My Ultimate Quest: Mandarin in 6 Months


And so again – I am embarking on my life-long quest to learn the Mandarin Language.  One of my greatest frustrations in life.  🙂


I studied Chinese from grade 1 to grade 5 in Binondo, Manila.  I kept flunking my Chinese subjects. So, I gave it all up and studied in Aroroy, Masbate, where I lived in peace away from the Hokkien and Hopia atmosphere of Ongpin.

languages internationale

Another time, after I first traveled to China, I again had the urge to learn Mandarin! China will be the next super power! I have to be part of Chinese world domination! So, I enrolled in a pricey language school in Makati called Languages Internationale.

My teacher was a young good-looking guy from Shanghai, whose accent debunked everything I learned in grade school. I was so confused! Besides, there’s no one to talk to at home. My husband is Pinoy, all my relatives speak Hokkien. So, I quit again.

V0037195 Amoy, Fukien province, China.

Real photographs of the people in Amoy, Fujien province, China.

V0037191 Amoy, Fukien province, China.

Real photographs of old Amoy, Fujien, China. My ancestors probably lived like them.

As a side note, Hokkien is the dialect of  Fujien province,  old name, “Amoy,” a very poor Chinese province nearest to the Philippines.

Chinese-Filipinos come from Amoy, and so WE speak Hokkien.  My ancestors were so poor in China that they migrated to the Philippines to seek the greener grass.

Now, it’s the other way around.

My brother Edward is in China, to help build  their buildings, bridges and  sub-terranean pipelines. 😛

ed and myself

My brother Edward speaks Hokkien, Cantonese and Mandarin. If he can, so can I.

Going back to the Chinese language– If you encounter any arrogant and loud Hokkien-Speaking Chinese-Filipinos in Manila or anywhere, don’t be impressed.

We all look stupid and helpless when we are Beijing, Shanghai or even Hong Kong.  (Hong Kees speak  another dialect called Cantonese). But it’s another story.

So, Here are my reasons for learning Mandarin… again.

You are never “too late or too old” to learn a new Skill.  OK.  I’m nearing 40; women are kinda sensitive about this milestone.  Some want to run a Marathon, Write a Book.  Me, I want to speak Mandarin fluently.

I want to prove to myself that I can, and I will.   Who says only young children can learn like a sponge?  If something really interests you, it’s not as hard! For one, there is no resistance in our brain.  There’s Excitement and Thrill of every new absorption.

It’s Practical.  Although one can survive SG without knowing a single Chinese word because English is spoken by everyone.  The Chinese Singaporeans, who is the majority, speak Mandarin.  There are so many opportunities to practice. From taxi drivers, the sales ladies, the uncles and aunties — they bear the brunt of my elementary Mandarin.  😛  My colleagues are also Mandarin-speaking. They are my target practice, and my impromptu teachers.


4 out of 5 in our company speaks Mandarin. (You know, who the remaining 1 is.)

It’s a good investment.  As the cliche goes, “An Investment in Knowledge always pays the best Interest.”  Let’s face it.  It’s not expensive to learn a new skill.  The cost of  enrolling in a Lesson or a Course is way, way lesser than a new bag, jewelry or vacation. But the impact a new skill on one’s life, is more permanent and lasting.

The only drawback, Learning is soo much harder than going to the mall  😛


The lady in pink, Chia Huey (Chinese-Malaysian) Lawyer and the lady in white, Lilis (Chinese-Indonesian), Accountant and Myself (Chinese-Filipino). Both of them speak fluent Mandarin, and of course, Malay and Bahasa respectively.

Learning a new language takes enormous Discipline, Courage and Humility. (You can’t be shy to make stupid mistakes!)  I have long swallowed my pride.  Now, I relish making mistakes because I get to be corrected and I learn a new way of pronouncing words.


My Singaporean friend Ivy (Admin Exec), a fellow Traveler, speaks many Chinese dialects.

Now that I am older and more mature, I realize that we need to “take charge of how we want to learn.

With all my failed Language lessons (yep, i also took Chinese, Spanish and French at the University)  I realize, I can’t learn a new language  in a classroom setting. I hated the structure and the embarrassing recitations.  I hated conjugating verbs.

Let me share with you the way I am learning Mandarin now.

  • Private Tutor is more effective. I don’t need a Nanyang University – grad teacher.  Besides, they are very expensive!  I only need someone who can speak and write the language, and who has the patience to teach me.

So then, I called my kids’ Chinese tutor to set aside an extra time for me weekly.  But surprise!  She has no time to teach professionals like me.

(She probably has no patience for correcting old gnarled tongues and ears that cannot differentiate the 4  tones;  who only want to learn Chinese enough to order correctly at restaurants)  ha ha ha

So she referred her niece Jingjing, a 20-year old student at the Polytechnic. She can spend her free time teaching me Mandarin, for extra allowance.

Indeed it was allowance, because I pay her way less than what I pay my kids’ tutor.  😛

Should i be insulted?  🙂  My kids are being taught by a former Chinese professor while I am taught by a 20 year old  🙂


The flashcards are just props. They are my children’s. My lesson is more Talking than Reading.

  • I set the pace.   My time, patience and budget only allow me 1 Hr. once-a-week.  Unlike my old classroom lessons; Now, I take my time.  I don’t flood my brains with too much info.  I learn a few phrases and put them into practice for the week.  The retention is better!
  • I learn only the necessary.  We have a book, but I told her not to follow the module.   I want practical lessons.  So, I made my own module. 🙂  I evaluated all my daily interactions; and tailored my lessons around them.  Like, Small talks at the Office.  How to Order in Restaurants. Conversations with my children.  Talking to Taxi Drivers. Daily conversations.
  • Put it to use.  What the hell am I learning everything for?  To use it, right?  So, I Speak. speak..speak at every opportunity, or even make the opportunity. I speak with the Chinese cleaners, janitors, couriers, sales ladies, grand fathers, grand mothers, waitresses, taxi drivers.  Sometimes, I even mistakenly greet Filipino waiters in Mandarin.  🙂  Eh, Mukha kang Chinese, Kuya! 

Why gave myself a 6 months deadline?  Well, it’s a goal.  Goals must have a deadline right?  Actually, I read a study somewhere that it’s really possible to learn a new language in 6 months, even less.  So, I’m banking on that study; although I bet, they must be intensive lessons, like being married to a pure Chinese.  🙂

That’s all for now… Leave you with this beautiful Chinese proverb.

Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere…  学习是永远跟随主人的宝物 [學習是永遠跟隨主人的寶物] Xuéxí shì yǒngyuǎn gēnsuí zhǔrén de bǎowù]


Afternoon tea with my lovely Singaporean friend Carol, (Trainer).


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