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How I Teach Cantonese to My Children

Updated: Feb 6, 2021

I loves languages and I think I have language learning talent and I hope my children can love learning languages as much as I do. I would like to share with you how I teach my son Cantonese.


I'm from Hong Kong, growing up speaking both Cantonese and English everyday. I have studied in the US since I was 13, then returned to Hong Kong to work, which required traveling to Mainland China and Taiwan a lot. I didn't speak a word of Mandarin before working in my early 20's, I learned it with a tutor and learned it as I was traveling for work. I'm trilingual/bi-literacy (Cantonese/Mandarin/English), can read both Traditional and Simplified Chinese. We speak about 90% Cantonese at home, the rest is Mandarin and English. My ABC husband is trying his best to speak Cantonese at home. We live in NYC where many Cantonese reside.

I did a lot of research on teaching Chinese at home when I was pregnant with my first child. I learned that I have to start talking a lot, what I mean by a lot is that I'm always talking whenever my baby is awake ! I came across many great blogs I read to help me starting this challenging journey:

Before 1 years old, expose as many languages as you can, not just Cantonese.

I speak only Cantonese at home. When my son was a baby, I took him to English singalong and Mandarin singalong at least once a week since he was 6 months, and also started teaching him ASL ( American sign language). When I'm speaking English or Mandarin (without translating/ repeating in Cantonese) I do the same sign language to him, it was acting like bridge between languages. Speaking more than one languages to babies, help their brain development!

I also arranged weekly playdates with the same group of friends, one language per group. When he sees the same people, he would associate the language with those people. During English and Mandarin playdate, I don't translate to Cantonese during playdates.

I've created a spreadsheet to track my son's vocabulary since he started talking at 12 months. There are some important words and concepts I had to make sure he understands both in English and Cantonese at the same time, for example Hot/ Stop/ be careful/ be gentle. He can say both " 熱 and hot" at 14 months. I stopped tracking at 22months, because he was able to repeat and speak everything I say in complete sentences.

2 years old and onwards

I started hosting a Cantonese learning group with his friends at my house, so I can ensure he will get a playdate once a week consistently. I think creating a Cantonese speaking social circle is very important, kids would WANT to speak because they want to play, instead of NEED to speak. The kids who come are all fluent in Cantonese, English was not allowed at my house during the playdate.

When we are out in public in an English environment, I speak mostly Cantonese with him, and if there are English speakers around me, I would speak English then repeat in Cantonese. This makes him feel comfortable speaking Cantonese in public while he is growing up.

Besides teaching him myself, taking him to Cantonese speaking environments is important. I take my son to restaurants with Cantonese speakers, like waiters/waitresses, customers at least once a week. He learned to say greetings to the owners at age 2, and later ordered his food by himself.

Reading in Cantonese

I didn't start reading books to my son with Chinese characters before 2 years old (I didn't own any at that point). I started buying Chinese books when he was 2.5 years old and that's when I started recording Cantonese Mommy's videos. At first I wanted to share my videos with his cousin, who is learning Cantonese in a non-Chinese/Cantonese environment. Later, I realized how difficult it was to buy Chinese books in the US. Since I have a passion to have more families to have an opportunity to read more Chinese books to their children, I started sharing on YouTube, and that's how the Cantonese Mommy journey began.

Teaching Cantonese is difficult even for a fluent speaker like myself, I wish to help more families to make their teaching journey a little easier. Good luck everyone!

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