High-Tech Delivers Chinese Teachers to the World
New America Media, News Feature, Jun Wang, Posted: Jan 06, 2008
Editor's Note: With China's economic boom, more and more
American students are eager to learn Chinese, prompting U.S.
high schools to offer them Chinese courses through an Internet
language school in Beijing, writes New America Media reporter
Jun Wang, who monitors the Chinese media.
SAN FRANCISCO – Chinese language teachers in Beijing don’t need to apply for work visas to teach in the United States anymore. From an office in west Beijing they can teach their mother tongue through the Internet language school eChineseLearning to Americans and students in 41 other countries.
Born in Beijing, Fred Rao, founder and CEO of eChineseLearning, speaks passionately about his teaching adventure and mission: to cover every corner of the world with the Chinese language.
After graduating from Stanford University with a master’s in business administration, Rao launched his Internet language school in Beijing in the spring of 2006, with venture capital from the United States. He said his dream took root in his heart long ago, when he lived with his teacher parents. He started his first weekend Chinese language school in the San Francisco Bay Area while still a student at Stanford.
In the fall of 2006, the U.S. College Board's Advanced Placement Program, which prepares high school students for college-level courses, added the Chinese language and culture class into its curriculum. It brought the Chinese language to the attention of many American high schools, students and their parents.
“As we don’t have enough Chinese teachers in my school, we use eChineseLearning’s service to provide online tutoring service for our students,” said Mary Hagen, who teaches at a high school in Palo Alto, Calif. “Its service is supplementary to our teaching at the school.”
Thousands of high schools across the United States started offering Chinese courses last year, which Rao sees as opening the door to a huge market to his Internet Chinese language school. Since then, eChineseLearning has landed an increasing number of individuals, as well as school groups, to learn from more than 40 teachers working in China’s capital. Students and teachers sit in a virtual classroom using the free service of Skype, said Rao.
Rao’s Internet language school would have been a mission impossible only a few years ago, when the technologies needed were rare and expensive. But now, empowered by Skype, Google Talk and MSN, with audio, video and multimedia materials on its website, more than 200 students between four and 72 years old have been studying in virtual classrooms. Rao plans to attract students from at least 100 countries next year.
But it is China’s economic engine that is the most powerful force bringing students to learn Chinese. People from all over the world believe that knowing the delicate tonal language is surely a tool to grab a sizeable share of that market.
Jeff Ryan from New York City said one key reason his company chose to train employees in virtual Chinese language classrooms on a regular basis was “that they (eChineseLearning) can customize lessons to meet our employee’s need and schedule.”
“The price is unbelievably cheap – a small fraction for what you would ordinarily have to pay in the United States for such high quality one-to-one tutoring,” said Anthony Zaloom, adjunct professor of law, business and economy, who teaches at Univ. of California, Berkeley School of Law.
The price is a big draw for individual and group students. eChineseLearning charges students nine U.S. dollars per hour, less than half of the market price for the prevalent tutoring rate of $20 to $30 in the San Francisco Bay Area or in New York. If bought in bulk class hours, students get an hour for seven dollars. From time to time, the online language school offers promotions. Its five dollars per hour price lures new students.
Having been an eChineseLearning student since shortly after the school got started, Zaloom has worked in law firms in China and Japan for more than three decades.
The course is tailored to each student’s need. Rao now offers an advanced-level course, with the student reading and discussing with his or her Chinese teacher the most famous, ancient Chinese novel “Dream of the Red Chamber.”
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