Where to learn Mandarin in Singapore?

Chinese calligraphyWhether you just landed or are a born and bred Singaporean, if you see this post, chances are that you’re looking to learn Mandarin in Singapore. What’s the best place?

Actually, there isn’t one best choice to recommend everyone. It depends on many factors.

The Chinese courses directory on Yago allows you to narrow down the options based on the type of course (full-time, part-time, private, online) and location (East, Central etc.).

But how to decide what type of course? Or which school is more suitable? This post covers the most important things to think about when making a decision.

Factor 1: How much time do you have? What is your schedule?

When I arrived in Singapore in 2006, I came to live with my then girlfriend, now wife. I had no job offer, and as a recent graduate, it took me some time to secure a job.

I am really happy that at the time, I took up a full-time Mandarin course. It provided structure to my days, I got to meet interesting people right from day one, and in those first 5 months in Singapore, I laid the foundation for my Mandarin.

If you take Mandarin classes for 20 hours a week, you can get through the fundamentals in one swoop. In a few months, you achieve what would take years of part-time learning. If you’d even keep that up. At some point, slow progress becomes frustrating.

But however ideal full-time lessons are, if you have a job, you won’t have the time for that. In that case, part-time Mandarin courses are an option as long as you are able to really be there almost every lesson.

Factor 2: Are you a Singapore citizen or PR? Don’t miss out on the subsidies!

No matter whether you are a Malay, Chinese or even a PR (Permanent Resident – if you didn’t know what this means, you’re probably not a PR), and regardless of your existing level, you can join the  with up to 90% subsidy from SkillsFuture Singapore (the Government agency, not the grant).

First of all, there is the SkillsFuture credit, which as been given to all Singapore citizens (not to PRs) over 25 years of age. This S$ 500 credit can be used with almost all language schools to pay for the fees of the Mandarin course fully or in part.

Unless you’re a complete beginner, you’ll need to take the Business Chinese Test (BCT) (at highly subsidised rates as well) before you start. And again after you’ve completed the course.

Training centres offering the subsidised business Chinese course are:

Not a Singaporean or PR? Try these schools instead

Truth be told, if you aren’t eligible to receive the 70-90% subsidy, I would recommend that you consider other schools than just these large three. Without the subsidy, their prices are relatively high, especially if you consider that their class size is much larger than most smaller Mandarin language schools.

These small outfits are specialised in Mandarin and offer really good quality teaching at a reasonable price. And they may offer more convenient locations and schedules for you.

Yi Mandarin at Chinatown
Linda Mandarin in the CBD
Han Hai at Somerset MRT
Elite Linguistic at Bugis and Jurong East

Factor 3: What is your level?

If you’re a beginner or near beginner, you’re in luck. Basically any course will be a fit in terms of what is covered.

But it can be very tough to find out where to learn Mandarin in Singapore if you already speak at intermediate level or higher.

It’s not that there are no ongoing classes at higher levels. It’s that it’s hard to match your level. No matter what your level is, most classes will either be too difficult, or too easy for you.

So if you want to take a part-time course, make sure that the people in the class are of approximately the same level and have similar learning goals.

If your school is thorough in assessing your level and your needs, that’s definitely a good sign. Some language schools may say they can take on anyone at any level – don’t trust that, it may mean they’re just trying to sign up anyone to their courses. Better to request a trial lesson, or the ability to leave after a few classes.

Factor 4: Frequent traveler? Consider Private or online lessons

One language school owner told me aptly:

For the students who travel for work, the pattern is always the same. They start with enthusiasm, then they travel, and after that they stop the lessons.

An ongoing Private Chinese lesson

One-to-one Chinese lessons

With private Chinese lessons, you won’t be running to catch up what you missed in previous classes.

A private tutor can pick up where you left before your business trip. You may also be able to squeeze in more lessons if the tutor can be flexible about the day on which you take lessons.

The language trainer can generally meet you at a place that’s convenient for you (like your office), which will again help to free up time to squeeze in an extra lesson here and there.

Private Chinese lessons are expensive in Singapore – experienced teachers generally charge upwards of S$ 70 per hour.

A more affordable option would be TUTOROO (starting at S$ 40/hour) which matches native Mandarin speakers with Chinese learners directly on WhatsApp. Send them a message, and they will suggest a reliable tutor who can meet you at your preferred place and time. You can have a WhatsApp conversation before deciding on a trial lesson.

Factor 5: Can your employer get subsidy for your language courses?

If your learning Mandarin has relevance for your job, consider asking your employer to pay for the lessons. At times, companies can get subsidies or tax incentives that individuals can’t.

If your company isn’t going to pay for your course fees and you can’t afford private lessons, you can still get private lessons at a fraction of the cost … if you’re OK to take them through Skype. Learning Chinese online also gives you the added flexibility of taking lessons whenever you have time, wherever you are.

In conclusion

I’ve tried to cover the most important considerations when choosing a Mandarin course in Singapore.

If I have missed out on a question that is on your mind, please leave a comment below! I’ll answer as well as I can. It’ll not only be helpful to you, but also to others who are facing this question.

About Guus Goorts

Guus has traveled widely and has lived in The Netherlands, Ghana, Belgium and Singapore. In descending order of fluency, he speaks Dutch, English, Mandarin, German and some rudiments of Spanish, French and Italian. Guus lives in Singapore with his wife and two young children. He settled in Singapore in early 2006 from his native country The Netherlands. After working in a job for corporate training, he founded Yago Languages, Singapore's guide to language learning.