Fun Cantonese 101: A Look Inside Hong Kong Families (Guest Post)

How can one take a glimpse into a Hong Kong family and see how they live? For me, it's not just the activities they do or family traditions they have, but its' the language they speak and the words they use in conversations, that is a great indicator of how these families really are. Gathered below are 5 common phrases often heard in Hong Kong families, from TV to real life. Along with the phrases a basic explanation, pronunciation guide, and a short example is also provided.

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A Romanization System in Cantonese

There are several romanization systems for Cantonese. For example, Hong Kong government has their own system of romanization. It is influenced by the British. It is not very accurate and leads to non-understandable pronunciation. Jyutping粵拼 is another romanization system which is recommended by the Linguistic Society of Hong Kong. Anna, the owner of CantoSponge talks about it on her blog HERE. I used the Yale romanization of Cantonese when I was teaching Cantonese to the LDS missionaries. It is quite similar as Jyutping. But I like it better and it is easier for beginners and the system is organized and very accurate. Yale system is mainly for English speakers learning Cantonese. So I'm going to use the Yale romanization system to teach the pronunciation of these fun Cantonese phrases.  

5 Common Phrases Hong Kong Families Use 


Simplified Chinese: 大菌食细菌
Pronunciation: daaih kwán sihk sai kwán

Meaning: Big germs eat small germ. (I'm not sure if we are "big germs", but hey that's the phrase.) It is the equivalent of the "5-second" rule. I think you get the idea. Example: When a little kid accidentally drops candy on the ground, he picks it up and eats it, and then says "大菌食細菌." to his mom.  


Mandarin Chinese: ...到连妈都不认得

Simplified Chinese: ...到连呀妈都唔认得 
Pronunciation: ... dou lìhn ah mā dōu mh yihng dāk 

Meaning: (You did something)... to the extent that even your own mother can't recognize you/ to the extent that you don't recognize your mom. Example: If a person has played a video game for the whole day, you can say "you've played games 連到呀媽都唔認得" or "to the point that you couldn't even recognize your mom" because their too into the video game.    


Simplified Chinese: ...到飞起
Pronunciation: ... dou fēi héi

Meaning: (Something)... makes you take off (as in an airplane taking off) or flying in the sky. The closest I can think of in English would be to have you "head in the clouds" but with more general usage. Example: When you take your kids to the Disneyland for the first time, they will be so happy that they are "flying in the sky"[到飞起].  


Mandarin Chinese: 我吃盐比你吃米多

Simplified Chinese: 我食盐多过你食米
Pronunciation: ngòh sihk yìhm dō gwo líeh sihk mái
*Note: I changed "你" (=You) to "Líeh" instead of "Níeh", because honestly no one in Hong Kong speaks like that anymore. This pronunciation is more accurate for this generation.
Meaning: I've eaten more salt than you've eaten rice. This is a way to express seniority, because if you have eaten more salt than someone has eaten rice it means your much older with more experience then them. Example: After you argue with your elderly at home, the elderly usually will argue back with this phrase and show that he has more life experience than you.  


Simplified Chinese: 等到颈都长
Pronunciation: dáng dou géng dō cheúhng

Meaning: My neck is getting longer and longer from waiting. (Not sure why a person neck gets longer from waiting, but hey! that's the phrase). Example: When kids are impatiently waiting for the bus, they say my "neck is getting longer and longer from waiting so long".  

Do you have any extra fun phrases for the list?
Do you have any similar phrases that means the same thing in your native language?
If you have any suggestion or have a question, feel free to leave a comment below or email me at Thank you so much stopping by and for your support.


In the Next Post, you will see...

  1. 食檸檬 - Eat Lemons
  2. 豬扒 - Pork Chop
  3. 正菜 - Good Veggie
  4. 抄魷魚 - Fried Squids
  5. 唔好扮哂蟹 - Don't pretend as a crab
 I am a mother of three who married a wonderful Japanese American man. I am a pianist, vocalist, chorister, former Chinese teacher, who graduated in Linguistics Major with TESOL and Music minor from BYU. I have been sharing on my blog about Chinese Homeschooling for six months by now. I also share Chinese language learning resources via my blog for helping parents to home-school their dual language or multilingual young children (ages 3-6). Come visit my blog - FORTUNE COOKIE MOM now!


NihaoHello aims to cater to the new generation's growing interest to learn Mandarin Chinese. Homeschool and specialise in tutoring English speakers to speak essential but confident Mandarin Chinese. For beginner language learners to readily put to use as soon as the global recession recovers.