“Learning without thought is deceptive; thought without learning is perilous.” - Chinese Proverb

Many people say that Chinese is a complicated language to learn. However, this hasn’t stopped many students from deciding to study it from as young as the age of 4.

Why?

Because Chinese is the language of the future, perfect for those who want to work internationally or are inspired by the Chinese way of life.

While Chinese is one of the most widely spoken languages in Malaysia and is the official language of many international organisations, non-native speakers can find reading and writing Chinese very difficult.

When is the best time to start learning the Mandarin language?

In this article, we’re going to have a look at a few answers to this question and why you should be learning the world's most common language and the language of the world's second-largest economic superpower!

Did you know that nearly a billion people speak Mandarin?

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Traditional Chinese vs Simplified Chinese

Are you familiar with the two Chinese writing systems? 

If you are just starting to learn Chinese, you may be asking yourself this question: what is the difference between traditional Chinese and simplified Chinese? Should you only learn simplified Chinese if you just want to learn Chinese for beginners, or is it important that you pick up some traditional Chinese?

Let’s talk about some of the differences between the two. 

Like the name itself states, simplified Chinese characters simplify the original written Chinese system - thus making it easier for learners to write and memorise them. On the other hand, traditional Chinese retains the original characters, which may be more difficult for beginners to understand. Often, fewer strokes are used to construct simplified Chinese characters: 龙 represents “dragon” in simplified Chinese, yet it is 龍 when written in traditional Chinese.

Fewer characters are also used in simplified Chinese, as a single character can often be used to represent different meanings. Traditional Chinese keeps its characters separate from one another, so learners will have to study more characters as compared to if they learned simplified Chinese. In traditional Chinese, 面 means “face” while 麵 means “noodles”, although they have the same pronunciation. In contrast, 面 represents both “face” and “noodles” in simplified Chinese!

Another major difference is how these two writing systems are taught. Children who learn traditional Chinese are taught bopomofo - a system consisting of 37 phonetics, each representing a sound. Simplified Chinese starts with Hanyu pinyin, which uses the Roman alphabet to teach the pronunciation of characters. Hence, it may be easier to learn the sounds through simplified Chinese if you are already familiar with your A to Zs.

Traditional Chinese versus simplified Chinese
Traditional Chinese characters are noticeably more complex in appearance than simplified Chinese characters. These two writing systems are also taught differently in schools, and there is a substantial difference in the number of characters between traditional Chinese and simplified Chinese. It is important to think of the practicality of the language when choosing to learn between the two. (Source: change.org)

How should you decide whether to learn traditional Chinese or simplified Chinese? 

Malaysia practises simplified Chinese in schools - as do other countries such as Singapore and China. The top three countries that use traditional Chinese are Macau, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Looking to work in Malaysia? It may therefore be a wiser choice to learn simplified Chinese. However, you should lean towards a Mandarin class in traditional Chinese if you will be working overseas in Taiwan.

Perhaps you want to learn Chinese language as you are interested in ancient Chinese history and its people’s culture. Traditional Chinese is often linked to this long history and culture as the characters often convey a deeper meaning than their simplified counterparts. Chinese calligraphy, which dates as far back as the Shang dynasty, is known to be a fluid and expressive form of art, which is also commonly taught in traditional Chinese.

Additionally, you can consider the level of difficulty applied to traditional and simplified Chinese. Beginners often pick up simplified Chinese as the characters appear easier to write whilst being easier to remember. So is traditional Chinese hard to learn? Traditional Chinese characters just “make sense” because their additional strokes convey meaning - “open”, for instance, is 开 in simplified Chinese, but is 開 in traditional Chinese because the 門 in the character represents “door” - connecting the “open” action with that of opening a door!

Benefits when you learn Mandarin
Learning a new language such as Chinese can benefit multiple areas of your life. You can enhance your communication skills and have better career prospects. You can learn more about what Chinese culture is really about while challenging your brain to master Chinese language skills. (Source: pexels.com)

Benefits of learning Chinese Language

It is well-known that there are advantages to speaking a second (or in most Malaysians’ case, a third) language. But it is equally important to study a language that is used and practised across numerous places. Learn Chinese and benefit multiple areas of your life:

Communication

Alongside Malaysia and China, formal practice of the Mandarin language has also been established in our neighbouring countries such as Indonesia, Brunei, Thailand, and the Philippines. When you remove the need for a translator, you can be at ease in an environment where the Mandarin language is routinely used. You can even gain more access to travel and adventures with your knowledge in written Chinese!

Career

Want to become an outstanding job candidate? One study found the demand for Chinese speakers growing so rapidly that an 80% increase in job ads requesting fluency in the language was seen. Knowing how to learn Chinese language and speak it can be a huge advantage in the job market as being able to converse in several languages is a highly valued professional skill.

Culture

A history that dates back thousands of years, one often finds that a short Mandarin class can easily lead to an immersive, culturally rich experience. Certain Chinese characters, for instance, are very pictorial since they are constructed based on “pictures of things”, such as people, animals, and things in the natural world. By studying the meanings and stories behind these characters, you can dive deeper into Chinese culture and its aesthetic beauty.

Challenge

Why is Mark Zuckerberg learning Chinese every day? Apart from the fact that his in-laws are Chinese, the Facebook CEO shared that studying Chinese not only helps him understand the culture but also that it challenges him. The Chinese language itself is intellectually challenging with its diverse characters and pronunciations - learning it will therefore boost your cognitive development. Improve your linguistic abilities and brain plasticity: put your brain up for a workout when you get Chinese simplified to English.

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Lim
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Lim
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Grace
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Yunfan
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Seekei
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Seekei
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Vanessa
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Learn Chinese for Kids

Chinese is a special language with its sinographs, characters used to represent whole words. There are four ways to learn Chinese:

  • By reading
  • By writing
  • By speaking
  • By listening

How to read Mandarin language?
Chinese is not as easy as A, B, C. However, it is entirely possible for young children to learn this challenging language - even at the preschool level! Simplified Chinese is the common writing system taught to kids as they learn how to recognise and read basic Chinese characters. The sooner children start learning Chinese, the better it is for their language development. (Source: PublicDomainPictures)

Since this can be difficult, the sooner you start learning, the better. If you think 5 might be a bit young to start learning Chinese, you’re wrong. Many studies have shown that studying a foreign language from a young age is great for a child’s cognitive development since, at that age, their brains are sponges. Additionally, there's the Hanyu pinyin romanisation system that can be used to represent Chinese language characters in the Roman alphabet.

Did you know that there are between 40,000 and 60,000 Chinese characters?

It would take you ages to learn them all, even if you follow these tips for faster learning!

Additionally, some children express an interest in learning to speak another language. This is the age where they can start to develop critical thinking. To learn Chinese is to get a huge advantage in later life! In this case, they’ll start with writing and learning common Chinese vocabulary. This will also help them understand their surroundings in the target language.

You should know that Chinese is a very common language taught in kindergartens. Although the English and Malay languages tend to be more popular with children, Malaysian parents are recognising the importance of getting their children to learn Mandarin at a young age. You can find Chinese kindergartens everywhere in Malaysia, most notably in areas with major Chinese communities such as Sarawak, Penang, Melaka and Kuala Lumpur.

If you really want your child to learn Mandarin in Malaysia, you might be better off looking for Chinese kindergartens or Chinese associations outside of school where they teach Chinese to children. Usually, the lessons they provide include fun activities for younger learners.

Mandarin Language in Malaysia

For some children in Malaysia, they only really start learning to speak a new language in primary school. This is when they’ll learn Bahasa Iban, Bahasa Tamil, or the Chinese language, for example.

How to learn Chinese language
It is common for students to take a Mandarin class at the secondary school level, especially if one comes from a Chinese family. However, more and more students who are non-native to the language are starting to learn Chinese as the benefits of this universal language are being increasingly recognised. While there is a set syllabus for students in national-type schools, students can also opt to take other Chinese language courses, such as the UEC. (Source: malaysia-today.net)

There are almost 3,000 Chinese national-type primary schools in Malaysia. More commonly known among Malaysians as Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan (Cina), or SJK(C) for short, most children from Chinese families are encouraged to attend a Chinese primary school in order to preserve the importance of the language and its culture to the Chinese community.

Roughly a quarter of Malaysia’s population is Chinese. While that is the case, we are seeing more students, non-native speakers of Chinese, learning the language in schools. As parents and guardians are attracted by the popularity and usefulness of the language in the country and abroad, they are enthusiastic about having their children take up a Mandarin class.

It’s a good idea to get secondary school students interested in learning Chinese as a second language. As we said, they can learn Chinese language and culture which has many benefits for students of this age as:

  • They can gain an interest in foreign languages for work and in daily life.
  • They can study a new language to improve their CV.
  • They can communicate with their peers who are fluent in Mandarin.
  • They can learn about Chinese culture which is prominent in the livelihood of Chinese communities in Malaysia.

For a lot of secondary school students learning Chinese, it’s because they are interested in Chinese culture, travelling, or working internationally in the future.

Speaking Chinese looks great on their CV, too! At this age, they’ll focus on grammar and syntax. They tend to focus more on the theoretical aspects of the language rather than the practical aspects. They’ll study Chinese writing, reading, speaking, listening, vocabulary, and so on. They’ll also learn a number of set phrases and common greetings that are often practised in Malaysia.

With Chinese such an important language for the future, it is also popular at secondary schools. About 60 independent Chinese secondary schools exist in Malaysia. The largest secondary school, Foon Yew High School, houses over 10,000 students. Just like Chinese primary schools, more and more students who are non-native to the Chinese language are taking up Mandarin classes at the secondary school level.

Some of the country’s popular secondary schools to learn Chinese language are:

  • Chong Hwa Independent High School, Kuala Lumpur
  • Confucian Private Secondary School, Kuala Lumpur
  • Pay Fong High School, Melaka
  • Tsun Jin High School, Kuala Lumpur
  • Keat Hwa High School, Kedah
  • Penang Chinese Girls’ Private High School, Penang
  • Chung Hua Middle School No. 1, Sarawak
  • Pin Hwa High School, Selangor

That said, there are also opportunities for young people to study in China and learn to speak with native speakers. Studying abroad allows them to take lessons with teachers and learn to read, write, and speak Chinese fluently.

Private Chinese tutorials and lessons with Chinese tuition centres and associations are worth considering at this age, especially if they’re struggling with the Chinese syllabus in schools, which is known to be challenging for students whose parents are illiterate in written Chinese.

How to learn Mandarin at university

Since many students have taken classes in written Chinese throughout their primary and secondary school years, they are set to qualify for Chinese language courses at the university level. Students are mainly interested in learning Chinese at a university for a number of reasons:

  • To learn a foreign language other than the ones commonly taught in schools
  • To further their career, such as becoming a Mandarin to English translator
  • The teaching offered at university is more advanced than what they could get at school
  • More resources for how to learn Mandarin are available than what they had at school
Learn Chinese at university
There are several universities and higher education institutions in Malaysia offering Chinese language courses! Students who have studied Mandarin at the primary and secondary school levels can further their education in the language. (Source: blog.keatschinese.com)

Furthermore, they can enjoy being in a place that promotes learning of all types. They can spend between 3 and 5 years studying (if they go on to do a Master’s) and come out with an advanced level in Chinese. This is more than enough time to get good at a language!

If you’re interested in furthering your Chinese language education in Malaysia, several universities and higher education institutions are offering courses in Mandarin:

  • Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman offers Chinese Studies at the Bachelor, Masters and PhD level
  • Universiti Putra Malaysia offers Research in Chinese Literature at the Graduate Level
  • University of Malaya offers a Bachelor of Language and Linguistics in Chinese
  • Xiamen University Malaysia offers a Bachelor of Arts in Chinese Studies
  • New Era College offers a Diploma in Teaching Chinese as a Second Language
  • Han Chiang College offers a Diploma in Chinese Studies

As a student seeking to further your education in the Mandarin language, you may be wondering what is the course structure for Chinese studies at the university level. Read below for some of the subjects offered for a Bachelor of Language and Linguistics (Chinese) at University of Malaya:

  • Morphology of Modern Chinese
  • Phonetics and Phonology of Modern Chinese, Chinese Language and Literature
  • Syntax of Modern Chinese
  • Chinese Language, Society and Culture
  • Chinese Language Varieties Within and Outside Malaysia
  • Chinese Characters and Chinese Culture

It’s also great to learn Chinese for people aged between 18 and 20. The student will have enough time to study Chinese alongside other studies. The focus will be on acquiring theoretical and practical knowledge of the language for professional reasons.

While the language is commonly taught both in universities and private language schools, the way the classes are taught can differ:

  • Sometimes lessons focus on just theory, especially on linguistics courses in the Chinese language.
  • Practical and theoretical lessons are emphasised and this tends to be the case with Chinese degrees.
  • Practical uses of Chinese, especially for business, in either universities or private language schools are mostly aimed at training professionals.

As you may have guessed, it’s never really too late to learn Chinese. If you’re driven, you can learn a language whenever you like. You just have to go for it.

Learn Chinese for Beginners

Did you really think that there was a certain age where you just couldn’t learn Chinese anymore?

Like all languages, you can start learning whenever you want.

Learn Chinese for adults
There is no age limit or standard age for when to learn Chinese! Even as an adult, you can take a Mandarin class with a private tutor or even personalised classes that build on specific Chinese language skills, such as reading and writing. Beginner, intermediate and advanced courses in the Mandarin language are widely available in Chinese language tuition centres and even higher education institutions. (Source: learnchineseinkunming.com)

Everyone is different in terms of learning languages and not everyone has the same goals when it comes to learning languages, either.

Even if you’re 60, you can start learning Chinese today. You just have to work out how to fit it in around your schedule and find the best method for you. There are several options:

  • University-style courses and diplomas for everyone for beginners, intermediates, and experts.
  • Distance learning or online classes where you can learn Chinese at your own pace.
  • Private tutorials that you can schedule for whenever you want to study in your free time.

To learn quickly, intensive Mandarin Chinese courses or language exchange programmes are a great idea. You can also learn about Chinese culture at the same time. Online Chinese classes are great if you don’t have much time to study foreign languages.

Adult classes for learning Mandarin and Chinese associations are also useful for beginners wanting to learn how to speak Chinese. If this is the case, there are a number of them in Malaysia offering a variety of different types of lessons.

Don't forget that there are also private tutors to help you with language learning. In fact, a personal tutor can tailor their classes to any learner. For example, if you're struggling with Chinese pronunciation, you can find a native Chinese speaker to help you learn Mandarin online. If you need Chinese lessons on how Chinese is spoken or the tones they use, your tutor can focus on that and help you gain fluency.

Whether for personal or professional reasons, if you want to learn Chinese, you can! It’s better to start as soon as possible. However, there’s nothing to stop you from learning at 18, 40, or 75 - you can even use these innovative ways of learning that work so well with children.

The most important thing is being driven. So are you ready to go?

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