Mandarin is an asset in market for skills

16th January 1998 at 00:00
MALAYSIA. Seven-year-old pupils at Puay Chai School, Kuala Lumpur, just back at school for the new academic year, have already stolen a march on their contemporaries. During the six-week break enjoyed by the rest of the country's children, they spent three hours every morning studying in Mandarin.

With China - the world's biggest market - such a short distance away, Malaysians regard a knowledge of Mandarin as an asset in business.

However, although many Puay Chai parents are professionals with Chinese origins, they were educated in English and do not speak Mandarin at home. Even fewer of them can write it - learning the 2,000 or so characters is a laborious process that needs to be started young.

The children worked from 9am to noon, every day. As well as studying Mandarin, they had classes in mathematics and singing. All classes were taught in Mandarin.

Puay Chai primary school's special programme has been running for three years. The 2,800-strong school had an intake of 590 children into Standard One this term. Of these, 400 had completed the optional four-week tuition course.

The teacher of one class of 40, Madame Saw Mei, said she finds that at first few of the children can write any Mandarin characters at all and she aims to teach them 30 or 40 before the course is over. They learn simple, basic words such as the names of colours and how to give directions.

Like the children, Madame Saw Mei seemed unconcerned at losing a large part of her holiday. "I don't mind," she said, "it makes it easier for them to catch up. It's good for the kids."

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today