This month, we’re looking at the Cantonese Chinese English accent.

Canton is an area of China where they speak Cantonese, a form of Chinese. Hong Kong is an important Cantonese city. It was a British colony until 1997, but now forms a part of China. Hong Kong has a population of around 7 million people. Other important Cantonese cities include Macao, Guangdong and Shenzhen.

There are several special features of the Cantonese Chinese English accent. For a start, we don’t have the / aʊ / sound in Cantonese. So, it’s hard for Cantonese speakers to pronounce words such as “down”, which we pronounce as / daŋ /. Other difficult words with this sound are “town” and “around”. Another difficult sound for us is the / θ / sound. A common mistake is to say “free” instead of “three”, “fank you” instead of “thank you”, “feory” instead of “theory” or “fick” instead of “thick”.

The /ɔɪ/ sound is also hard for us. For example, we have difficulty pronouncing words such as “point”, which we might pronounce as /pɒnt/. Other difficult words with this sound are “coin” and “ join”.

It’s quite common for Cantonese speakers to mix up the words that start with “l” and “n”, such as “light” and “night”. So, we might pronounce both of these words as “light”.

Here’s a little story so you can hear me speaking in a Cantonese Chinese English accent.


Story: the drink

Once, my friend and I went to Barcelona. My friend was very tired and thirsty after shopping, so we went to a food market to get a drink. We found a shop that had a bottle for a euro. So, she chose a bottle of orange juice. At the time, she didn’t speak much Spanish, so she spoke in English to the shop assistant. After paying the one euro, the shop assistant gave my friend another bottle and said “Free!” But my friend misunderstood her and thought she was saying “Three!” She couldn’t understand why it was just one euro for one bottle, but three euros for two bottles. So, my friend said “No!” and refused to take the extra bottle. The sales assistant kept saying “Free! Free!”, but my friend refused to take it. Eventually, the shop assistant gave up and put the bottle back. But later, as we were walking home, we passed by the shop again and noticed a sign in the window that said, “2X1” (two for one), which means, you get two bottles for the price of one. And it was then that my friend realised that the salesperson had been saying “Free”, not “three”!

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