Now Or Never

Q&A | Why Cantonese is my love language

When Kevin Harding fell in love with Alex Tse it became pretty clear that if he wanted 'in' with her family, he was going to need to learn Cantonese.
Kevin Harding is learning Cantonese to better connect with his partner, Alex Tse, and her family. (Submitted)
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When Kevin Harding, 30, fell in love with Alex Tse, 26, it became pretty clear that if he wanted 'in' with her family, he was going to need to learn Cantonese.  

"I didn't want to be just the standard white guy with an Asian girlfriend," Harding told Now or Never host Ify Chiwetelu, "I wanted to learn a little bit more about the culture that she lives every day, and that her family lives every day — and language is really the core to some of that."

But the moment that kick-started Kevin's decision to learn Cantonese happened two months into his relationship with Alex, when they joined her Cantonese family for dinner...

Ify: Kevin, what was your first dinner like with Alex's family?

Kevin: My first dinner with Alex's family was before I knew any Cantonese and it was an experience to say the least! I mean, it's a brand new family that I'm not part of and that I don't really know... The only person that I do know is sitting next to me and she's frantically trying to translate what they're saying to me, translate what I'm saying to them, and have it make some kind of sense in the middle. Plus, she's doing all this while also trying to teach me the proper way to participate in a dinner that's new to me culturally. It was fun but a bit terrifying!

Alex: That night involved a lot of just trying to get everyone on the same page! I was trying to reassure Kevin that everything's fine, and then at the same time I'm trying to tell my mom, "This is Kevin, we're dating. He has degrees — don't worry!"

Ify: Kevin what was the first Cantonese phrase you learned?

Kevin: This was pretty funny! I tried to learn to say "I love you" to Alex in Cantonese. I went on Google Translate and it told me what the words were. Then I looked up the proper Cantonese pronunciations. I practiced over and over and I thought I had it all sorted out.

Then I rolled it out on Alex... and she looks at me and goes, "You know that's not actually what we say, right?"

Let's just say it was a great learning moment!

Alex: In Cantonese, we're shy to express feelings in the first place. That might be part of the reason why the culture doesn't really say the words "I love you". To give you an idea, when my Grandma is trying to say that she loves us very much she'll say, "I kiss you a lot! I kiss you a whole lot!"

In Cantonese culture, love is really an action. You show love in the way that you serve each other food or pour tea. It's more important in Cantonese culture to express love through actions and little acts of service and gifts rather than to say it with words.