As Jackie Chan is from Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China, many people wonder what language he speaks. Although Cantonese is the popular dialect of Chinese in Hong Kong, people often wonder if Jackie Chan also speaks Mandarin.
Jackie Chan’s first language is Cantonese, but he is also fluent in Mandarin. Jackie Chan is a polyglot, a person who can speak several languages. In addition to Mandarin and Cantonese, Jackie Chan also speaks English, American Sign Language, German, Korean, Japanese, Spanish and Thai.
Continue reading to find out more about how Jackie Chan learned so many languages.
Cantonese versus Mandarin
There are 1.2 billion people, or 16%, of the world’s population who can speak some form of Chinese. There are many regional dialects of Chinese, but the most popular is Mandarin with 933 million, or 67%, of people in China whose first language is Mandarin.
Other popular dialects are Min, with 75 million speakers, Wu with 74 million and Yue, also known as Cantonese, with 68 million. So, it is clear that Mandarin is by far the leading language. This is why Jackie Chan learned it, despite living in Hong Kong.
Despite being dialects of the same language, spoken Mandarin and Cantonese are not mutually intelligible. This means that someone who speaks Mandarin, cannot also understand Cantonese and vice versa.
They are still considered the same language though because they do share the same Chinese alphabet. But, even so, there are simplified (used in China) and traditional (used in Hong Kong and Taiwan) characters. Readers of one, however, can still read the other.
Languages in Hong Kong
Hong Kong’s official language was English all the way until 1974 due to British colonization. Now, Chinese is also an official language, predominantly the Cantonese dialect. This is due to the majority of the population being descendants of migrants from China’s Canton Province.
In Hong Kong now, Cantonese is used in education, government administration and daily communication as 88.9% of the population speaks it versus only 1.9% of people being able to speak Mandarin.
English is still an official language, just not as widely used as it was previously. That being said, 47% of the population still speaks English and all official signs and announcements are also in English as well as Cantonese.
All government officials are all required to have a basic understanding of English as well. This may be why tourists find it easier to travel to Hong Kong compared to China.
Jackie Chan’s History with Language
Jackie Chan was born as Chan Kong-Sang which translates to “born in Hong Kong”. He adopted the nickname Jackie Chan later on. As he was born in Hong Kong, his first language is Cantonese.
But, as most business with mainland China is completed in Mandarin, Jackie Chan learned the language as well. He is now fluent in the language as evident in his Mandarin interviews, songs and films.
If he makes a film in English, he does all his own dubbing work to dub the movie in Mandarin as well. He also became fluent in English due to a need to conduct business in the language.
When he arrived in California in the 1980s, he did not know any English. In fact, his employer at the time, Golden Harvest, sent him to America to immerse himself in the language in an attempt to learn it quicker.
He says he learned English by listening to American music, watching films and TV series repetitively and repeating the pronunciation. He also had four English teachers and spent 9 hours a day studying. He is now fluent in English as well, evident through his many English films.
Jackie Chan also knows some American Sign Language, German, Korean, Japanese, Spanish and Thai. It is no surprise that he knows so many languages as his commitment to training and constantly learning is astounding.