A #10YearsChineseSchoolingPlan for Mandarin mastery






I had a great session with parents and some fellow educators today on the Mandarin education options in Malaysia. It is a particular insightful session for parents who are non-Chinese or non-Chinese speaking.


After decades of distinct formal education pathways, many Malaysians have differing set of language competency. While many may desire for their child to learn Mandarin, implementing the decision is not straight-forward in Malaysia.


I believe that every child has an ability to learn. As long as we seed the desire to learn and create a conducive eco-system for the child to learn, our child can master anything. But first, plant the desire and preserve the passion.


Interestingly, many parents see learning Mandarin as a means to an end (getting into SJKC). But I would suggest we take a step back and look at the big picture.



  1. Visualise the image of the young adult we want to raise (personal traits, future career, language competency for example)

  2. Work backwards to create a plan to maximise the successful realisation of point 1.

  3. Be ready to adjust the sail due to fluidness of our rapidly changing work. Most importantly, adjust your plan as your child's interest and personality blooms.





Here's an exec summary of our mini workshop



A. Providing the ‘Why’ in the mastery of Mandarin

- Not a means-to-an-end, so you can ‘prepare the child for Chinese school’

- Dollar & Cents: impossible to avoid the inevitable omni-presence of the economic superpower China

- Identity & Sense of being Asian, language is a key part of embracing the culture


B. Discussion of 3 commonly known education system which mandates Chinese learning

- China: where English is mandatory and 60% of class time is dedicated to Mandarin and Math; outcomes obvious in their labour force and thriving sectors (tech, ecommerce)

- Singapore: bilingual is a core objective and every child must learn both English and Chinese/Malay/Tamil with high dedication to Singapore math; great PISA international results; 20% of national budget dedicated to centrally planned education

- Taiwan: bilingual from grade 3; high quality education but criticized for its rote learning style; disconnect of graduates from employers’ expectation, high unemployment rate


C. The Malaysia system for Chinese education

- Deciphering the formal education pathways of national schools (SJKC) or international schools (HSK-YCT/IGCSE)

- Making sense of the pathways but don’t let the system decide the flow; parents should make the best of the system

- Set a long term goal of the child achieving at least secondary/pre-U level of Chinese and commit to realizing the goal

- Don’t set a short sighted goal of ‘getting into and lasting as long as possible in Chinese school’



D. Creating the conducive ecosystem for Chinese acquisition

- Understanding the exam pathways or learning options outside Malaysia’s formal education offerings

- Overcoming hurdles for non-Chinese or non-Chinese speaking families

- Acknowledge and accept your child (and you) will need help, factor in the help and create a supportive system

- Start young, start positive association and work hard to preserve that positive association of the language

- Case studies: children from various backgrounds and their Mandarin learning journey


E. Tips to do well in Chinese learning

1. Start young

  • when it is the most natural to learn another language.

2. Maintain consistent exposure.

  • For non-Mandarin speaking families, bilingualism is your survival strategy so as to avoid alienation. Persist till 8-9 for this to be a natural response.

3. Provide positive motivation for the language.

  • Adjust lifestyle, attitude towards Chinese culture, entertainment value of Chinese (tv shows, songs)

  • If the language has a negative connotation, the child won’t speak the language.

4. Schedule in help or your own time.

  • Assistance is required for homework, regardless of subjects and streams of primary school.

5. Choose platforms where you can understand.

  • If parents know Mandarin, then it is easier to assist the child in learning. But if parents don’t know, then instruction and communication has to be able to keep parents abreast or allow the child to learn more independently or access live help.

6. Be involved, be there for your child.

  • Don’t leave him to struggle alone for academic burden, emotional burden.

7. Fight for your child.

  • The fight against purists (who have bias of who can learn Mandarin) or the double-edged sword of streaming (self-fulfilling failure to help students succeed in excelling in Chinese)

  • Plan ahead to bridge to a further goal, at least secondary/pre-U qualification in Chinese



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