What To Expect When Learning Mandarin

Learn Chinese Singapore

Learning a new language can be hard. But knowing what to expect beforehand can make even the slightest difference in learning.

If you intend to learn Chinese in Singapore, here’s what you should expect:


As you may or may not already know, Mandarin is a tonal language. This means that for every word you speak, you will have to bear in mind each word’s tone. Each of the 5 tones gives a word a different meaning. Mandarin has a total of four basic tones and a fifth neutral tone.

Take the word ‘ma’ for an example. It means mother in the first tone, means ‘numb’ in the second, ‘horse’ in its third and ‘to scold’ in the fourth.


One great thing about Mandarin Chinese is that many of its symbols are pictographic. So, 山 means mountain and it looks like a mountain. This makes them slightly easier to remember or identify.

Other examples are 一, 二, 三, which stand for one, two and three respectively.

The third main type of Mandarin symbols is determinative-phonetics, which are combinations of pictograms and phonetics. So, for instance, you have the determinative ‘木’ which stands for tree/wood. Anything associated with this symbol is wooden. When paired with ‘每’, which means ‘every/each’, the resultant compound word is ‘plum’ or ‘梅’. However, when paired with ‘反’, which means ‘to turn over’, the resultant compound word is ‘board’ or ‘板‘

Other types of symbols are combined ideographs, transfer characters and loan characters which you will come across in due time.


In many languages, such as English, you must have proper syntax (typically Subject-verb-object) for what you are saying or writing to make sense. In Mandarin, the sentences are more focused on the topic and changing the order of the words will change its meaning. If you are confused here is an example. The phrase “ni hao ma” means, “how are you?” in English, but when the syntax changes to “ma ni hao”, the sentence will mean“Mother, you are great”.


Mandarin is especially difficult for Westerners who are not used to hearing or writing the language. Like most new things in life, it will take a lot of practice to learn Chinese language, especially when it comes to pronunciation, tone, writing the characters and grasping all the concepts that make up the language. However, in time you will find that it becomes easier. If you are practicing consistently, you will soon be able to have entire conversations in Mandarin.


Nobody is perfect and we all make mistakes. So sometimes you might use the wrong tone and make a mistake during a conversation or even write a symbol completely wrong. Some of the students in your Mandarin course in Singapore may snicker but don’t be discouraged. That’s okay. What matters is that you learn from your mistakes and get even better.

Knowing what to expect really goes a long way when it comes to learning Mandarin. Good luck!

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