What Pinoys Can Teach Chinoys About Learning Mandarin Chinese

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Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.
-Dale Carnegie

Yes, you read that right.

It does seem odd to hear Pinoys teaching Chinese to Chinoys, right?

Well, contrary to popular belief, most Chinoys, especially those born and raised in the Philippines, aren’t really fluent in Mandarin Chinese. We are usually pretty adept at the Chinese dialect – Hokkien. This is the dialect prevalent with the local Chinoy population who mostly came from the south of China.

For the past few years, China’s economy has been skyrocketing. This has created a surge of business and career opportunities which has caught the interest of many people around the world. The ability to take advantage of these opportunities is in one way or another, boosted by one’s ability to use Mandarin Chinese given that the majority of Chinese nationals are not very fluent in English.

This is one of the reason that prompted me to apply for the Gokongwei Brothers Foundation – China Scholarship Program to study Mandarin Chinese in China. I was fortunate enough to get into the program along with 39 others, most of whom are Filipinos with no Chinese blood nor with any sort of Mandarin Chinese background.

You’d think us Chinoys would have an advantage over our Pinoy counterparts. Well… yes and no.

Here is why.


It is an advantage for Chinoys in the sense that we were raised in a Chinese environment with early exposure to Mandarin Chinese along with familiarity in Chinese characters, pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary from school.

Notice! it’s familiarity not fluency.

So what’s the weakness in that?

Well… that same Chinese environment tend to have a rigid bias towards emphasizing academic achievement as opposed to holistic learning through extracurricular activities and social engagement.

High grades are the TOP priority while extracurriculars are the first one to go for any dip in ones grades, whether or not it is the actual cause usually doesn’t matter.

As a result, Chinoy students don’t usually get exposed to a whole lot of social activities and gatherings to engage different people. Social interactions are usually limited to one’s immediate environment.

Therefore the idea of going out of ones way to meet new friends and engage strangers in a conversation is not really part of a Chinoy’s arsenal. There are exceptions of course but majority of them typically fall into this criteria.


Language is simply a communication tool. Unlike trigonometry or biology which are highly specialized and technical, language is a living, breathing subject that could be easily inserted into your daily living.

Just look back at how we learned our native language in the first place. Isn’t it by constant practice and exposure?

Confidence in using a language is developed by non-stop learning and more importantly application in the social setting. This means practicing on a regular basis in terms of writing, listening, reading and more importantly speaking.

And since we have established that there is not a strong Mandarin speaking environment among the Pinoys and Chinoys, then the exposure and practice that we needed to get would be with the natives and our fellow foreign students.

And this my friends, is where Pinoys excel at.

Friendliness : Pinoy’s asset to language success


As I have mentioned, most of my co-scholars have no Chinese blood nor any background in Mandarin Chinese. Our classes were segregated according to our proficiency level. As you can imagine, Chinoys are mostly placed in the intermediate level while the Pinoys start off at the more basic levels.

This is in no way an indication of ones learning abilities but is just merely a starting point from which we could measure our progress.

Right off the bat, I could see the difference in approaches. Chinoys tend to carry their usual school habits. Participating in class, doing homeworks, studying for exams and getting good grades. This has led to expanded vocabulary, improved listening ability, stronger comprehension and more coherent writing.

These are definitely amazing improvements. But one glaring thing that I noticed was the fact that we still weren’t confident when it comes to speaking in Mandarin.

Save for some Chinoys who are at a different stratosphere already in Mandarin, most of us are still approaching it as an academic endeavor and are focusing more on the technical parts of grammar and vocabulary instead of exposing ourselves to real-life application of the language.

Pinoys on the other hand, though do share most of the academic habits with Chinoys, have a stronger bias towards social interaction. They would get all excited applying the new words they have just learned in real-life. Be it in shopping for things, dining out, getting lost, finding their way back, making new friends etc.


Pinoys are probably one of the most popular nationalities in school. A large part is due to the ability to speak in English plus the new working knowledge in Mandarin. But more importantly, it could be attributed to the Pinoy’s knack and eagerness to socialize with anyone.

In turn, creating plenty of opportunities to apply their freshly learned vocabularies among their new-found friends – locals, foreigners and teachers alike. Committing mistakes and having fun all at the same time.

This was all the more evident as we hosted the first Filipino Day at the Fudan University in Shanghai. The event was very well-attended by both local and foreign students. Among the attendees were representatives from Philippine Consul as well as officials from Fudan University.

Here are a few of the most memorable moments from the said event. On a more personal note, it was probably one of my most proudest moments to be a Filipino.

Filipino Day 2010 at Shanghai’s Fudan University
International students enjoying some traditional Filipino dancing with Kontra Gapi
International students rocking the Tinikling!
Having fun withTumbang Preso
Mixing it up with new friends

Anyway, going back to what we were talking about, Pinoy’s ability to learn, apply, commit errors and learn again is really fascinating. In so doing, a lot of them had a good grasp of the language within the short time alloted by the scholarship program (5 months).

Despite their rudimentary abilities when it comes to recognizing and writing Chinese characters and using proper grammar, the Pinoys were brave enough to start a conversation and gladly welcome anyone who would like to start one with them.

This allowed them to communicate effectively despite being beginners. They found ways to get their point across and were not afraid to make mistakes.


The ability to go out of one’s comfort zone and actually apply what he or she has learned. This is the only way to really assess one’s abilities and shortcomings.

It is also a great way to crystallize what you have already learned and transform these knowledge into second nature.

More importantly, it will make Chinoys a lot more comfortable and confident in actually using the language instead of packing so much information without actually field testing it.

Now, I’ll be realistic here, Chinoys can’t be as sociable and friendly as our fellow Pinoys instantly just by reading this blog post.

So here is just ONE actionable baby-step Chinoys can make to instantly get improved confidence and practice their Mandarin at the same time.

Find a language partner online.

Why? Here are 5 reasons:

1. Goodbye to Shy – You won’t need to have face to face conversation with them. You could start off just chatting through the keyboard before graduating to Skype calls.

2. It’s cheap – There are plenty of ways of finding a language partner for free. Plus, not anyone can go all the way to China and Taiwan just to practice right?

3. Convenient – You could learn from your own home at your own time at the pace that you want.

4. Mutual understanding – No, this is not the gray space between friendship and commitment. This means that you and your language partner are on the same boat.

Both of you are teachers and students at the same time. Your partner won’t make fun of your mistakes because chances are he will probably make the same mistake when his turn comes. So don’t fear ridicule, this is a healthy mutually beneficial relationship.

5. Network – You could eventually become genuine friends with your language partner. It’s always cool to have friends abroad especially if you are travelling to their place and vice versa.

Just simply go to sites like  www.italki.com or www.livemocha.com among others and find native Mandarin speakers who want to learn English or Filipino and ask them if you could do a langauge exchange with them.

Do you have your own advice on improving our confidence in speaking a new language? Please do share them. I’d love to hear them on the comments section below.

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About Allan

Allan writes about how to learn Mandarin Chinese on the side for fun and profit at his site Money in Mandarin.
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