By: Moniza Khokhar
Michael Cheng, 30, is bringing the world closer by limiting language barriers between our Chinese peers. A graduate of Stern School of Business at New York University, Cheng saw great opportunities being overlooked because there wasn’t enough understanding of the Chinese culture. He then started the Mando Mandarin School, in 2009, to teach executives Mandarin Chinese. Finding great success, we spoke t Michael about his future plans.
Elan: Can you tell us a little bit about the Mando Mandarin School?
Michael Cheng: Mando Mandarin gives schools, businesses, and individuals around the world the ability to open doors to over one billion new peers in China. We specialize in teaching Mandarin Chinese using web-cams and distance-learning software, by connecting learners to our teachers in China. All lessons are taught in real-time by live instructors, which makes classes very easy, fun, engaging, and affordable. Students always have access to all lesson recordings, so learners never fall behind.
Elan: What is behind the Mando methodology?
MC: Our methodology uses a very practical approach to learning. After just a few hours, students will be able to begin expressing themselves using Mandarin using small-talk or in brief conversations. We begin by teaching Pinyin (a pronunciation system which uses the Roman alphabet to make learning to speak and pronounce Chinese words much easier) and basic, commonly used phrases in what we call “survival Mandarin.” Our approach has combined TCFL (Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language) philosophies from top Chinese universities and American universities, and was developed by our education directors who have a combined teaching experience of over 30 years. Our experts have also summarized over 100 grammar rules — this is important to note because grammar often is the most confusing part when it comes to learning the language. This “East meets West” combination allows us to borrow the best approaches to language education from both sides of the world.
Elan: What motivated you to start a school like this?
MC: There’s been a lot of talk in the news about rising China, especially in the past few years. In March 2012, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated why the US and China must work together in her address about changing US-China relations. This is a reminder that we must begin to harness a more productive relationship with China than previous generations. What I’ve found out is that most people don’t know much about the Chinese, the way they think, or about their culture. And sometimes we see this lack of understanding become a lack of transparency. And a lack of transparency often leads to fear, or worse, aggression or quarrel. And we see this happening in the world today between various countries. My personal in life is helping to preserve balance and a peaceful relationship between the United States and China, and by extension, the rest of the world. Mando Mandarin’s vision is to bring people together by building bridges of understanding and opening channels of communication, by connecting people through language and culture first. Now, more than ever, we need to inspire more people to become official or unofficial ambassadors of cultural awareness. So Mando Mandarin is about more than just teaching language. It’s really about bringing people together and creating relationships on a grassroots level.
Elan: Why has there been a sudden increase in the demand for Mandarin speaking employees? In what fields have you seen this increase?
MC: China is the most rapidly developing country in the world, and there are tremendous opportunities for foreign companies to do business in China. Many companies would like to benefit and profit from the rapid development of China. In order to sell products and services to the Chinese, it is important to learn their culture and language in order to better connect with their people. In the past, it was acceptable to do business in English when dealing with the Chinese — but that is because they were selling their products to us; we were the buyers. Now we see are seeing a huge shift, where the Chinese have more buying power and are interested in purchasing goods from abroad. I’m also a real estate developer, and now, more than ever before, the Chinese are investing more and more in American real estate. CNN and the New York Times reported that there are also now more Chinese tourists than American tourists traveling around the world. Smart American businesses in the hospitality, tourism, entertainment, travel, investment, real estate industries and banks should be training its employees to learn Mandarin Chinese so they can benefit from the growing spending power of the Chinese. America’s strength is in its creativity. There are also huge opportunities for American web or mobile businesses with unique concepts and services that have not yet been introduced in China to quickly build their bases in China before a Chinese entrepreneur breaks open that market first — or to simultaneously build their platforms in Chinese, in China.
Elan: You’ve been following the trend closely, what has surprised you the most?
MC: What surprises me is that American businesses with pioneering, innovative, or unique business solutions, products, or services do not simultaneously introduce build their operations in China from the outset of their company. For a lot of innovative American businesses, by the time they are interested in building operations in China, some Chinese entrepreneur has already taken their idea and built it out in China first — and is able to promote it to 4x the number of people than their American counterparts can. The opportunity cost for a start-up to not immediately build out operations in China is basically losing their opportunity to be a leader in China.
Elan: How many students have you trained successfully?
MC: 500 in the United States, from 40 schools around the country, and 600 expats who are living in Shanghai.
Elan: How do you hope to develop the Mando Mandarin School?
MC: The next step for us is to continue to reach out to Americans K-12 schools, universities and also those in other English-speaking countries. We also plan to expand our services to begin teaching other languages as well.