“I know this! I just read it!” I groaned as Mr.Ang, my Mandarin instructor at YMCA snickered nonchalantly. He had just placed a flash card with one Chinese character on my desk. My mind was blank; I could not remember what the character meant.
For 2 hours every Monday and Wednesday, I’d attend Mandarin language classes at the YMCA-KL and try to make sense of the angry lines on my Mandarin work book. I’d be pronouncing every character with determination and failing miserably because my tongue was already used to the feel of English words.
I FINALLY completed 30 hours of Level 1 Mandarin classes at the YMCA-KL!! Seeing my certificate of attendance, I couldn’t be prouder of myself for trying to break out of a comfort zone. I almost didn’t make it to the last class because my car battery decided to die on me. I had to use Uber and Grab to get there. It costs an extra RM30 but it was worth it. (I used Stupid’s credit card to pay for it anyway, nyaha!)
Why I decided to finally learn Mandarin.
Here’s a little background: I don't speak Mandarin. I can grasp a few words but never enough to coherently form a grammatically correct sentence.
My mother is Eurasian and my father: Cantonese Chinese who attended an English stream school. He never learnt Mandarin. I grew up speaking English because my brothers and I were brought up by my mother. My father worked a lot when we were young and even when he was home we didn’t speak in Chinese.
Growing up, I was in an environment where English and Malay were the predominant language. Cantonese and Mandarin existed only when I went back to Taiping to visit my grandparents or while watching Stephen Chow movies. That wasn’t motivation enough for me to pick up Mandarin. Besides, it always fell flat on my ears. I just couldn’t distinguish the different sounds.
And then I entered secondary school where I had my first real taste of a Mandarin dominated environment. Majority of the school spoke in Mandarin, having come from a Chinese stream school previously. But my classes were still predominantly English and Malay, so I could still ignore Mandarin.
When I entered college, my environment was predominantly Chinese again and this time everyone in class spoke in Mandarin despite the school preaching about how they value the usage of English. I was miserable because that meant I couldn’t speak to anyone. I tried to pick up a few words but my rubbish pronunciation usually got laughed at and made fun of.
I felt hurt and the language left a terrible impression on me. I got annoyed when anyone came to speak to me in Mandarin because I saw it as them being ignorant that I obviously couldn’t speak in Mandarin. I got tired of explaining that:
1. I’m mixed race, I follow three different cultures in my family, so don’t make me feel guilty for not knowing Mandarin and “forgetting my roots”.
2. I was never in an environment that was conducive to my Mandarin education.
3. I just don’t want to be laughed at when I try again.
And I continued to repeat these reasons automatically whenever anyone asked. But there will come a time when repeated reasons slowly morph into excuses. I was no longer in secondary school or college, who was going to laugh at me now? I was repeating the answers, I was sounding robotic, egoistical and proud. The only person stopping me from knowledge now was me.
What was learning Mandarin at YMCA-KL like?
With the enthusiastic support from Stupid, I started researching places where I could study the Mandarin language. I came across those that charged hourly and found those expensive. I was interested but not highly motivated to pay so much. Also, most classes were for kids, and I was looking for Mandarin classes that had a focused syllabus for working adults. (Shit, I’m an adult.)
And then I found YMCA-KL! It was like hitting jackpot. They have a huge selection of languages to learn! Priced at RM260 for 30 hours over two months for beginners? I was sold. I just needed a YMCA Membership which costs me RM80 for the first year of membership.
The only thing that got me worried was the location. It’s at Padang Belia, Brickfields, a notoriously congested city in the middle of Kuala Lumpur. Although there’s always public transport, it would take much longer to get to YMCA compared to the 20-30 minutes driving time during non-peak hours. I decided I would drive, it was the cheaper and more convenient option.
Of course, my mom wasn’t too happy about me going to Brickfields alone at night because she grew up there and the neighbourhood doesn’t have a great reputation. But I am a very understanding daughter, so I went ahead and registered for the next Mandarin class intake anyway.
The classes are small to keep the interaction going and to make sure everyone is paid fair attention to. My classmates range from all ages and ethnicities. It felt safe and comfortable because we all had the same problems beginning Mandarin.
Our instructor, Mr.Ang was always patient. He has a dry sense of humour and I’d often hear classmates speaking fondly of his teaching style before class.
For each lesson, we’d focus on sentence structures, building our vocabulary and practise our pronunciation. Our learning materials are provided and we need to install a few mobile apps which really helped a lot throughout the entire course; even after.
I really enjoyed the classes because I work at home now and my social interactions are limited. The Mandarin classes at YMCA kept me entertain for two months. I’m going to miss it.
Now that the class is over, I can say that I know how to create a proper sentence in Mandarin, I can read a few characters, I can also distinguish the different tones. But my pronunciation still needs more improvement and I’m not fast enough at recognizing characters. Overall, I definitely learnt a lot but there’s still a long, long way to go in my Mandarin education. I’m still thinking if I should progress to Level 2 or self-study with Stupid’s help. (There are more than 17 levels in the course *ahem*)
I even started looking forward to get to class. And if you’re wondering if the location is as dark as it’s notorious for, I didn’t find it so. The place wasn’t as scary as my mother painted it. To her credit, she really did experience the older Brickfields. What I did see a lot was the working class waiting going along with their day. There was always a huge crowd around and that gave me peace of mind. Plus, the view of Brickfields at night is gorgeous!
I’m really satisfied and happy I chose YMCA-KL to learn Mandarin from. They are amazing! I’d definitely be back to try out more languages from YMCA-KL. Till then!