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|《THE PIE NEWS》：Jasmine Bian, President, Mandarin House, China
Jasmine Bian set up Mandarin House in China, now a successful language school chain which has taught over 20,000 students from 70 countries. She talked to The PIE about her plans for the Mandarin House brand.
The PIE: What made you decide to start a Chinese language school?
JB: It was 2003, I went to Canada and lived there for ten months and it was quiet, but I wasn’t very challenged and it was not very exciting compared with China. So I went back to Shanghai and thought, “Everyone is learning English, Why aren’t they learning Chinese?”, and there are foreigners out there. I started a Chinese language school in 2004.
The PIE: And how did you initially start?
JB: I started at my house. And then we moved out to a business building and now I live where I started the school.
The PIE: How did you get your first clients?
JB: We put an advertisement in the local expats’ magazine and then we contacted several big corporations, like Fortune 500 companies, and we signed a corporate agreement with them for their experts to learn Chinese.
The PIE: And how did you actually learn how to teach? Or do you teach yourself?
JB: No, we recruited teachers from university and created an interactive teacher methodology to try to combine the Chinese traditional teaching method with English teaching methods.
The PIE: So what did you end up with when you combined the two? What is typical about Chinese teaching?
JB: It’s about teachers standing in front of students and the teacher is the only one talking. Western is more interactive when you learn English, so we combined both because the Chinese language is different from English language. And in China we learn lots of things by memorising, and I believe memorising is good but 100% memorising is not so good.
The PIE: How did you grow to being three schools now in Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou?
JB: I believe it’s the right time and right moment for me to do this [Guangzhou opened this year] and I’m also very lucky to have joined IALC in 2008. It’s really opened the door for me [to education agencies]. I’ve seen so many people in the same industry teaching English, German and Spanish and there’s no dominant Chinese school branding out there, and obviously we want to be the one
The PIE: You recently opened in Guangzhou. Why Guangzhou?
JB: Guangzhou is a trading port for lots of companies and it’s close to Hong Kong. It’s in the south of China. We cover the east in Shanghai, the north in Beijing, and we feel we need to have one in the south.
The PIE: How many staff do you have now and how many students do you teach?
JB: We teach about 2,000 students a year. And so far we’ve had about 20,000 students. And we have two schools including part time teachers we have about 300 people working for Mandarin House.
The PIE: It’s gone a long way from your bedroom.
JB: Yes it has. We will keep expanding for the next few years. And we also hire managers from EF or from Wall Street English and we have external consultants to help us.
The PIE: Who are your competitors?
JB: We have universities that also teach Chinese but the methods are totally different and there are some other private schools out there. But we believe we have the best people and the best methodology, and we have been in the industry longer than other private schools. We are really the first and leading one, and the only one accredited internationally.
The PIE: And how did you discover IALC?The PIE: What percentage of your business comes from agencies?
JB: We have about 30% coming from agencies and 70% of business we work with corporations, and work with some institutions and some individual students. The top three nationalities are US and German and French.
The PIE: Are there any particular nationalities which find it easiest to learn Chinese?
JB: Not really. There are people learning very good Chinese from the US, Brazil, Germany and Spain.
The PIE: And how long would it take, because to me it seems like a very difficult language. How long would it take for me to become conversational?
JB: Simple conversational will take three months. And quite modestly fluent conversational six months. In nine months I believe you will be reading Chinese newspapers and talking with Chinese people.
The PIE: You really think so?
JB: Yes, at our school, because I think it’s a misconception that learning Chinese is really difficult. There are two difficult elements, one is tones, another one is character but it’s not rocket science. It’s learning a language. As long as you’re putting your heart and hard work towards it – and in the environment you have to use it and practise it – you will learn very fast in China.
The PIE: And do foreigners find it easy to talk to Chinese people in China?
JB: Very easy, and the Chinese people respect it more when a foreigner makes the effort to learn and to talk.
The PIE: And how do you see the future for Mandarin House?
JB: We want more people around the world to take an interest in learning Chinese language, and we will expand our capabilities to help people achieve their Chinese language learning, no matter where you live.