Cantonese tends to be a difficult language for foreigners to master – unlike Mandarin where the language only contains 4 tones, Cantonese includes 9 tones that sound more or less the same. If you’re an expat living in Hong Kong, here are some important Cantonese phrases you need to know to avoid being lost in translation!
Wei (喂) – Hello
Instead of saying “hello” when you pick up the phone, say “wei” to pass off as a local on the phone. But if an annoying telemarketer calls you, we recommend sticking to “hello” to scare them off and prevent them from calling again.
Mm goi (唔該) – Thank you
You might’ve heard of variations of “thank you” in Hong Kong (such as “thank you lei”, which literally means “thank you you”), but the correct Cantonese term for expressing gratitude is “mm goi”.
Dor je (多謝) – Thank you
In Cantonese, there are two ways of expressing gratitude, which are “mm goi” and “dor je”. “Mm goi” is used in a more casual or relaxed manner, whereas “dor je” is used when someone does a big favour for you. If you’re stuck on which form to use, stick with “dor je” to be polite at all times.
Mm sai hak hei (唔哂客氣）– You’re welcome
There may be different variations on how to say “you’re welcome” in Cantonese, but the proper way is to say “mm sai hak hei”. If this is too complicated, you can also say “mm sai” as a short form.
Na (嗱) – Here you go
Luckily the Cantonese term for “here you go” only consists of one word, which is “na”. But be aware of how you pronounce this word, because you can easily sound inconsiderate or sarcastic in a slightly different tone.
Jo san (早晨) – Good morning
If you want to be polite and greet your security guard or cleaner in the morning, you can say “jo san” to them. You can even say “jo san” to your neighbours, but Hong Kong locals tend to keep a fair amount of distance from their next door neighbours.
Jo tau (早唞 ) – Good night
When you want to say good night to someone, you can say “jo tau”. However, this term is more commonly used for someone you live with, such as family, close friends or roommates.
Yau lok mm goi (有落, 唔該) – Bus stop, please
This is probably one of the most useful phrases you need to know to survive in Hong Kong, since most minibus drivers don’t understand the term “bus stop, please”. Instead of saying it in English or pressing the bell, shout “yau lok mm goi” at the minibus driver to get his attention.
Mai daan mm goi (埋單唔該) – Bill, please
The proper way to say “bill, please” is “mai daan mm goi”, but nowadays people have shortened the form to “mai daan” for convenience. It is interesting to note that Mandarin speakers have also adapted to this Cantonese term to get the bill in restaurants.
Lei sik jor faan mei ah (你食咗飯未呀？) – Have you eaten yet?
If you want to make small talk with Hong Kong locals, after greeting them you can ask them if they’ve eaten yet, which is “lei sik jor faan mei ah” in Cantonese. Ever since the wide scale mass starvation during the Cultural Revolution, this has become a universal term among Chinese people.