“Learning without thought is deceptive; thought without learning is perilous.” - Chinese Proverb

Many people say that Chinese is a complicated language to learn. However, this hasn’t stopped many students from deciding to study it at GCSE and A Level.


Because Chinese is the language of the future, perfect for those who want to work internationally or are inspired by the Chinese way of life.

While China is one of the world’s largest economic powers and Chinese is the official language of many international organisations, non-native speakers can find reading and writing Chinese very difficult.

When is the best time to start learning Mandarin Chinese?

In this article, we’re going to have a look at a few answers to this question and why you should be learning the world's most common language and the language of the world's second-largest economic superpower!

Did you know that nearly a billion people speak Mandarin?

Starting Chinese at 5

Chinese is a special language with its sinographs, characters used to represent whole words. There are four ways to learn Chinese:

  • By reading
  • By writing
  • By speaking
  • By listening
How do you read Mandarin?
Chinese is not as easy as A, B, C... (Source: PublicDomainPictures)

Since this can be difficult, the sooner you start learning, the better. If you think 5 might be a bit young to start learning Chinese, you’re wrong. Many studies have shown that studying a foreign language from a young age is great for a child’s cognitive development since, at that age, their brains are sponges. Additionally, there's the Hanyu pinyin romanisation system that can be used to represent Chinese Mandarin characters in the Latin alphabet.

Did you know that there are between 40,000 and 60,000 Chinese characters?

It would take you ages to learn them all, even if you followed these tips for faster learning!

Additionally, some children express an interest in learning to speak another language. This is the age where they can start to develop critical thinking. Learning Chinese can be a huge advantage in later life! In this case, they’ll start with writing and learning common Chinese vocabulary. This will also help them understand their surroundings in the target language.

You should know that Chinese is still quite rare in primary schools. European languages such as French, Spanish, German, and Italian tend to be more popular with students. That said, at A Level, Chinese overtook German this year.

There are also members of the Confucius Institute Network UK that promote Chinese language teaching and Chinese culture:

  • Confucius Institute for Scotland, Edinburgh, Scotland
  • Confucius Institute at University of Central Lancashire, Preston, England
  • Confucius Institute at University of Liverpool
  • Confucius Institute at the University of Nottingham
  • Confucius Institute at the University of Sheffield
  • Confucius Institute at Cardiff University
  • Confucius Institute at the University of Wales, Trinity St David, Lampeter
  • Confucius Institute for Business, London School of Economics
  • London Confucius Institute, SOAS, University of London
  • Confucius Institute for Traditional Chinese Medicine, London South Bank University
  • Confucius Institute at Lancaster University
  • Confucius Institute at the University of Manchester

If you really want your child to learn Mandarin London, you might be better off looking for Chinese groups and associations outside of school where they teach Chinese to children. Usually, the lessons they provide include fun activities for younger learners.

Learning Chinese as a Teenager

For a lot of children, they only really start learning to speak a language in secondary school. This is when they’ll learn French, Spanish, German, or Italian, for example.

Can you study Mandarin at GCSE or A Level?
You can start learning foreign languages once you go to secondary school. (Source: strecosa)

It’s a good idea to get children aged 14 or 15 interested in learning Chinese as a foreign language. As we said, they can learn about Chinese language and culture which has many benefits for children of this age as:

  • They can gain an interest in foreign languages for work and in daily life.
  • They can study a new language to improve their CV.

For a lot of secondary school students learning Chinese, it’s because they are interested in Chinese culture, travelling, or working internationally in the future.

Speaking Chinese looks great on their CV, too! At this age, they’ll focus on grammar and syntax. They tend to focus more on the theoretical aspects of the language rather than the practical aspects. They’ll study Chinese writing, vocabulary, etc.

They’ll also learn a number of set phrases and common greetings. While still not the most popular language, the number of students studying Chinese in the UK has increased in recent years.

With Chinese such an important language for the future, you’d think it’d be more popular at secondary schools but it isn’t. In comparison to European languages, there are relatively few schools offering Chinese at GCSE or A Level in the UK.

That said, there are also opportunities for young people to study in China and learn to speak with native speakers. Studying abroad allows them to take lessons with teachers and learn to read, write, and speak Chinese fluently.

Private Chinese tutorials and lessons with Chinese groups and associations are worth considering at this age, especially if they’re struggling with a Chinese A Level.

Chinese Further Education

Those with an A Level in Chinese are probably moving onto a Chinese degree. They’re interested in learning Chinese at a university for a number of reasons:

  • To learn a foreign language other than the ones commonly taught in schools
  • To further their career
  • The teaching offered at university if more advanced than what they could get at school
  • The resources are available than what they had at school
Which are the best universities for Chinese in the UK?
Once you're studying Mandarin at university, you'll be learning more advanced language skills. (Source: quillau)

Furthermore, they can enjoy being in a place that promotes learning of all types. They can spend between 3 and 5 years studying (if they go on to do a Master’s) and come out with a good level in Chinese. This is more than enough time to get good at a language!

In this case, it’s best to learn Chinese aged between 18 and 20. The student will have enough time to study Chinese alongside other studies. The focus will be on acquiring theoretical and practical knowledge of the language for professional reasons.

While the language is commonly taught both in universities and private language schools, the way the classes are taught can differ:

  • Sometimes lessons focus on just theory, especially on linguistics courses.
  • Practical and theoretical lessons. This tends to be the case with Chinese degrees.
  • Practical uses of Chinese, especially for business, in either universities or private language schools aimed at training professionals.

As you may have guessed, it’s never really too late to learn Chinese. If you’re driven, you can learn a language whenever you like. You just have to go for it.

Learning Chinese at Any Age

Did you really think that there was a certain age where you just couldn’t learn Chinese anymore?

Like all languages, you can start learning whenever you want.

Can you learn Chinese as an adult?
Reading is one of the hardest skills to master in Chinese. (Source: Free-Photos)

Everyone is different in terms of learning languages and not everyone has the same goals when it comes to learning languages, either.

Even if you’re 60, you can start learning Chinese today. You just have to work out how to fit in it around your schedule and find the best method for you. There are several options:

  • University-style courses and diplomas for everyone for beginners, intermediates, and experts.
  • Distance learning or online classes where you can learn Chinese at your own pace.
  • Private tutorials that you can schedule whenever you want to work around your schedule.

To learn quickly, intensive Mandarin Chinese courses or language exchange programmes are a great idea. You can also learn about Chinese culture at the same time. Online Chinese classes are great if you don’t have much time to study foreign languages.

Private organisations and Chinese associations are also useful for beginners wanting to learn how to speak Chinese. If this is the case, there are a number of them in the United Kingdom offering a variety of different types of lessons. However, to practise speaking Chinese, there’s nothing better than travelling to China.

Don't forget that there are also private tutors to help you with language learning. In fact, a personal tutor can tailor their classes to any learner. For example, if you're struggling with Chinese pronunciation, you can find a native Chinese speaker to help you. If you need Chinese lessons on how Chinese is spoken or the tones they use, your tutor can focus on that and help you gain fluency.

Whether for personal or professional reasons, if you want to learn Chinese, you can! It’s better to start as soon as possible. However, there’s nothing to stop you learning at 18, 40, or 75 - you can even use these innovative ways of learning that work so well with children.

The most important thing is being driven. So are you ready to go?

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