Why were most people in China surprised that a Malaysian Chinese can speak Chinese?



June Yu

Lives in ChinaAuthor has 1.7K answers and 2.1M answer views4y

Most overseas Chinese abandon their heritage, culture and language in order to “fit in” to the local culture. For example, few American Born Chinese knows how to read and write Chinese. Most overseas Chinese look down upon (even hate) their ancestors’ culture and refuse to learn about it. They are scared to be found out having ties with China.

Malaysian Chinese are the only one branch of overseas Chinese that insist to build Chinese-language schools to teach their children their own culture. That’s why Chinese from China feel surprised to see some “Chinese who are still Chinese”.





Yong Wen San

Born and raised in Malaysia, lived in Kuala Lumpur and Penang.Upvoted by

Lim Chee Keat, lives in Malaysia (1978-present)Author has 449 answers and 1.9M answer views5y

It’s probably because unlike our more prominent neighbour Singapore:

The Chinese in Malaysia are not the majority ethnic group.

Malaysia does not have a policy of promoting an international image of being fluent in Chinese (cf. Singapore, which markets itself as a bi-lingual society).

Unknown to most people, Malaysia is the only country outside of mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau that has a complete Chinese language system of education from primary school right up to the end of secondary school. 90% of Chinese Malaysians attend Chinese primary schools, i.e. the first six (6) years of their schooling will be entirely taught in Mandarin (other than Malay and English).





A sample of page from a Primary Four Science textbook, as used in Malaysian Chinese schools (just to illustrate the expected standard of Chinese in the local Chinese schools - which, I think you will agree, is fairly high):


The secondary school demographics is a bit more varied, with some either ceasing their Chinese language studies completely, or attending public secondary schools where Chinese is taught as an individual subject up till upper secondary level, or attending one of the 60 Chinese Independent High Schools (華文獨立中學 or 獨中), where the medium of instruction continues to be Mandarin. The result is that the standard of vocabulary among the Chinese-educated Malaysians can vary anywhere between upper primary to upper secondary level. But whatever the level at which the students stop learning Chinese formally at school, the six years of full Mandarin immersion in primary school would have psychologically moulded them to be very comfortable speaking in Mandarin.



In addition to that, Malaysia - unlike Singapore - has never had a nationwide Speak Mandarin, Not Dialects 「多講華語、少說方言」 programme. This organic linguistic situation has allowed for the other Chinese languages such as Cantonese 廣府話, Hokkien 闽南话, Teochiu 潮州話, Hakka 客家話, etc. to survive and thrive on their own natural terms. Kuala Lumpur and its environs is mostly Cantonese-speaking, all the way up north to Ipoh. Further north to Penang Island, the locals there chatter away unabashedly in Hokkien. Over to East Malaysia, the Hokchiu dialect is the dominant Chinese dialect in the state of Sarawak, whereas in Sabah, it’s the Hakka dialect.

除此之外,马来西亚与新加坡不同,没有“多讲华语、少说方言” 的运动。这种语言环境使得中国各地方言,如广东话, 闽南话, 潮州话, 客家话等, 有了生存和发展的自然条件。吉隆坡及其周边地区,一直到北部的怡保,大部分人使用粤语。在槟城岛以北的地方,当地人使用闽南话。在东马来西亚,沙捞越州盛行的中文方言是福州话,而在沙巴地区则说客家方言。

It is such a language environment that has put Malaysia as the country with the fourth highest level of fluency in the Chinese language worldwide. A secondary school leaver who has studied Chinese at least as a subject up to Form 5 (equivalent to Year 10/11) with a minimum C4 (~60%) grade should comfortably sail past the HSK Level 5 or 6.

I had two China colleagues visiting my office just a few days ago. One hailed from Beiing, and the other from Guangzhou. What a great opportunity it was for me to flex both my spoken Mandarin and Cantonese skills concurrently. And they were even more surprised to discover that I could also read and write Chinese. :) When visiting Taiwan recently, the locals were also surprised to hear me speak to my wife in our local Hokkien patois, which is very similar to Taiwanese Hokkien. Yes, I just boasted about my ability to speak three variants of Chinese… :)

正是这种语言环境使得马来西亚成为中文流利程度全球第四高的国家。一名中学毕业生至少把中文当做一门学科学到中五(相当于10/11年级),C4(~60%)的成绩应该就能轻松通过HSK 5级或6级考试。


To be sure, this linguistic skill is not exclusive to Chinese Malaysians alone. In recent years, more and more Malay and Indian Malaysian parents have started sending their children to Chinese primary skills, seeing the benefits of being tri-lingual. On more than one occasion have I been served at a shop or restaurant by non-Chinese Malaysians speaking to me in flawless Mandarin and writing down my orders in Chinese.


My point: I strongly believe that Malaysians’ broad fluency in Chinese is a unique asset that is difficult to find outside of China, and is one that the country would do well to preserve and nurture (rather than being politicised, but that’s another sad story) - not just for cultural preservation, but also as a competitive advantage.



Yu Frank

Studied at Hong Kong University of Science and TechnologyAuthor has 248 answers and 712.6K answer views5y

Because at first I am surprised that American-born Chinese cannot speak any Chinese language, so after self-reflection I don’t relate Chinese ethnicity with Chinese language.

Then I find that most Malaysian Chinese can speak Mandarin.





Iskandar Zulkifly

Self Tought Malay related policies in MalaysiaAuthor has 186 answers and 132.5K answer views2y

Few reasons :

All Malaysian neighbours (e.g. Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippine) with Chinese ancestry did not speak and write Chinese (mostly).

Malaysian of Chinese descendants only account for less than a quarter of the population.if Singapore with 3/4 of Chinese ancestry can't speak and write Chinese, what can you expect from Malaysian Chinese ?

The face/image of Malaysian gov to China always a Malay people.







Chara Chan

born and raised in Sichuan, ChinaAuthor has 1.5K answers and 7.4M answer views5y

I knew that long before I encountered them on the Internet.

I think I had some ideas of the Chinese living in the S.E. Asian countries from the movies and the articles I read in my primary and high school. After all, I read more than one magazine or newspapers on a daily basis since junior high.

I thought that most of them are Cantonese, but it turns out that many speak Hokkien.

Chinese are everywhere in S.E. Asia in similar living conditions: making a lot of money, marrying an indigenous woman and having to be killed when the economy is on the decline or when the other races are jealous of their wealth.






Kelsey Mun

native Chinese speaker but also fluent in EnglishAuthor has 65 answers and 96.6K answer views1y

Well this actually happened to me quite a few times. Because they think everyone from Malaysia is Malay or they confused nationality with ethnicity.



Nordan Obrecht

Knows ChineseAuthor has 574 answers and 523.9K answer views5y

I’ve never had that kind of situation, more the opposite seeing people being upset that a Malaysian Chinese can’t speak a sinitic language.



James Wildes

Lived in MalaysiaAuthor has 61 answers and 217.5K answer views5y

Most Chinese Malaysians will still speak Cantonese or Mandarin at home. Outside of that they will also learn Malay as that is the primary language as well as British English. So it should only be a surprise to them because they forget that most Chinese who live in Malaysia are usually 3–4th generation immigrants and kept their culture alive by staying among their kind. Which will slowly change or is changing as these 4th generation kids go abroad to study and make friends with those outside of their culture.





Liubin Ben

Research Associate (2010–present)Author has 77 answers and 44K answer views5y

Where did you learn that “most” people surprised? I think Chinese people will only be surprised if maylasian Chinese can not speak Chinese ( actually there is no language called Chinese! Mandarin, catonnese, Hakka …)




Tianqing Zhang

I am a Chinese.5y

I was very superise when I found one of my net friend in Weibo was a Malaysian(Chinese Malaysian). I had never think about that they can speak such fluent and normal Chinese.

I think it may due to the fact that most ethnic Chinese we know are from the US and most of them can not speak Chinese at all. We(or, I ) simply believe overseas Chinese speak local languages or Cantonese ,Hokkien dialect or something like that.





Fan Wei

Lives in MF LandAuthor has 92 answers and 86.2K answer views5y

Maybe in the past we would be surprised, but with a growing number of Malaysian taking part in Chinese entertainment shows, many Chinese, especially the younger generations, are getting used to the idea that a lot of Chinese Malaysian can speak Chinese quite well like singaporeans.




Afiq Aziz

Author has 653 answers and 759.2K answer views5y

Are you sure they were surprised? I went through jobstreet.com (Job ad website) and everytime there is any company from China publishing any job vacancies , their requirement is most of the time "candidate must be able to speak Chinese"(Mostly Bank of China, ICBC, Country Garden, and some from Huawei). Seems like they have full knowledge that Malaysian Chinese can speak Chinese.


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