned by Jonno Morris, as are all Physical Property Rights and Intellectual Property Rights

If you would like to use this material for any other reasons, please email me via our contact page
Thank you

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