Listen to Podcast | Special Episode 6: Giving Compliments in Cantonese

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Podcast Transcript | Special Episode 6: Giving Compliments in Cantonese

Alright! This is Eugene from LearnDialect.sg and we are at our final episode of this special 6-part Cantonese – How Do You Say series. To recap, we spend the first half of the series dispelling common myths of learning Cantonese as well as investigating the differences between Singapore and Hong Kong Cantonese. For the second half, we had our “Say It Like You Own It” segments, where we help you to pick up some useful vocabulary, so that you can get to know a person better as well as ask a date out in Cantonese. Now, in this finale episode of “Say It Like You Own It”, we focus on what you can say during the date itself. For example, how do you dish out a compliment genuinely in Cantonese? What are some quick and easy conversational topics that you can have with your date?

Without further ado, let’s bring back our guest speaker, Eric Chau!

Eugene

What was the best compliment that you have received?

Eric

Nei deoi haai hou leng. (你對鞋好靚.)

Eugene

That means your shoes are really beautiful. You are a ‘shoes’ person, a fashion-conscious person?

Eric

I try to.

Eugene

What is your fashion choice based on?

Eric

Not t shirt, not collarless T shirt. I will dress appropriately to the occasion and dress according to my age. I can’t be wearing baggy pants at my age.

Eugene

Or maybe one day, you can try. Get into the new fashion.

Okay, so now on this part of the podcast, we’re going to combine the earlier sessions of our learning, i.e. questions and responses. In particular, we are exploring if there is a formal and/or casual way of complimenting a person. So the first compliment that we are going to say in Cantonese is, “you are beautiful or handsome”. Of course, this depends on whether you’re a girl or a guy. So Eric, how do you say “you are beautiful” to a lady?

Eric

Direct translation, you can say, nei hou leng (你好靓), but it may be suggestive. So a less suggestive way, or a less direct way to achieve this result will be something like, nei gam maan zeh gin saam hou leng (你今晚這件衫好靚).

Eugene

This means you’re complimenting on the clothes.

Eric

Right, rather than the person directly. So when you say, “nei hou leng”, it’s likely that you know the person a bit better and you are probably in love.

Eugene

So let’s say if you want to keep it to a more non-suggestive way, then you’ll comment on the clothes?

Eric

Yes, I think on the clothes.

Eugene

How do you say it in Cantonese again?

Eric

Nei gam maan zeh gin saam hou leng. (你今晚這件衫好靚.)

Eugene

Let’s say you’re close to the person, or you’re more comfortable with that person, you’ll say…

Eric

Nei gam maan hou leng. (你今晚好靓.)

But I still won’t say nei hou leng. For me, this is a personal style. Yeah, different people have different responses. Some people are more direct than me. For my upbringing, I will stick to complimenting your clothing.

Eugene

Yeah, so nei gam maan hou leng, which literally means “you tonight very beautiful”, or if you just want to say that “you are beautiful”, then you’ll say nei hou leng. That’s something for the guys to look out for, i.e., whether you want to be dropping subtle hints or not.

Eric

Yes, yes. You don’t want to be too direct and scare off the person.

Eugene

In the opposite direction, let’s say a girl is going to compliment a guy, how would they normally say it?

Eric

I usually get this comment from older women. Okay, that’s a joke. So literally, nei hou leng zai, nei hou ying zeon (你好靚仔, 你好英俊). But we don’t hear people saying this because it’s just literal translation. I can imagine this will only be said by a girl who is not close to the guy. If you know the guy very well, probably you won’t say this. So I will say that from an angle whereby the girl doesn’t know the guy very well, but she wants to know the guy a bit better, then she will just address the person as leng zai. It is quite neutral. The girl is not expressing her interest in any way and it’s up to the guy to interpret. So the girl can say, “Yeah, well, I don’t mean to say anything. Please don’t overthink.” So there’s an escape route for the girl.

Eugene

The ultimate question of, “what do women want?” A big topic for another time. So back to this, it’s up to the guy to interpret whether you’re in the friend zone or not. So how would a guy know if a girl is interested him? Action speaks louder than words, I guess?

Eric

You get more positive responses. When you ask the person out, you get favourable responses. You’ll get to sit closer too. Guys should know!

Eugene

Now we know who’s the master of dating. Okay, so maybe a bit on the good taste in clothes. If I want to compliment that you have good taste in clothes. How do I go about saying that?

Eric

Wa! Nei hou lek zoek saam. (哇! 你好叻著衫.)

Nei ze gin saam hou leng. (你這件衫好靚.)

Nei hai bin dou maai saam gaa? (你喺邊度買衫㗎?)

These are the subtle ways to compliment, rather than directly complimenting the person.

Eugene

Yes, rather than complimenting the looks of the person. And what would be a general response when a person gives a compliment that you’re beautiful or you’re handsome? Apart from giggles and laughter or saying thank you, is there any general kind of response that you expect?

Eric

Okay, probably that person will respond by saying, mm hai laa, yi gin saam zoek hou do ci gaa laa. (唔係啦, 依件衫著好多次㗎啦.)

Eugene

I would say, that’s a very humble response. The equivalent in Singlish would be, “no la, I’ve worn this shirt for many many times”. That’s a subtle response that most Cantonese typically would hold.

Eric

Right. I think in Singapore, what we say or what we respond, to a great extent, applies to Hong Kong. In terms of compliments, they are very often subtle.

Eugene

Next compliment: You have been very helpful.

Eric

Okay, I won’t directly translate them because you will sound very odd. However, I will say something like, “dor zeh nei bong mong (多謝你幫忙)”.

Eugene

Which means “thank you for helping”.

Eric

Or mm goi saai nei wor (唔该晒你哦). When you say it, you have to sound sincere.

Eugene

Right, what kind of response would you be expecting then?

Eric

I will imagine the person replying by saying,

Mm sai haak hei (唔使客氣).

Siu siu yi si zeh (小小意思啫).

Geoi sau zi lou zeh (舉手之勞啫).

Mou haak hei (冇客氣).

Eugene

So these are very humble responses. So earlier on Eric, you mentioned that one way to express thank you is dor zeh. The other way is mm goi. Are there any subtle differences in terms of how they are being used?

Eric

Using dor zeh normally refer to cases when you receive something physical, for example, a present. If you are receiving help or receiving a favour, then you can express “thank you” by saying mm goi.

Eugene

Sometimes it’s a bit in the grey area, but generally you can say dor zeh when it is more physical or tangible, whereas mm goi is used when there is a service rendered.

Next compliment: Your perspective is very refreshing.

Eric

Do you mean the way you’re thinking?

Eugene

Yes.

Eric

Nei geh lam faat zan hai hou dak bit. (你嘅諗法真係好特別.)

Eugene

So your way of thinking is unique or special.

So next compliment: You’re making a difference.

Eric

in what way?

Eugene

Maybe you’re contributing to society, you’re making a difference to people’s life, or whatever you’re doing makes a difference. Is there a way to generally say it in Cantonese?

Eric

Nei zou yi di sor yau geh yeh hai hou yau yi yi, hou zik dak yan dik zaan soeng. (你做依啲所有嘅嘢係好有意義, 好值得人的讚賞.)

Hou yau yi yi means meaningful.

hou zik dak yan dik zaan soeng means should be praised.

Eugene

Last but not least, next compliment: I’m proud of you.

Eric

Of course, direct translation will be yan nei wai wing (引你為榮), but no one will say this. You will only see in movies subtitles. I will say a more lively, more genuine reply will be something along the line of,

Nei zan hai hou yeh. (你真係好嘢).

Nei zan hai lek. (你真係叻).

Nei zan hai ging. (你真係勁).

Eugene

Which means you’re very good, right?

Eric

Right. Right. Ngor pui fuk nei (我佩服你).

Eugene

So I’m very respectful of you.

Generally, I’ll say this are the various forms of complimenting somebody. What about the responses for the third, fourth and the fifth compliment? What would the general response be? Would it be something like, “thank you for your compliment”?

Eric

No, I think definitely not. People in Hong Kong are usually very humble. They will not accept this kind of direct compliment. They will rather say,

Mm wui laa (唔会啦).

Mm hai aa (唔係啦).

Bin hui hai ze (邊会係啫).

Mou gam gong laa (冇咁講啦).

Eugene

Okay, so they take on a more humble approach and say, “no, it’s not me. It’s not like that”.

Alright, so I think these are the kind of responses that you can expect when you compliment somebody. But don’t take it to heart that they’re not happy because this is their culture where they are humble in their own unique ways. So these are some compliments that you can now use, especially when you’re going on a date with a person that you’re interested to carry on the conversation with. And that leads us to our last and final topic.

All right, Eric. We don’t see much people wearing slippers in Hong Kong as compared to Singapore. So why do you think that that’s the case? Putting the same question across to you – shoes or slippers, which would you choose?

Eric

Depending occasions but shoes we call it, haai (鞋). For slippers, we called it tor haai (拖鞋).

Eugene

Okay, so why do you think Singaporeans prefer slippers over shoes in Hong Kong then?

Eric

We are down-to-earth people.

Eugene

Nice, I love your answer! Okay so in this podcast, we will be using simple “this or that” questions to further facilitate conversation. So for example, earlier on, we post the question of shoes or slippers to Eric. These are very simple topics that you can keep in mind in order to carry on the conversation when you’re on a date and probably spur some interesting conversations or reactions to it.

I’ll be asking Eric more “this or that” questions and it will be a quick five second response. So Eric, money or fame?

Eric

Meng tung lei (名同利) [Money and fame]; Lei is money; Meng is fame.

Ngor gan… (我揀…) [I choose…]

Ngor zan hai mm zi dim gan (我真係唔知點揀). [I really don’t know how to choose.]

Eugene

So in Cantonese we generally flip it around we say – meng lei. So for Eric, his response is that he don’t know how to choose.

Eric

I’ll choose neither.

Eugene

Okay, ready for the next question? Warm or cold in terms of weather?

Eric

Warm is yit (熱); cold is dung (凍). I will choose warm, yit.

Eugene

All right, so clearly very suited for Singapore. Next question, early bird or night owl?

Eric

Hou zou hei san (好早起身) – early bird; ye gwai (夜鬼) – night owl. But the phrase – ye gwai – is a little bit towards the colloquial side. Probably you won’t use it in very formal setting.

You’ll either say:

Ngor hou zou hei san (我好早起身) – early bird; or

Ngor hou ci fan gaau (我好遲瞓覺) – night owl.

Eugene

Okay, so Eric, are you an early bird or night owl?

Eric

I am both actually. I spent very few hours sleeping.

Eugene

Wow. Okay, next question. Call or text?

Eric

Call – daa din waa (打電話);

Text – cyun dyun seon (傳短訊).

I prefer to text.

Eugene

You prefer to text. The last question, bus or taxi?

Eric

Bus – baa si (巴士); Taxi – dik si (的士).

I prefer baa si.

Eugene

You prefer baa si?

Eric

Right, I don’t have too much money to spend.

Eugene

Okay, so I’ll choose the bus as well only because I can take my time to view the surroundings. I’ll have the time to think on the bus because usually it’s slower versus taxi. It’s a good time to think about big questions in life.

I hope this series of podcasts have been useful for you to get to know someone and improve the fluency of your daily conversations in Cantonese. So if you want to learn more, stay tuned to our podcast or visit our website at LearnDialect.sg.

Alright, so with this, I’ll end the podcast series. Thank you so much, Eric. for your time. We are so happy to have you share with us your personal experiences. Your examples have been very interesting too.

Eric

Thank you. My pleasure.

Eugene

So… did you like this special series of our Cantonese – How Do You Say Podcast? We hope this gives you a taste of simple real-life Cantonese conversations. To make it easier for you to refer to the other 5 parts of the series, here is a quick summary:

Special Episode 1: Why You are Never too Old to Learn Cantonese

Special Episode 2: Debunking the Top Myths of Learning Cantonese

Special Episode 3: Differences between Singapore & Hong Kong Cantonese

Special Episode 4: Say It Like You Own It – Part 1: Getting to know someone in Cantonese

Special Episode 5: Say It Like You Own It – Part 2: Asking a Date out

Special Episode 6: Say It Like You Own It – Part 3: Giving Compliments & “This & That” Questions

Well, if you are keen to learn more Cantonese with us, please stay tuned to our next How Do You Say podcast. Alternatively, you can always sign up for our Cantonese workshops where we dive deeper into these vocabularies and sentence structures. Once again, thank you for listening. This is Eugene, from LearnDialect.sg.


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.