Listen to Podcast | Special Episode 4: Getting to Know Someone in Cantonese

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Podcast Transcript | Special Episode 4: Getting to Know Someone in Cantonese

Hey there! Welcome back to this special series of Cantonese – How Do You Say Podcast. This is Eugene from LearnDialect.sg. So for the past 3 episodes, we’ve focused on the myths of learning Cantonese as well as the differences between Singapore and Hong Kong Cantonese. So now, for the next 3 episodes, our guest speaker – Eric Chau – and I are going to get practical and help you speak Cantonese like you’ve already owned it! We’ll focus on learning how to ask some simple but useful Cantonese questions, and then highlight to you if there are any differences between a formal and casual way of asking. Here’s a quick run-down:

Episode 4: Say It Like You Own It (1): Getting to Know Someone in Cantonese

Episode 5: Say It Like You Own It (2): Asking a Date out

Episode 6: Say It Like You Own It (3): Giving Compliments & “This & That” Questions

Ready for this “Say It Like You Own It” series? Let’s go!

Eugene

How do you sound like a true Cantonese? Did you know that there’s a difference between formal Cantonese and casual Cantonese? For example, if you had followed our podcast, you’ll know that “how are you” can be formally said as nei hou mou (你好冇) versus dim aa (點呀), which is the informal style. Today we’re happy to continue this conversation with Eric and learn how to speak Cantonese like we own it, in the context of day-to-day situations. So Eric, what makes you happy? What makes you laugh the most?

Eric

Doing things that I like to do, including watching a good show and reading memes. Nowadays, my children always show me memes. This is a good source of laughter during a boring day or hectic day.

Eugene

Quick and simple!

Eric

Yes, right to the point. If you were to ask me how I would say “what makes you happy in Cantonese?”, I will probably say, yau di mat yeh hai leng dou nei hou hoi sum gaa? (有啲乜嘢係令到你好開心㗎?)

Eugene

So yau di mat ye means “what things”; hai ling dou nei means “make you” and hou hoi sam means “happy”. And that’s how we ask the question in Cantonese. Moving on, Eric, in an earlier podcast, you’re saying that at some point in time you were trading. So currently, what do you do for living?

Eric

I am doing translation full time. So I’m a translator and I have my company.

Eugene

So that explains why you learn so many different languages.

Eric

Oh yes, it is very important.

Eugene

Japanese, Korean, German, etc. It’s really, really amazing! So again, how do we ask somebody what they do for a living in Cantonese? Is there a formal and informal way?

Eric

Informal way – nei zou di meh gaa? (你做啲咩㗎?)

Formal way – nei zou sin hong gaa? (你做擅行㗎?)

Eugene

So that’s both the formal and informal way.

Okay, so do you work from home? Or do you have to travel to work every day?

Eric

I work from home most of the time unless I need to go to the client’s office to pay them a visit.

Eugene

So that means the moment you open your eyes, you’re in an office environment.

Eric

Yes, yes.

Eugene

Okay, so let’s talk a bit about getting to office. I think a lot of people who are working have to report to office. How do we say – in Cantonese – the different modes of transport? For example, buses, trains, taxi? That’s one portion, i.e., to identify the mode of transport. The other portion, how do I ask for directions. Let’s say if I’m in Hong Kong today, how do I ask for directions in Cantonese?

Eric

For modes of transport:

Bus – baa si (巴士); Mini-bus – siu baa (小巴); MTR – dei tit (地鐵); Taxi – dik si (的士). By the way, if someone in Singapore is calling a taxi in Cantonese, most likely, the person will just say dak si (得士), dak si.

Eugene

Okay and let’s say if I were to ask for directions then?

Eric

For directions:

Go straight – zek hang (直行); Turn right – jun yau (轉右); Turn left –jun zor (轉左); Turn back – hang faan jun tau (行返轉頭); Two blocks down – hoeng cin hang dor loeng gor gaai hau (向前行多兩個街口).

Loeng go gaai tau means “2 intersections” or “2 blocks away”.

Eugene

And how do I go from A to B?

Eric

Yau A heoi dou B (由A去到B).

Eugene

Yau A heoi dou B. Then do I say dim hang (點行)?

Eric

Ceng mun dim yoeng hang aa? (請問點樣行呀?)

Eugene

Ah, so that’s the more polite way of asking!

Eric

Right. I mean, if you just ask a person, “dim yoeng hang (點樣行)?”, you would sound like you are giving a command.

Eugene

So bear in mind, always say “ceng mun dim yoeng hang aa?”

Now we’ve covered how to get around. Earlier on we’re talking about our daily occupation, our jobs. Eric is a translator. So how do you say the job of a translator in Cantonese then?

Eric

It is called faan yik yun (翻譯員). Faan yik yun refers to the translator. Faan yik is the job of doing translation.

Eugene

I see. Many of our participants are nurses, occupational therapists, bankers, and of course, students. How do we translate all these terms into Cantonese then? So let’s start with nurses.

Eric
Nurse – wu si (護士); Occupational therapist – mat lei zi liu si (物理治療師).

Eugene

How about a banker?

Eric

We will not call it ngan hong gaa (銀行家). Banker is a very general term. Everybody can call himself a banker sometimes and it is very hard to differentiate whether he is high-ranking or low-ranking. But generally, in a more formal setting, in formal introduction or in a conference, they will introduce someone as ngan hong gaa. This means that the person is working in this bank and has a certain number of years of experience. This is for a very formal introduction.

Casually, we will say this person hai ngan hong zou gung (係銀行做工). Hai ngan hong zou gung can imply a very junior staff or up to mid management. But if he is talking about someone who is a very senior person, perhaps the person will be introduced hai ngan hong zou dou gou kap (係銀行做到高級).

Eugene

So gou kap means high ranking.

Eric

Yeah. Or ngan hong gou kap hang zeng yan yun (銀行高級行政人員).

Eugene

Okay understood. How about a lawyer then?

Eric

Leot si (律師).

Eugene

Okay. And last but not least, student?

Eric

Keoi hai yat gor hok saang (佢係一個學生).

Another way to say it will be keoi hai faan gan hok (佢係返緊學). It can refer to 2 things. One is to describe this person as a student or two, literally, he is in school now.

Eugene

So when you mentioned keoi, it is referring to “he” or “she”. Is that right?

Eric

Yes, it can be either he or she. Unisexual.

Eugene

Keoi hai means “he or she is”; yat gor hok saang means “a student”. In this case, keoi hai yat gor hok saang means “he or she is a student”.

We cover some of the generic occupations. So if you have any occupation that springs to mind, do let us know as well!

So personally, Eric, do you like to cook?

Eric

Oh, I love to cook. I like eating and I have very picky family members at home. They are not happy with only Cantonese cuisine, they like to sample everything under the sun. So I plan the dinner menu and I will cook something different every day.

Eugene

So what’s the best dish that you cook?

Eric

I learnt it from YouTube – I can cook Korean bibimbap. Okay. No complaint from them. There is this Korean dish called galbi-tang – oxtail soup. I can cook a little bit of Western dishes – Greek, Italian or just Western.

Eugene

How do you ask if you like to cook in Cantonese then?

Eric

Nei zung mm zung yi ju faan gaa? (你鐘唔鐘意煮饭㗎?)

You can say it in a formal way, but I don’t really hear people saying it commonly. Anyway, for this programme, I can share – Nei zung mm zung yi paang yam gaa? (你鐘唔鍾意烹飪㗎?)

Eugene

That’s really really formal.

Eric

Right and remember, you’ll end a question with a particle – gaa.

Eugene

Okay. So when we cook we usually have to go to the market. So how do we say “market” in Cantonese?

Eric

Gaai si (街市). It literally means a market in the street. But nowadays, most of those wet markets, or markets by the roadside, have moved to shopping complexes or their dedicated buildings, with the lower floor being used for a market, and the upper floor used for a hawker centre. However, we generally still call it gaai si.

Or for those that are already located inside the building, we called it yau goi gaai si (有蓋街市).

Eugene

So do Singapore Cantonese use more of gaai si or?

Eric

It’s a mix of everything. I often hear people saying baa sat in Singapore, even Cantonese. Cantonese spoken here is mixed with different elements, different dialects and different languages.

Eugene

Yeah. So I think that’s one aspect of how Cantonese is not all the same throughout the world. And just for your information, baa sat is taken or we learnt the word from the Malay language – pasar – which refer to the market. Alright, next question. Do you have a pet?

Eric

I have two love birds.

Eugene

2 love birds? Why love birds though?

Eric

They are siblings, and you must be thinking, where are the “parents”? Well, the father flew into our house. We adopted him, as we couldn’t find the owner. Then we bought a companion. We didn’t know that one is a male and the other is a female. So now, we have happy problems. The happy problems grow bigger and bigger because they are giving birth one batch after another. So we ended up giving away most of them. We now keep two siblings and we ensured that they are males.

Eugene

So no more happy problems.

Eric

No more happy problems, but we only have the noisy problem.

Eugene

The noisy problem! Okay, so how do we say, “do you have a pet” in Cantonese?

Eric

Nei yau mou yoeng cung mat gaa? (你有冇養寵物㗎?)

Eugene

Nei yau mou yoeng cung mat gaa? So there’s no difference between a formal and informal version, I guess.

Eric

I don’t think there is any difference.

Eugene

On pets, the general common pets in Singapore would be dogs, cats and birds. So how do we say “dog” in Cantonese?

Eric

Gau (狗).

Eugene

Cat?

Eric

Maau (貓).

Eugene

Okay and birds?

Eric

Zoek (雀).

Eugene

Okay, so these are the three common pets in Singapore. For our listeners who are thinking of having pets, please beware of happy problems. But well, if you want to have happy problems, then yes, remember to have opposite gender animals.

Okay, last but not least, what can you spend all day talking about?

Eric

Politics.

Eugene

Politics. Wow.

Eric

To talk about it all day will be, yes, politics. That’s one as well as my children, my work, and where to go for a nice holiday. These are most commonly talked throughout the day.

Eugene

Okay, so politics, children, work and where to go for holiday. So how do we say “politics” in Cantonese then?

Eric

Zeng zi (政治). Nei zung mm zung yi gong zeng zi gaa? (你鐘唔鍾意講政治㗎?)

Eugene

And then about the kids?

Eric

Gong sai lou zai gor yeh (講细佬仔嗰嘢).

Eugene

Okay, and about work?

Eric

Taam kap gung zok (談及工作).

Eugene

Last but not least, the happy one, travelling!

Eric

Heoi bin dou waan? Nei zung yi heoi bin dou leoi hang? (去邊度玩? 你鍾意去邊度旅行?)

Or nei daa xun heoi bin dou leoi hang? (你打算去邊度旅行?)

Eugene

daa xun means “plan” and “zung yi heoi bin dou” means “you like to go where”. And the question, “what can you spend all day talking about?” – how do we say this in Cantonese?

Eric

Nei peng si yau meh ju yiu waa tai? (你平時有咩主要話題?)

Eugene

As a conclusion of this session, let’s recap the seven questions on getting to know someone, which we’ve talked about with Eric earlier on. I’ll say the English version and then Eric will translate it into Cantonese.

So number one, what makes you the happiest?

Eric

Yau di mat yeh hai leng dou nei hou hoi sum gaa? (有啲乜嘢係令到你好開心㗎?)

Eugene

Okay, number two, what do you do for a living?

Eric

Nei zou sin hong gaa? (你做擅行㗎?)

Eugene

Okay. How do you get to work?

Eric

Nei cor meh ceh faan gung gaa? (你坐咩車返工㗎?)

Eugene

Certain occupations?

Eric

Nurse – wu si (護士);

Occupational therapist – mat lei zi liu si (物理治療師);

Student – hok saang (學生).

Eugene

Number five. Do you like to cook?

Eric

Nei zung mm zung yi ju yeh gaa? (你鐘唔鐘意煮嘢㗎?)

Eugene

Okay, number six, do you have a pet?

Eric

Nei yau mou yoeng cung mat gaa? (你有冇養寵物㗎?)

Eugene

Okay, last but not least, what can you spend all day talking about?

Eric

Nei peng si zeoi zung yi gong di meh waa tai gaa? (你平時最鐘意講啲咩話題㗎?)

Eugene

Okay, that more or less concludes the initial stages of getting to know someone.

Hey, how are you keeping up with your journey in learning Cantonese? In this episode, you’ll find that there are formal and casual ways of conversing in Cantonese. For example, when we touched on the question of “What do you do for a living?” or asking if one likes to cook. Then there are also topics including – do you have a pet and what makes you the happiest – which we covered that showed no major differences between the formal and informal version. As Eric and myself were concluding this episode, you may then also realize that there are multiple ways to express the same question or idea, for example “What can you spend all day talking about?”.

Well, just in case you are getting overwhelmed at this point, I just want to share that there’s nothing to worry about though. Personally, I think that’s the fun of learning languages! If I may share with you a tip, it’ll be to start learning the expression you are most comfortable with, be it due to your style of speaking, or perhaps, just picking the phrase that is easier to pronounce. Once you build up a wider base of vocabulary, you can then progress to the different ways of asking questions. I really hope our podcast helps you in one way or another. Keep practicing and stay tuned for the next episode of this special series. Eric and I have lots more to share!


Transcript has been edited for readability and clarity.

The opinions expressed by the guest speaker in this podcast are his own and do not reflect the view of LearnDialect.sg.


Keen to learn more about Singapore Cantonese? Here’s the link to our interactive Cantonese Course for Beginners. While spots last!


Our Philosophy for Learning Cantonese in Singapore

At LearnDialect.sg, we want to make learning Cantonese fun, easy and practical for daily conversations in Singapore. As such, rather than figuring out which of the 10 or more Cantonese romanization system to use (e.g. Jyutping, Yale or Cantonese Pinyin etc.), we encourage you to form your own phonics, so that you make an association with these Cantonese words in the quickest way possible. To illustrate, the romanization of the English word, “eat”, is “Sik” using Jyutping and “Sihk” using Yale. However, in our “Have You Eaten?” podcast transcript, you’ll find that we use “sek”, which we think relates to us better. That said, you may use other romanization (e.g “sake”, “xig”, etc), as long as it helps you to make sense of what you hear.