“To be honest, I never really imagined that I would one day open a Mandarin learning centre,” admits Shah Farid Rashid, who grew up not having many choices when it came to his education.
Before he was the founder of Fasih Mandarin, a learning centre catered to teaching non-native speakers the Mandarin language, he was just a student from a small-sized school located in a rural village who had to work hard to see any chance of studying abroad, a dream that he harboured at the age fourteen.
He finally found the key to achieving this long-standing aspiration when he was accepted into MARA Junior Science College (MRSM). While most of his peers chose to focus on pursuits in the fields of science, Shah opted for Chinese Literature as the programme would allow him to get a full-ride scholarship. And the rest seems to be history.
“Ever since I was a kid, I could sense that the Mandarin language was unique, and that if I could master the language, it would be a plus point for me in the future,” says Shah.
But Shah soon learned that going down this road came with its own challenges. Moving overseas to attend Beijing Foreign Studies University at eighteen with zero background in the language made simple, day-to-day tasks and routines next to impossible.
“It was difficult for me to move around and buy food and essentials. I had to either use sign language to describe what I was trying to say or bring along a Chinese friend to be an unpaid translator for me!” he confesses, going on to state that this only motivated him to learn the language faster.
Shah soon dove headfirst into his goal, making quick friends with his local classmates. And while his friends were enjoying their what free time they had, Shah dedicated his to a slew of part-time jobs.
His perseverance and determination to dominate the language allowed him to excel much faster than his classmates, eventually being proficient in Mandarin in just six months and land him a job as a teacher shortly after graduating.
This was Shah’s first taste of the profession; one he would soon dedicate his life to perfecting, sharing his passion for Mandarin with other non-native students who were once in the same place he was.
While it is a common belief that Mandarin is difficult to learn, with most non-natives and even native Chinese themselves agreeing to this notion, Shah feels like there’s more to it than meets the eye.
“I think there are two types of people who are hesitant to learn a new language – those who are afraid that Mandarin will become the "language of the future", and those who are reluctant because of their negative perception of how difficult Mandarin is to master,” Shah observes.
“Some people may also feel intimidated by the current employment trend, where most employers are now actively looking for Mandarin speakers when recruiting. As a result, this requirement might put pressure on those who cannot speak the language, so they wrongly believe mastering the language is difficult.”
Understanding these frustrations, Shah was inspired to found Fasih Mandarin in 2018, with the hopes that it would provide a stress-free environment for students to learn through engaging teaching modules that Shah designed himself.
“This is what we do at Fasih Mandarin – we make sure our students are constantly exposed to the language and learn it enjoyably! Regardless of your age, you will still come together and sit down in this kindergarten-like setting, singing songs, conducting activities and interacting with each other, all in Mandarin!”
And as Shah puts it, nothing should stop one from pursuing the language. “We have professional working adults who registered with us despite being busy with work during the day. Also, we once had a 72-year-old student who surpassed expectations in learning the language, proving that age is no barrier when it comes to learning a language!”
Despite facing some difficulties along the way, from finding qualified Mandarin trainers to the closure of their learning hubs to make way for online classes, Shah doesn’t regret a thing. “I’m not the type of person to give up easily.”
“I believe adaptability is a very much needed skill in one's career as it allows you room for improvement. You need to be open to change for your career to grow, improve and advance to the next level.”
Shah asks that new learners see this pressure as a form of motivation to start finding our own initiatives to master the language, including having the edge over other candidates in the job market.
Moreover, the entrepreneur recently launched the FM Scholarship 2022 project, a grant that will provide up to 60% of scholarships to eligible individuals to pursue their HSK1 Beginner Mandarin course. “This project is especially close to my heart because the MARA scholarship I received back in 2009 and the Mandarin language were the two things that completely changed my life for the better.”
In just a short amount of time since its inception, the company is already picking up where they left off from the pandemic, accomplishing major milestones in a short time. The business recently welcomed a newly opened branch in Educity Iskandar, Johor and a new head office in KL Trillion, Kuala Lumpur.
The team is also collaborating with other educational institutions to provide a complete Mandarin curriculum and is in discussions with Beibu Gulf University China to become a centre for a student preparatory programme that will allow them to study in China.
“Fasih Mandarin has many plans in store to further grow our business in order to benefit our fellow Mandarin enthusiasts. We’re excited to attract more people to discover the beauty of the Mandarin language!”
Penny For Your Thoughts
How would you define a “good life” and/versus a “successful life”?
For me, a "good life" is about staying in your comfort zone; You are satisfied with having mastered your job scope and established a routine for your work. You are content with doing the same things day-in and day-out at work, so you do not feel the need to upgrade your knowledge and skills, or do more than what your job scope says.
Perhaps this can be considered a "good life" since you no longer encounter any disruption with work and do not have to improvise or re-do your work after getting improvement feedback from your superior - well, that is what most workers usually dread.
On the other hand, having a "successful life" is all about stepping out of your comfort zone. This means you are not okay with having a job that is just like a routine. You believe that if the work is becoming a routine, that means your life is stagnant - merely coming to the office every morning, doing your job and getting off when the clock strikes 6 o'clock.
To avoid that, you are always on the lookout for more and more opportunities to consistently improve yourself for the sake of professional and personal growth. Despite ideas being rejected for the nth time and countless other disappointments, you would pick yourself up, dust yourself off and try again!
If you could choose to be anyone in the world—fictional or non-fictional—who would you want to be, and why?
Business-wise, I would like to become a Finance Minister because I know what it's like to start a business with zero financial support. When I first started Fasih Mandarin, I struggled to find the capital I needed. I also applied for several business training programmes and government grants, but none of the applications were successful.
If not for the determination and motivation I had to keep going, as well as my strong belief that the business had the potential to make it big, Fasih Mandarin wouldn't be where it is today. I am proud that we have been able to create job opportunities and provide valuable education to our students.
So, if I were a Finance Minister, I would make sure that local start-ups have the support they need to succeed, as well as the right channel to seek financial support and entrepreneurship training.
Advice you would give your younger self.
Looking back at my childhood, I want to tell my younger self to be more patient. Do not worry if you do not have the same things as your friends from good family backgrounds. Do not feel frustrated just because little things to others are a luxury for you. Just keep on going, as you know that every hard work will reward you with good things.
Also, remember to always bring value to other people. Regardless of who you are, you are capable of bringing values to not just those around you, but to strangers too!