Why Learn Mandarin in Tropical Asia - Penang

June 13, 2012


Mandarin Chinese education at a 5 star school in Penang

Some people have asked why we choose tropical Penang, Malaysia as a place to immerse our child in Mandarin in Asia rather than China. There are many reasons and advantages in doing this.

"If the 19th century belonged to Britain, and the 20th century to the United States, then the 21st century  will surely belong to China. My advice: Make sure your kids learn Chinese." Jim Rogers

"Malaysia is the only country outside mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau to have a complete Chinese-medium education system." Wikipedia

Some think it's strange and have criticized us, but so did they when we sold our California dream home at peak in 2005, retired early and started our open ended family world trip in 2006. We like our out-of-the-box thinking and lifestyle and it seems to work for us. This is why we usually ignore such criticism:

"To avoid criticism do nothing, say nothing, be nothing". - Hubbard

I had never heard of Billionaire Jim Rogers when I was raising my baby as a trilingual in Mandarin, Spanish and English in 2000 when she was born. He thinks we all need to learn Mandarin. Is he raising his global kids (who are learning to read, write and speak fluent Mandarin) in China?  Nope! He is raising them in English-speaking Singapore and sending them to Chinese schools there. The five star Mandarin schools in Penang are just as good BUT living costs and school costs are MUCH less.

Learning Mandarin with friends in Asian Chinese school


Penang is not a Mandarin led environment, English is also more common here than much of Europe, but it is a fantastic place to immerse in Mandarin reading, writing & speaking through the local Chinese schools ( which ARE Mandarin led environments). Most expats in Taiwan, Shanghai ( where Mandarin is NOT the local home language) and  Beijing only speak English. I've read quite a few disasters of travel bloggers unhappily visiting China and NOT successfully learning Mandarin, which makes me even happier that we chose this route. No one is going to be deeply fluent in Mandarin in a short visit.

If one is just wanting a little conversational Mandarin, then perhaps visiting a Mandarin speaking area of China is better (yet hard to get long stay visa's there, not to mention the expense in the cities, severe pollution, firewall, bad weather and primative conditions in the rural areas).  BUT if you want your child to be fluent as a native in reading, writing and speaking Mandarin, I don’t think you can do better than an all Mandarin local school in Penang like we have our child in. Of course, we will also supplement this with some time in China as well, but life is MUCH easier and cheaper in Penang than Chinese cities. It's not a perfect solution, but I am not sure there is such a thing as a perfect solution, at least not for everyone.

Two thirds of the students at my daughter's school in Penag are local Chinese Malay, but one third are foreign students from all over Asia who come to learn Mandarin, so they start with a foundation class the first year. I've met many foreign Asian seniors who came to this high school not knowing Mandarin or English and leave, fluent in both as they graduate. ( Many of these kids live in the dorm at the school).

Just like in her school in Spain, our child is getting the exact Mandarin reading and writing curriculum that the locals get starting in first grade, using the same books and materials. That is a BIG advantage for an older child, rather than being just thrown in at high shool grade level with kids who have been speaking Mandarin from birth and reading and writing it from Kindergarten. She is now at about a third grade level at reading and writing and does very well conversationally. (She will complete the entire Primary School curriculum, 1st through 6th grade by spring 2014).



I am not talking about place-based immersion for Chinese conversational skills but I’m talking about School-based Mandarin immersion for total literary fluency as strong as an educated Mandarin native. The conversational part of Mandarin is the easy part, knowing how to read and write it well too, is another thing altogether and takes time.

Proficiency in face-to-face communication doesn’t imply proficiency in more complex academic language needed in a classroom or in life. My friend ( linguist and fluent Mandarin speaker living in China) John at Sinosplice explains the 5 stages of learning Chinese well. I am not sure if she will get to the tippy top level, as most live long years in China, married to a Chinese spouse to get that, but we shoot to get as close to that as possible in childhood and she can increase what ever she wants in languages when older.

Our whole purpose of being in Asia is to immerse deeply in Mandarin and Chinese culture, so of course we are geared towards that experience where our child is daily immersed with everyone speaking, reading, writing Mandarin. Our PRIMARY purpose for our travel is educating our child, immersing deeply in her  three languages ( adding bits of others) and time to bond as a family. Yes, she could learn Mandarin at home, but the experiences are so much more rich here and we can live large on much less money which gives us more time together.

It worked wonderfully in Spain with Spanish, so she is working hard now to increase her Mandarin reading and writing. I really don't see the point in family long term travel without the kids learning languages deeply ( in childhood when it is easy). You can't really know another culture without knowing the language. Plus having different "homes" around the world, gives her stability. If this is the Asian century, it's a great thing for her to know Asia and Asians well and Penang is a fabulous base for that ( as well as understanding Islamic life in deeper ways).

view from our luxury home in Penang


When we look at a long stay for language that we will return to over many years ( as we did in Spain.. which then becomes one of our "homes" around the world),  we want to also pick a place that is very comfortable for all of us, not polluted, friendly to expats, good weather, low cost but luxurious, lots of organic and healthy food,  open government and warm people plus very enriching on many different levels. Malaysia is VERY expat friendly and the only place in Asia where one can buy landed property.

Of course, we will spend time in Mandarin- speaking China as well, but this is a more logical base for us now. Many say the Chinese community here is much more friendly and there is great adaptibility because it is just one of three cultures here and many different foreigners. Since we parents don't speak Mandarin, we want her reading, writing and speaking level very strong before putting us all into an isolated, sink or swim,  all-Mandarin environment in China with no English available and much harsher conditions.

working at home on a school project with kids from her Mandarin school in Asia


Malaysia is known to be a country of 3 cultures ( Malay, Chinese & Indian) and that is true in Penang as well, but perhaps this info from wikipedia will clarify why we picked UNESCO World Heritage site Georgetown, Malaysia for Mandarin and why it is so very Chinese in many ways.

“Penang was long the only state in Malaysia where ethnic Chinese formed a plurality…Nevertheless, the Chinese remain more visible because most of them live in the urban areas. Penang is still the state with the most percentage of Chinese……in Malaysia as a whole, the majority of ethnic Chinese speak Mandarin as their first language”

The malls and areas that we go to, one sees about 98% Chinese or Asian. The largest malls here have huge bookstores filled with Chinese and English books with Chinese families & kids reading them. We purposely seek out the Chinese culture as that is our mission here. Also many Malays do not speak English, so we find it easier to connect deeply with more of the Chinese Malaysians and Indian Malaysians.

Friends who have lived in China and here, tell me there is a MUCH larger selection of books in Mandarin Chinese ( for kids and adults) here than any where they saw in China. The Chinese community in Penang, is VERY motivated in teaching their kids to be fluent in Mandarin and English ( as well as Malay). Many do also speak the Hokkien dialect ( similar to Taiwanese) or Cantonese ( like in Hong Kong), but all seem to speak or read and write in Mandarin because it is favored ( and Hokkien has no written language).

A Mandarin doodle in kidlet's notebook means LOVE in Chinese

The government says Malay is the dominant language, but the reality is different in our experience here in Georgetown as English seems dominant (and it was a  British colony until 1957). There is certainly MUCH more English here than we ever saw in Europe ( which is a bit of culture shock for us now after so many years touring Europe). Most signage is in English as well as Malay and Mandarin. This makes things like shopping and going to movies VERY easy here, so much easier than most of our European travels.

Also from wikipedia:
“The Malaysian Chinese have traditionally dominated the Malaysian economy with more than 90% of the commercial shops in urban areas being owned by the Chinese. The Chinese household income is the highest among the 3 ethnic groups.”

"90% of Chinese children in Malaysia enroll into Mandarin-medium primary schools and Many Chinese educated Malaysian Chinese families have taken to speaking Mandarin with their children due to the notion that other Chinese dialects are growing increasingly redundant in an era where Mandarin is increasing in importance. This has led to the emergence of a community of young Chinese who are fluent in Mandarin but unable to speak their native Chinese dialect, understand but do not speak it, or prefer not to speak it in public.”

America kid enjoying  a Chinese school in Asia


In order to immerse deeply in Mandarin ( reading, writing and speaking) or any language, it takes many years of effort ( especially if one wants to be equal to a native speaker which is our goal with her 3 dominant languages). Without going to an all Mandarin school here,and deliberately working consciously to improve one’s Mandarin, Penang would be less optimal than an area where it is only spoken in China. BUT, if one uses an all Mandarin school here and focuses on learning the language, we find it a superior place for many reasons to immerse in the language as well as Chinese culture.

Is it perfect? No it's not and I don't think anything is, especially for someone like us who have an unschool/homeschool/freedom priority to our philosophy and value system. We are just making this up as we go, learning by doing. We didn't know anyone else who world schooled as we are doing in Spain or Malaysia ( combined with months of homeschooling as we travel).  We didn't even know that it could be done and we are the first Caucasians at this school. We are not billionaires like Jim Rogers, but ordinary folks living on $23/day per person trying to make the best choices for our child.

It was actually MUCH harder to find a school here in Malaysia than it was in Spain. We would have preferred to put her in a primary school when we arrived rather than skipping her 3 grades and putting her in a 1000 kid, 30 acre high school at ten. The primary schools in Malaysia do not accept foreign students unless the families are working here or own property. I wouldn't put my 10 year old in an American high school, but this strict school feels very safe, wholesome and like a school from the fifties without the drugs, sex, make up, or mean girls.

We didn't know how the schools worked here  until we arrived and tried to do it, so we kept looking until we found a solution. We knew these challenges might be a possibility and we were open to just hiring a tutor and in fact did that our first few months because the school year here runs from January to November ( something we also did not know until arrival).

There are many quality international schools here, but I don't see the point in that for our language purposes, nor do we want the international school "bubble". ( Unlike the Chinese school kids, they don't speak Mandarin or Malay). Her courses in English are the same also at a much lower price. She is the only native English speaker in her school, so for us one of the biggest downsides is the English courses.( I am going to attempt to get her out of them and add more Mandarin instead).

Unlike Spain, most of the teachers are at least bilingual ( Mandarin and English) as are most of the students, so she talks and socializes in more English than what I'd prefer. ( BUT, she still talks mostly in Mandarin there as it is the dominant language for most of the kids and teachers and she also spoke some English while in Spain with the expat kids at the school there).That is the biggest downside, but I am afraid the same downside would happen in many parts of China as well ( as most expat kids speak English there as well. It's the relationships with the expat kids that are the challenge, not the locals).

We were very nervous on her first day at school here at 10 as we were for her first day of school in Spain at just 6. We prepared her for the challenges and hoped for the best and knowing that we could always pull her out if it didn't work. So far, now into our second year here,  it seems to be working well and as long as it works we will continue. Mozart enjoys her friends, the social things like choir, earth day celebrations and English elocution contest, and the autonomy of handling herself in a large school with cafeteria and van. She even has friends here in Asia to talk Spanish to which is very,very rare in Asia.

Global kids trilingual  fun!


Her best girlfriends in her school are from Korea, Indonesia, Japan & Thailand ( as well as many local Chinese Penangites)  so this also adds a richness to visiting those countries, hearing those languages and appreciating multicultural and multilingual lives. She is also exposed to different religions here, many Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, Taoists and Hindus.

One of the advantages of school for a traveling kid is long term friendships. When we returned this year, after 10 months away homeschooling around the world, she lit up when we drove by her school and she said, "That's my school! Hang on, I am coming back!".

She does have friends in our building that she plays with daily after school and friends from our building last year, but because of the day to day interactions, she is closer to her school mates most of all. This is a big advantage that traveling unschool kids do not get, long term friends , and perhaps is one of the reasons she prefers to school here rather than just doing Mandarin with tutors.

friends in Asia mixing school friends and building friends


We don’t watch much TV, but there is a  Mandarin station  & it is just another way to immerse. On outings around town, my child also usually talks to the native Chinese here in Mandarin which pleases them and gives her even more practice. She can sing Mandarin Pop Karoke with friends at the mall.

There are also many Mandarin after-school programs and Chinese tutors that come to our home or at school for very little money that add to her immersion. We are bonding with other Chinese families through the school environment and our home environment here,  thus learn more about the culture first hand

Drawing friends at school


She is fluent already by some definitions and has spoken Mandarin from birth, but the all-Mandarin school will make sure her reading and writing levels are up to a high level. And the Chinese friends and culture here as well as in China will add value and experience to it all. She will not only know the language like a native, but the culture and exactly what a Mandarin native school-life is like from uniforms, to food, to holidays, to discipline masters, monitors, prefects & more.

We think it is an advantage for her that she knows what different schools are like on 3 continents as well as homeschooling when we travel the world. She is building a network of deep friendships around the world while learning firsthand about life on our earth and hopefully adding value to the people she befriends as well.

Mandarin Chinese school in Penang, Malaysia


We are truly enjoying the Malaysian experience, do not see it as a substitute for visiting China ( we’ll go there too) but grateful we have found a perfect place for *us* to immerse our child in Mandarin and Chinese culture in this tropical paradise and multi-cultural country.

Most western folks will not do this ( there is a reason she is the only Caucasian in the school & every Mandarin school we went to had no Caucasians & they as well as the Ministry of Education thought it VERY unusual that we would prefer to go to a Mandarin school instead of the international UK or US schools where the few Caucasians go).

Still, I take time to write this so it is a resource for others as well as a record for my daughter. I really didn’t know how ideal it was until we did it, so I just put the information here for those that might also have an interest. This seems to be a secret gem that few know about, so who knows maybe we will be accidental pioneers and trendsetters in this way as well.

boys walking the outdoor halls of our Penang Chinese school


Most kids here are multilingual and the Chinese kids do have to take English & Malay classes in school, but Mandarin is the strongest language and the one most used. Even in the English class at school the teacher talks in Mandarin some to help the kids learn English as a second language. All weekly assemblies are done in Mandarin and even our parents orientation was done in Mandarin.

It certainly is helpful to be in an environment where one must read, write, listen and speak continually in the language one is learning. The Mandarin school provides that for us here as well as many other things in the environment.

We have been working on raising a multilingual child since I was a long, involved goal for us monolingual parents, since kids can lose languages as easily as they pick them up. It was a lot of hard work & risk on our part, but it is working great so far and she has never known such sweet girls in school. We like the Principal, the Dean, the 70 year old Discipline Master and most of the people we have met at the school who seem to care deeply about what they do.

Passionate Principal at Penang Chinese school

Would you consider a Mandarin school abroad? Have you ever gone to a foreign school in another language or sent your kids? Is it crazy? Any questions for us?

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I have been thinking about this topic a lot lately so the post is much appreciated. If one cannot enroll kids in primary school, do you happen to know what is the situation for pre-k? Also, at the pre-k and kindergarten level, is it hard or impossible to find a play-based environment vs the notorious tiger-mom/drilling and memorization style (from what I read) apparently common in the Chinese culture? I would love to immerse my toddlers in an all Chinese environment for part of the day, but I cringe at the thought of harsher educational curricula, esp at this tender age. I would be interested in knowing your thoughts on the topic. Many thanks.


I enjoyed reading your very full account of the decisions you have made for your daughter's schooling; the rationale behind it and how you decided on her current school. I applaud your courage in making these decisions for your daughter, as I'm sure there must have been some soul-searching regarding the decisions and choices you have made. I will follow her progress in your blog with great interest, and I'm looking forward to seeing how this early multilingual immersion will impact on the choices she makes for herself as she moves towards adulthood.
Keep us posted :-) - it's very inspirational!


I really love this post :) What you mention here is spot on :) BTW I'm from Penang and currently in Australia, I strongly believe we are in the time where we can live anywhere in this world and be global citizen and it's only through this it we can see and understand this planet more thoroughly and understand things with much more clarity through all the different culture we encounter along the way.

Don't forget to learn to cook some local Malaysian dishes, , btw, have u try Laksa ?

Keep us updated on your progress, love reading your blog :)

Jeanne @soultravelers3

Since I don't have a preschool child, I don't really know much about those options Violeta. I do know there are lots of preschools and since the Chinese Malaysians want there kids to learn Mandarin, many preschools teach Mandarin.

I think it is like any where else you check out a bunch, sit in on the classes and then decide if it works for you.

We tried LOTS of different things when my child was that age in the USA and I can't say I was fully thrilled with ANY of them, so used a combo and change a lot.

You probably could find Mandarin only playgroups/mom and me groups etc too.

Any group learning environment is set for their standards to what is best for the group ( and profit) so your child will never get the ideal one to one ( even in the smallest schools or preschools) that you can give.

That said, you probably could find something that would work for you part time. Best to do this search on the ground.

Another thought is to hire a Mandarin speaking nanny or tutor which is easy to do here and cheap. ( We did this in preschool years for kidlet in Spanish while in the USA).

As you got to know other parents here ( Chinese and expats) you would get more info...through the always helpful parents grapevine and by asking lots of questions of locals.

There are also many "tuition schools" here to help kids learn many topics. We didn't find it that great for Mandarin though, so you'd have to hunt down the best one.

If you decide to make Penang a base, you could buy a place here cheaply ( rent it out when not here) and then you could use the Chinese primary schools. ( An option we have considered and could do).

I understand your points about the "tiger Mom" drill and kill overwork style for a young kid.

Being here long term, has opened our eyes to some of the good points of Chinese/Asian thinking and I think you can find a way to incorporate your values into this system.

Even the high school is not as strict as we first who have been in this system from birth..all normal. We find the kids kinder here too which says something of the culture and system I think.

So I think you have to play it by ear once here and make a system that works for you and your child/ren. ( Like you really need to do ANY where and with kids it is always changing).

Jeanne @soultravelers3

Thanks so much Elizabeth for your kind words. Making these kinds of decisions and forging a unique path is very challenging at moments, but it also has been so rewarding that it gives us courage to keep going.

We've been doing it so long ( in a careful and thought-out way) that I can already see how much it has benefited her no matter what she chooses in life.

But it will be interesting to see how her life unfolds. I hope she passes on some of this to her kids. Mostly I wish happiness for her and I think her exuberant personality will bring that her way. ;)

Jeanne @soultravelers3

Thanks so much Susan! I am honored to hear a 'spot on" from someone native to Penang!

Oh yes, can one come to Penang and not try the Laksa? ;)

Cool that you are in Oz and I obviously, so agree with your point about raising global it is easier today than ever before and benefits them so!

My cooking here definitely has an Asian twist to it and I am still learning lots of new foods...even new fruits and veggies! ;) Looks like you have lots of cool Malaysian recipes I will have to try. ;)


Many thanks for the reply, Jeanne. All valid points and good reminders. We are pondering which base to set up first, considering the very young age of our children, budget, language priorities, etc. At first, Europe seemed the no-brainer choice for us, and certainly the most comfortable one. But lately we have been tempted by rocking the boat and try Asia first. Your post has helped tilt the balance in Asia's favor :-).

Jeanne at soultravelers3

Smart thinking Violeta! We sometimes wish we had started here...even though it doesn't appeal to us as much as Europe..because getting Mandarin is harder than getting Spanish.

You also have the BIG advantages of both parents being fluent in most of the romance languages so you can continue that while the young kids get Mandarin.

Hubs little bit of Spanish was a big help to us in Spain and smart for us in many ways to ease into this lifestyle.

There is a small group of Spanish speakers here who get together, so you could probably find that with other languages as well.

20/20 hindsight? .. Heavy immersion of Mandarin as a baby and young child is *extremely* valuable and the easiest way to get it. We did it, but wish we did it more.

The hard part of Mandarin by far is the writing though and that just takes time. BUT early start will help that.

The weak point here is there is sooo much chinglish/minglish really. So it will take conscious effort ( like any where).

I've seen some waste this opportunity while in Penang with young kids and seems a shame.

The next generation will be far ahead with Mandarin and a comfort with Asia and Asian culture.

You can always do Europe or mix the two or more "bases". I think having a few bases works best for families and one understands a place better by long stays and returning ( good for friendships for kids too).

Happy planning! When do you think you will do it?


What a wonderful comprehensive post on Mandarin. Makes me want to do this! I only learned a few basic words in Mandarin on my short to visit China, but they took me a long way.


Thanks for the encouragement, we are thinking along the same lines. Interestingly enough, but not surprising, my daughter's first words were in Chinese and she seems to show a preference for Mandarin over other languages spoken to her a lot more than this one. It is not surprising though since Mandarin is a tonal language and has so many one syllable or one sound words, easier for a baby to pronounce. It is however getting harder and harder for us to continue her exposure to Mandarin and it will be much harder in Europe. On the other hand, it will require no expense and a little effort to continue with English and at least one Romanesque language in Asia. Our family and friends will be very disappointed, but Asia seems a smarter choice right now. Plus our money should take us a lot further there and that tilts the balance heavily in that favor as well. If I can get over the concern for the health care system and my fear of insect bites on 2 toddlers, I think the choice would be obvious. As far as when we do the jump, oh well, I say not soon enough. For now, we will wait for our son to be born, see how he is doing, and then start making definitive plans, sell the house, etc. Many thanks, again.

Jeanne @soultravelers3

Sounds like your daughter is telling you something, Violeta! ;) Mozart also first spoke in Spanish which she heard much less of which surprised us...but I do think both are probably easier to speak than English in the beginning as you mention.

It will be MUCH cheaper in Penang and your friends/family from Europe will have a lovely warm place to visit you in the winter! ;) Air Asia sometimes has cheap flight deals to Europe and back.

We find the health care pretty similar to most of Europe, so I wouldn't worry about that. They have a great Children's hospital here that we like with good MD's.

Bring natural bug repellent, but I wouldn't worry to much about that either. Surprisingly, we have not run into many bugs here ( and they do spray every week). We close up everything when they spray outside, and I hate it on one level, but it keeps the bugs low and Dengue Fever.

We sleep with our windows open no screens every night and never get bites.

I have recently heard that Apple Tree and Penang Chinese Kindergarten are places in Penang that teach Mandarin to little ones and I am sure there are a ton more.

Happy Planning! I hope you arrive before we leave! I know someone here who had a fab OB and a waterbirth here! ;)


Hi Jeanne

Soultravelers3 is an inspiration! I have spent over an hour reading your blog and admire your commitment and courage. Mozart is an amazing young lady - very talented and she looks genuinely happy. You must be so proud.

We are a family of 4 who live in Penang. We arrived 10 months ago from Sydney, Australia. My two small boys (aged 3 and 5) go to a Chinese kindergarden (The Learning Garden, which I throughly recommend) and have settled in very well.

Recently we bought a Chinese Shophouse (exciting and daunting renovation!) in Georgetown and anticipate we will be in Penang for up to 6-8 years.

This post was really helpful, thank you so much. Looking ahead, i would like to investigate suitable Mandarin-medium primary school and suitable tutors. I would love your advice on where to start.

Thank you for your time and Penang is a small island so if I see you on the streets I hope you don't mind if I say hello?!

I look forward to hearing more about your adventures.


PS.. thanks for the tip on Reflections.. I haven't heard of it so we'll be sure to drop by!

Jeanne @soultravelers3

Aw, thanks Dot for your kind words and glad you found us! Just use our contact page to leave us a message as it goes direct to my gmail account.

Sounds like you are on an inspiring adventure yourselves!

I haven't put the name of our school online just as a bit of a security thing, although the security at the school seems excellent. Husband had a heck of a time taking her out one day when she was sick and there is a 24/7 guard and locked gate there.

Lots of local Primary Chinese schools though and most have vans so I'd pick the one you like most after looking at a few. Email me for more.

Glad to hear you like the Learning Garden & thanks for adding that info here. I'd ask around ( Chinese families) or talk to the teachers who do tuition classes often at places nearby the schools in the afterschool programs. Most of the teachers also due tutoring for extra easy to find tuition from the schools.

Would love to meet sometime! So happy to hear you like the Relections organic restaurant tip...great peeps! We'd go more, but it is not easy to get there by bus for us. I will be writing more about organic sources that we are finding.

Happy we found each other!


if you really want to immerse the Manderin, you have to choose the north China for your China stay. You know the Shanghai and Canton(HongKong) dont speak the standard Mandarin. there is only Beijing, anbd some other cities in Dongbei(North East China) can fit your requests.

Jeanne @soultravelers3

Thanks dear Winser! I will find the perfect place to immerse on her holidays in China! Then I will meet you too! ;)

Micah S

Just want to note that saying 'Mandarin is not the local language in Shanghai' is a misrepresenation. My daughters have spent all of their life here and know basically no Shanghainese, and likewise for myself. You can also ask John P how much Shanghainese he has been compelled to learn. The older locals are always complaining that the younger kids can't speak enough/correct Shanghainese, ie they are losing it. As somebody said in the comments on the Economist article, the huge influx of domestic immigrants in the last 30 years has pushed Shanghainese back and made Mandarin the true lingua franca of this city.

Also, Shanghainese-accented Mandarin is very close to neutral Mandarin, even more so than Taiwanese or southern mainland Mandarin. The idea that Dongbei is the only place to learn a neutral Mandarin accent is a myth that should be squashed. Cheers,

Micah S

Also, I love your weblog. I'm reading back through the old posts, and it's been inspiration/challenging.

Jeanne @soultravelers3

Thanks Micah, I love all the different opinions about learning Mandarin.

I was actually told that about Shanghai ( and Taiwan) from people who lived there..but I have no personal experience as yet, so appreciate your input.

What I have seen often is people tend to have a real prejudice view on where they are from or learned it.

This makes it a very difficult decision for someone who doesn't know the language.

Perhaps because of all the Mandarin schools and importance of it, all the other dialects are fading more and more.

I know here that is the case. The kids all speak Mandarin as there primary language because of the Chinese schools.

Glad you are enjoying our blog!

aileen vincent

Thank you so much for all of the above info. I would like to ask which school your daughter went to for elementary. Do you need special visa to stay in Malaysia less than a year. Where can I find school requirements for Penang schools.


Jeanne @soultravelers3

You are welcome Aileen, glad to help. I don't put the name of my daughter's school online now, but will when we leave.

We mostly homeschool my daughter, but she did some elementary in California and then 4 winters ( about 5 months each) at a small local school in southern Spain ( we homeschooled the other months).

We had planned on putting her into an elementary school here, but that was a challenge since we do not work here in Malaysia or own a 2nd home here. Explained why here:

So she went from 4th grade in Spain at 9 years old to 7th grade in Malaysia at barely 10.

One can stay in Malaysia for 3 months ( most nationalities like American and European, I don't know about all) on a tourist visa ( and it is also easy to go to Thailand for the day and get a 3 month extention...called a visa run).

If one is in school, they can also help you with a long term visa for the whole family.

I imagine one can find the school requirements online somewhere but it is easiest to do this here.

Good luck!


Our family is currently living in Nanjing, China. We are on a career break while my husband and my 16 year old daughter attend Nanjing University to learn Chinese. We have three daughters who are adopted from China who are also learning the language through a personal tutor. Recently, we have been considering putting them in school part time. Living in Nanjing is not too expensive. Our 3 bedroom apartment is $550 USD /mo. and our utilities are about $158/mo. Food is much less expensive than the US, esp. if you don't shop at the import markets. Do you know of language training programs in Penang for adults?


Wow your daughter is very lucky. I'm a Malaysian and went to a Chinese independent school in Kuala Lumpur, which absolutely did not allow me to skip grades. I guess part of the reason is that because I'm a local, they're more accountable for my education.

Jeanne @soultravelers3

Thanks Anne, for the info. One can live here for about the same price or cheaper. I think the food safety and pollution issues are better here, but I haven't been to China yet, we are going in a few months!

I am not sure about what is available for adults here, but a friend of mine ( from Oz) is using this school here for her son:

(MUCH more expensive than our school).

Personal tutors are also cheap and very easy to find here for Mandarin ( and most anything). Every teacher here seems to do tutoring on the side. It is also easy to find students who speak Mandarin as their primary language to help kids ( we use a 15 year old neighbor some).

Hope that helps!

Jeanne @soultravelers3

Thanks Hilda and interesting! Actually there are some local Chinese here who also skipped grade too, so perhaps it is possible for anyone depending on the school, if they can do the work.

Tuttie Affandi


Do you offer Mandarin classes?

If yes, how do you charge?

Any private lesson?

Are you able to travel to my place?

Let me know.


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