Language Information for Expats Living in Hong Kong

The de-facto official dialect of Hong Kong is Cantonese, a Chinese dialect originating from the Guangdong province, spoken by 90% of the population as a first language. Mandarin, the official language of the People’s Republic of China, is also becoming increasingly common and may even one day overtake Cantonese as the main language of Hong Kong.

Although English is widely used in government bodies, the business community and in most shops and restaurants in the business district, the degree of proficiency is limited in the more local or smaller establishments. While many non-locals feel intimidated by Cantonese, it is possible to learn some basic words and phrases to converse with people on the street. People are usually pleased that you are trying to learn the language and will generally be encouraging and helpful.

If you plan to be in Hong Kong for quite a while, it is worth the effort to enroll in a course to learn to speak some simple Cantonese. You will enjoy your time in Hong Kong far more if you are able to converse with the locals in their own language, as well as making yourself more attractive to employers. The language is quite hard to learn as it incorporates 6 different tones, which means that one word can have six different meanings depending upon how you pronounce it. However, if you persist you will slowly begin to get a good grasp of the vocabulary.

Courses Available

A basic course in Cantonese typically runs between two and three months, and focuses on oral skills and listening comprehension. Courses are centered around useful vocabulary, daily expressions and sentence structure to help students communicate in a range of everyday situations.

There are a number of reputable language schools offering part-time and full-time courses, as well as private and group lessons geared towards foreigners and expatriates. Course fees range from HK$2,300-HK$5,850 depending on the size of the class, and usually include books and teaching materials.

Recommended Beginner Courses:


Course / Fees


Contact Details

Hong Kong Language Learning Centre 10 x 2-hour classes
HK$2,980 604, 6/F Emperor Group Centre
288 Hennessy Road, Wan Chai
Tel: 2572 6488
Hong Kong Institute of Languages 10 x 2-hour classes
HK$3,400 6/F Wellington Plaza
56-58 Wellington St
Tel: 2877 6160
Chinese University of Hong Kong 14 x 3-hour classes
HK$5,850 Shatin
New Territories
Tel: 2609 6727
Chinese Language Professional 12 x 1.5-hour classes
HK$2,398 2/F Dah Sing Life Building
99-105 Des Voeux Road Central
Tel: 3165 5191
Global Language Centre Private: HK$167 – $217/hour
Group: HK$110- $120/hour
Rm 403, 4/F HK Trade Centre
161-167 Des Voeux Rd, Central
Tel: 2151 2387
EDC Languages 20 x 2-hour classes
HK$4,100 Suite 1401, 14/F Methodist House
36 Hennessy Road, Wan Chai
Hong Kong Language School From $300 per lesson
Room 1701-2
Tung Chiu Commercial Centre
193 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai
Tel:3622 2558

Language Exchanges

There are many people in Hong Kong who are keen to learn English and are prepared to engage in language exchange meetings whereby two parties of different native languages meet on a regular basis to hone their speaking skills. Advertisements are often placed in the forums of by people who wish to teach Cantonese in exchange for learning a European language.