Our Shanghai Language School
Coming to China as a student for the first time in 1999 was a magical experience for me. It opened the door to a fascinating new world of strange people eating even stranger food and a culture that could not have been more different to mine. However, after a while it became apparent to me that it would not really be possible for me to understand much about China without being able to speak Mandarin.
After many frustrating meetings with very interesting people, I really wanted to be able to speak it too. I finally decided I just had to learn Chinese. Back then, the only option to do so was at a big government university. That meant 20 students in a class studying Mandarin through rote memorisation, very little socialising with Chinese students, and strictly separate accommodation and classrooms for local and foreign students (as they unfortunately remain until today).
This less-than-ideal environment came with the sort of motivation levels among teachers and staff that one would expect in a communist state-owned organisation. We ended up progressing very slowly and spent our evenings discussing – in English of course – among ourselves how we could get to finally start learning faster. After five months I quit and started to try learning Chinese on my own. As I moved away from university, got a proper teacher and started to understand how to learn Mandarin, I finally started making progress. After a year I spoke good enough Chinese to get a job in a Chinese speaking company in Beijing and I have lived here ever since.
The Founding of LTL Mandarin School
From the beginning LTL Mandarin School was designed to help others avoid the mistakes I made and learn Chinese efficiently from Day One. This school has been the focus of my life from the day we started creating the first study plans in a small coffee shop in 2007 right up until today. Since those early beginnings things have of course changed a lot.
We now have Chinese schools in Shanghai, Beijing and Chengde, thousands of happy alumni all over the world spreading the word, and we are pretty well known in the Chinese teaching world. However, for me the basic concept has and always will remain the same: get people to fluency in Mandarin as fast as possible.
Our very first student lived in a homestay to make sure she spoke Mandarin and not English when she got home. Today 80% of LTL students still do the same. We planned our class structure so that there was an average of three students per class, to make sure each student got enough time to ask questions and get individual attention from the teacher. We still do so now, with an average LTL class size in 2016 of 2.85 students/class. The curriculum was designed to make sure learning Chinese is fun – students get to and are indeed encouraged to speak Chinese during class. At the same time we made sure that the foundations of fluency like good pronunciation habits, understanding how characters can be best memorised and gaining the confidence to speak in daily life are laid at the beginning.
Personally I find it quite amazing that even though we review, amend and update our whole curriculum and school structure every year, how little we have had to change since then, because the basics of how to achieve fluency in Chinese have remained the same.
Today we are a very established school and I often find myself spending most of my days with accounting, administration and all the other small details that come with running a company in China. However, the thing I always look forward to most is when our new students arrive on a Monday morning, I take them for breakfast and can help them with settling into this country, get to Mandarin fluency and give the advice I wish I had gotten when I first came here.
My proudest moments are when those who stay for a year invite me for lunch 12 months later and speak better Mandarin than me.
A special thanks to Tina Xiang who designed those first study plans together with me as our Director of Studies back in the coffee shop. Today she is our head teacher at LTL Chengde.