Tips for Learning Cantonese Pronunciation

In this lesson

  • Four tips for learning Cantonese pronunciation

Before we go into Cantonese pronunciation, let’s talk about some tips that can help you learn Cantonese pronunciation better.

Tip 1: Don’t read Romanized Cantonese like you’re reading your native language!

Sounds are linked to alphabets differently in different languages. The same letter may represent one sound in your native language but another sound in Romanized Cantonese.

Let’s see an example. First, guess how the word jat is pronounced in Cantonese and say it aloud.

Now, listen to how jat1 is actually pronounced in Cantonese:


This example shows how the letter j is pronounced differently in English and in Romanized Cantonese. The letter j as in the English word job is pronounced as /dʒ/ but the letter j as in the Cantonese word jat1 is pronounced as /j/. (Remark: The letters between slashes are International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) symbols. You don’t have to know the IPA to study this course. Listening to the audio files will already give a good picture of the sounds.) Listen:


Throughout the course, we will draw your attention to this kind of differences. Pay attention to them and try to build up new connections between letters and sounds in Cantonese.

Tip 2: Learn how the Cantonese sounds actually sound in Cantonese!

Some Cantonese sounds may not exist in your native language so you probably need to learn some new sounds when learning Cantonese. Many language learners will associate new sounds in a new language to the similar sounds in their native language. For example, the sound yu, as in syu1, doesn’t exist in English. Listen:


An English native speaker may associate the sound yu with the similar sound /u/, as in use, in English. Listen:


Although associating new sounds to the similar sounds in your native language may help you remember the new sounds more easily, try to learn how the new sounds actually sound in Cantonese because being able to recognize and produce these new sounds in the Cantonese way can help you understand and be understood better in communication.

To help you learn how to produce the sounds, we will show you the lip shapes and tongue positions for the sounds. Try to shape your lips and place your tongue accordingly and try to imitate as closely as possible to our recordings. To help you learn how to recognize the sounds, we will practice distinguishing between similar sounds.

Tip 3: Revise, practice and test yourself!

Learning sounds in a new language and a Romanized system takes time. Revise and practice what you have learnt in this course every day, few times a day if possible. This will help you gradually build up the muscle memory for producing the sounds and the sensitivity for recognizing the sounds. All the audio files of this course are downloadable. You can download them to your phone so you can practice with the recording easily at any time.

Also, instead of just revising the materials, testing yourself helps you learn even better! This online course includes a lot of quizzes to test how well you have learnt the materials

Tip 4: Don’t give up!

Learning sounds in a new language is not easy. You may very soon be frustrated by the "notorious" tones in Cantonese. All the tones may sound the same to you and you find it hard to sing while speaking. But it just takes time to learn new things. Keep doing it and you will master it!

Learning pronunciation could also be quite, okay, extremely boring. But keep in mind that improving your pronunciation can help you understand and be understood much better when you communicate in Cantonese! You’re improving both your speaking and listening skills at the same time.

Like any kind of learning, perseverance is the key so don’t give up!

So here are the tips we want to share with you. See you in the next lesson!