The First Step to Integration

Living in a different culture can be a huge challenge for many, and language comes with it. I think a lot of us take language for granted. We not only have learnt it from such a young age, but also use it constantly to communicate. I have come to believe that if we practise any skill as frequently as we use language, it would be “as easy as A-B-C”. But language is weird. It is just standardised utterances or an amalgam of words, but somehow another living being can actually understand and respond to it. It is a beauty of its own.

This university, fortunately, provides students with a myriad of resources to break the wall of cultural difference. One of them being the so-called “Non-local Peer Guide”. The idea is to have local students help expose international students to the unique culture of Hong Kong by getting together. In one particular “class”, a bunch of local students mentor a bunch of non-local students, teach them survival phrases and let them experiment in a practical environment, such as Festival Walk’s Foodfest. It is a perfect opportunity for international students to socialise with the locals, and uncover the distinct personality of Hong Kong.


A local student gives a presentation in the Cantonese "class".


Learning a new language can seem a little too Greek at first. In the "class", non-local students learn some basic phrases.


Experimenting, with the assistance of local students, at the Festival Walk shopping mall food court.


Order food with what you have just learnt! Practise. Practise. Practise.


Mission completed! Food is indeed the way to a man's heart.

So how do you survive in a city like Hong Kong? How do you deal with people who speak one of the hardest languages in the world? If you are as ignorant as I am, you would probably imagine Hong Kong as a larger version of Singapore. Something to note about this city: speed. No, not the drug. In this ever-hustling city, if you cannot keep up with the pace, you are done. So, let’s just cut to the chase and learn some Cantonese, shall we?

多謝 — Thank you.
You will hear this a lot when you purchase something from a convenience store. It is pronounced like “toe” + “che” (as in cherry). This is a phrase for expressing sincere gratitude like “Merci beaucoup”.

唔該 — Thank you./Excuse me.
It is pronounced like this: “umm” (I am thinking) “koi” (the fish). This is an altogether useful phrase. Whether you want to draw someone’s attention or thank your local friend for bringing water for you, show your appreciation and impress them with this phrase.

唔好意思 — Sorry./Excuse me.
Use this phrase when you did not mean to do whatever you just did. It is pronounced like “umm” (I am thinking), “ho” and the “ea” of easy and “sea” (the body of water).

幾多錢 — How much?

Ask for the exact amount before splurging on that HKD200 drink you are about to buy. It is pronounced like this: “ca” (as in cake) + “toe” + “chin”.

There is really no way of mastering a language without constant practice. Don’t be afraid of being looked at, laughed at or scrutinised. Throw away that fear and push through! Persistence shall prevail.

The “Non-local Peer Guide” organises various activities for newly admitted international students. If you wish to find out more, don’t hesitate to contact GSO by email:  gsoins@cityu.edu.hk.