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So you’ve decided that you want to move to Asia to study the Chinese language and while researching the best cities and schools, Google throws a gazillion results back at you, all based in China or Taiwan. However, did you know that Chinese (Mandarin) is also an official language of cosmopolitan, multi-lingual Singapore? Historically overshadowed in the field of Chinese language education by the traditional Chinese speaking areas, Singapore has been slowly establishing itself as a major player in the increasingly competitive field of Chinese language education. Here are 9 reasons why Singapore is an ideal place to begin your Chinese language studies!
Reason 1: High level of safety and security
One of the biggest concerns for foreigners moving to a new country is crime and how to avoid becoming a victim. Unlike the other Chinese-speaking countries, there are absolutely no dangerous neighborhoods to avoid in Singapore! Ranked the safest Asian country in 2017 by the World Justice Project, ahead of even Japan, Singapore is so safe that you can walk into a dimly lit back alley (although you would be hard-pressed to find one) drunk without having to worry the slightest bit about getting mugged!
With no need to worry about crime, whether you intend to party every night, chat up locals to practice your Mandarin, or explore the local neighborhoods, you can put in a hundred percent effort without having to worry about personal safety.
Reason 2: Chinese Language Proficiency of the Population
Singaporean Chinese make up approximately 70% of the population and of these, and as of 2015, 46% speak Mandarin as a native language, with the remaining 54% learning Chinese as a second language as part of the public school curriculum starting from 7 years of age. While the number of Mandarin native speakers might seem low compared to the China and Taiwan, these figures actually present the Chinese language learner with an amazing opportunity!
On the one hand, almost half the Chinese population are Mandarin native speakers who can supply you with natural expressions, idioms and vocabulary commonly used in the Sinosphere. On the other hand, those who learn Mandarin as a second language are more likely to speak more slowly and be able to help you find Mandarin equivalents for your English thoughts, as they have gone through the language learning process themselves.
For those who have a strong preference for the Standard Putonghua accent of China, you would be glad to know that Singapore’s economic strength has recently attracted a large wave of Chinese migrants from China and Taiwan, both permanent and temporary, who work in all sectors of Singaporean society, and who are usually more than happy to help non-Chinese speakers with their language!
Reason 3: Cultural Diversity
In many parts of Asia, especially China, if you look the slightest bit non-local, you will get besieged by curious locals trying to sell you something or take photos with you. Even the least aggressive locals may stare and whisper at you for uncomfortably long periods of time. For those of us without nerves of steel that prefer to blend in with the crowd, racially diverse and cosmopolitan Singapore might be the ideal learning destination.
Whether you rent an apartment downtown or out in the suburbs, Singaporeans are so used to seeing unfamiliar faces that your foreign face will most probably blend in perfectly with the locals. If you want a comfortable environment for practicing Mandarin without feeling like an exhibit on display, you would feel like a normal person in Singapore!
Reason 4: Patience with errors
Relating to the above two points, native speakers of Mandarin are usually overjoyed that a non-Chinese speaker has shown interest in their “difficult” language and will willingly lend a hand when asked. You might even hear, “Your Mandarin is really good!”, even if all you can do is stutter, “Ni Hao Ma?”.
Non-native speakers will probably be less flattering with their appraisals of your Chinese level, but given the friendly nature of Singaporeans, they will still support you when they can, so don’t be shy about striking up a conversation in Mandarin with a local Chinese!
Reason 5: There’s so much going on!
As one of the major entertainment hubs of Southeast Asia, Singapore has a wealth of events taking place at any given time. A quick search on Meetup.com, Eventbrite or the National Library Board’s event page will easily turn up more than a twenty events happening on any given day! Whether you are looking for language exchanges to practice your languages, programming groups to further your craft, education workshops to learn something new, social events to make new friends, or an art exhibition to spark the creative soul in you, there is bound to be something happening everyday that will suit your interest!
If nothing strikes your fancy, there are still many tourist sites for you to explore in between your language studies! Mainstream sites include the award-winning National Zoo, Clarke Quay, and many other hot spots, which can be found on the Singapore Tourism Board website. If you are feeling more adventurous and want to head off the beaten track, talk to your Singaporean friends into going ghost hunting with you at Bukit Brown Cemetery before the land gets completely redeveloped by the government in the next few years, or stop by Lorong Buangkok, the last functioning village in Singapore, to have a look at how Singaporeans used to live in the 1960s.
There will be many events happening in between your classes, so take part in them and get a dose of local culture together with your Chinese language studies!
Reason 6: A different culture is a hop, a jump and a skip away
With a favorable location right smack in the middle of Southeast Asia, Singapore enjoys excellent connections to major cities around the region. Fancy having enjoying a full-body massage and high tea in Malaysia or Indonesia, where prices are almost 3 times cheaper than Singapore? You can easily hop across the causeway to Johor Bahru by bus in less than an hour, no matter where you are on the island. If you fancy something further afield, both Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and Batam, Indonesia, are around an hour away by plane and ferry respectively! You can even get back in time for dinner if you leave in the morning!
Of course, the developing economies of Southeast Asia offer more than just cheap shopping, with histories and cultural practices spanning thousands of years! With direct flights that get you to all the major cities in the region in less than 3 hours, you can easily plan your weekends around exploring a different culture each time! Go rock climbing in Krabi, Thailand one weekend and explore the highland aboriginal culture of Vietnam the next! If you want to keep your travels language-focused, the Malaysian Chinese living on the West Coast of Peninsular Malaysia are also well-known for their linguistic prowess!
Reason 7: Strict rules and checks on private education providers
All privately operated educational institutions are required by law to be registered with the Committee for Private Education (CPE), a government agency under the Ministry of Education of Singapore, with the aim of increasing the standard of education provided by these institutions, and protecting the interests of enrolled students.
As long as an educational institution has a CPE logo with a registration number, you can rest assured that your school will not disappear overnight, along with your tuition fees!
Reason 8: Great transportation infrastructure
Singapore is well-connected by the public transportation system, which operates regular buses and trains from around 6 a.m to 11.30 p.m, serving every possible point of interest on the island. If you are out late, night buses run between major neighbourhoods and can get you home for cheap, although routes are invariably circuitous.
In addition, due to the unpredictable tropical weather, many pathways between major buildings, bus stops and subway stations are sheltered, which are great for helping you stay dry and happy during your daily commute to school!
Reason 9: Go from basic Chinese to teaching Chinese
There are many Chinese language schools around in Singapore with a curriculum that will take you from a complete beginner to a fairly advanced speaker. However, what if you want to take your studies even further and actually teach Chinese in your home country? Most people would automatically assume that you would have to further your studies in China or Taiwan, but did you know that Nanyang Technological University, one of the top 50 universities in the world, has prestigious degree programs specially for aspiring Chinese as a Second Language teachers?
For those who can only commit for a shorter period of time, both the Confucius Institute and the National Institute of Education provide diploma programs in teaching Chinese as well!
An Emerging Chinese Education Destination
If you are looking to study the Chinese language in a cosmopolitan, multi-cultural city, consider starting your studies in Singapore! Your classroom time will be well-spent using Chinese to discuss not only Chinese culture, but also the diverse, rich and fascinating cultures of Southeast Asia as well!