Understanding the Languages of Hong Kong

Hong Kong is an autonomous territory located south of Mainland China. Hong Kong was once a British colony, and is now a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China. This means they have a separate political and economic system from China, aside from military defense and foreign affairs.  Over 7 million people live in Hong Kong, making it one of the world’s most densely populated places. Hong Kong has more skyscrapers than any other place in the world.

What are some of the languages of Hong Kong? According to the Basic Law of Hong Kong, there are two official languages – English and Chinese. Let’s explore this further.

Written Chinese

In Hong Kong, Chinese is written with Traditional Chinese characters. This is important to note as Mainland China uses Simplified Chinese characters to write Chinese. What are the differences between the two? We go into this in more detail in a previous blog post: Simplified Chinese vs Traditional Chinese. This can make Chinese translation a little tricky! When translating your content for a Hong Kong audience, make sure that you specify this with your language translation partner. They will use in-country linguists who can translate your content into Traditional Chinese for  Hong Kong.

Since English is a co-official language in Hong Kong, legislation must be bilingual. A lot of signage in Hong Kong is also bilingual as well. English is still used frequently in business. It is also taught in schools.

Spoken Chinese

Cantonese is the language most spoken by people in Hong Kong. As the official spoken language, it is most frequently used in daily communication, government, news broadcasts, and in schools. Hong Kong Cantonese is a dialect of Standard Cantonese which is a member of the Yue Chinese language family. It is important to note that Cantonese and Mandarin are mutually unintelligible, meaning speakers cannot readily understand each other.

Hong Kong Cantonese is also spoken in Macau, another Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China. Hong Kong Cantonese is slightly different than Standard Cantonese. However, Standard Cantonese is the lingua franca (bridge language) for people in Hong Kong and the neighboring Guangdong province in Mainland China.

Mandarin is not as widely spoken in Hong Kong, especially compared to Mainland China. A lot of this is due to British colonial roots. Recently, the number of Mandarin speakers has increased due to tourism and migration to and from Hong Kong.

Keep this information in mind when scheduling interpretation assignments and voiceover projects. You’ll want to make sure you choose the correct spoken dialect of Chinese.


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