Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Learning the lingo!!

One of the things I have decided to do in Penang, despite the fact that a significant proportion of the population speak English (and mostly very well!!!), is learn both Mandarin and, ultimately (albeit partially concurrently) Bahasa Malay. The majority of Chinese in Penang of course speak Hokkien but this is a dialect which most have advised that I start to pick up after learning Mandarin. Mandarin will also be more useful for visits to mainland China etc. Although Hokkien is the main Chinese dialect, in addition to English and Bahasa Malay, many Chinese people there ALSO speak Mandarin (and in many cases Cantonese too - try getting such a spread/number of languages amongst the populace of Europe, especially in the UK!!) and of course many parents now chose to put their children through Chinese education in Penang where Mandarin will be the primary language. Some very close friends of mine in Penang have a young daughter and they speak Mandarin and English to her, Hokkien to each other and many of their Chinese friends, Bahasa Malay as necessary and English when people understand none. Have to say I'm impressed!!!!

I will doubtless enrol in a course or two in Penang once I have a grasp of the basics but for Mandarin I have chosen to use a Linguaphone course (I have yet to find any such course from a reputable provider for Bahasa Malay). Linguaphone is language course provider from the UK who, along with Berlitz, have been providing distance based language training for years. I used their French course and it was very good. They offer a Mandarin Complete CD Course which comes with:

  • 8 audio CDs.
  • A 244 page handbook which provides step-by-step lesson plans, full grammatical explanations and fun activities.
  • A 238 page textbook – contains the printed and illustrated transcription of the CD recordings.
  • A 194 page Oral Exercise book – with spoken exercises to improve your accent and pronunciation.
  • A Study guide - contains full instructions of how to plan your study to get the most out of your course.
  • A 24 page Alphabet book – Explains how to read and write the letters of the Chinese alphabet in the romanised version of Pinyin.
  • A Linguaphone carry case.

The bonus of these courses of course is that you can do it when you are in the mood and at your own pace. The downside is that unlike in classroom there is no tutor to ask (albeit they do offer email and telephone support for their language courses for the first 12 months following purchase). As I will be in Penang with a large number of Chinese friends the lack of a tutor is not a problem as I shall be able to ask almost anyone if I get stuck (the beauty being they also speak English!). The courses are not cheap but if you pick your time wisely you can often get them with a 25-30% discount at around £190. For me it is something well worth taking to Penang even if I had not planned to use it immediately. Good investment for the future and easier (and cheaper) to buy it in the UK and take it with me rather than ship/import.

Another useful site I have found is that offered by the UK's BBC under 'Languages/Chinese'. The site provides a very useful mini 'Guide to Chinese' and a number of topical video/slide-show based lessons. Coupled with the Google Translate service (just remember to click the 'Read Phonetically' option when you translate from your chosen language to 'Chinese Simplified' so you get the PinYin translation too - unless of course you can read Chinese) I think it provides a very useful starter pack and a good precursor to the Linguaphone Course.


  1. Wow. I commend you for undertaking the learning of Mandarin and BM. I took Mandarin for a couple of years, but forgot most of it. I bought a couple of Malay books to study Malay, but haven't started yet. I have Rosetta Stone CD's for Mandarin. I really admire the locals for being able to speak so many languages. I wish you luck.

  2. Thanks. It will give me something to do for sure :-) I do also enjoy learning languages and the bonus for me will be being around those that speak them constantly. As you alluded to that's the trick with languages, being able to speak them regularly.

  3. YMCA running Hokkian courses now and then...good luck mate


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