What is the main difference between chinese mandarin and cantonese?
Nearly everything is different when it comes to speech, but I think the characters are the same.
Someone who only knows mandarin can't understand someone who only knows cantonese.
Mandarin and Cantonese are two of many (I've heard there were 14 or more) dialects of Chinese. All of the dialects read the same characters (so reading and writing Chinese would allow you to communicate with anyone who speaks either language) but each dialect is like speaking a different language. I speak a little Mandarin Chinese and when I hear Cantonese it makes as much sense to me as if someone were speaking Spanish to me.
Although I can't speak Cantonese, I can recognize it when spoken. Mandarin and Cantonese differ in tones and phonetics (sounds used in making words. Mandarin basically has four tones while Cantonese has seven-eight tones. Both spoken Mandarin and Cantonese are completely different and seem like two different languages. For example, a Mandarin speaker might say, "gongxi facai" as a New Year's greeting, while a Cantonese speaker will say "gionghi hwatchoi" or something similar to this..
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