SUC­CESS HAS FI­NALLY CLICKED

Li Jin­song and his wife are reap­ing the re­wards of per­se­ver­ing with their vi­sion of an In­ter­net por­tal for teach­ing Chi­nese, re­ports.

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SUNDAY IMAGE -

Af­ter pour­ing mil­lions of yuan into his busi­ness, Li Jin­song said his com­pany, which had been run­ning at a loss for the past six years, can now see the light at the end of the tun­nel.

What drove his con­tin­u­ous in­vest­ment, de­spite the bleak mar­ket in those years, was his be­lief in and con­sis­tent pur­suit of pop­u­lar­iz­ing Chi­nese lan­guage ed­u­ca­tion to for­eign­ers.

Li was an ex­ec­u­tive at var­i­ous IT com­pa­nies prior to tak­ing of­fice as vice-pres­i­dent of Bei­jing In­ter­na­tional Chi­nese Col­lege in 2006. In the same year, he founded Tang Chi­nese Ed­u­ca­tion and Tech­nol­ogy Ltd to pro­mote IT-based lan­guage ed­u­ca­tion world­wide.

Dif­fer­ent from con­ven­tional train­ing cen­ters tar­geted di­rectly at stu­dents, Tang Chi­nese Ed­u­ca­tion chose to co­op­er­ate with var­i­ous ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions and build an online plat­form to share teach­ing re­sources.

“Like Taobao, ( China’s largest online re­tail por­tal), Tang Chi­nese Ed­u­ca­tion has also cre­ated an online com­mu­nity, where ed­u­ca­tional ser­vice providers share their best ex­pe­ri­ence in teach­ing Chi­nese,” Li said.

“We of­fer a great wealth of course­ware and ex­er­cise for Chi­nese lan­guage learn­ers,” he said.

Scores of Chi­nese and over­seas uni­ver­si­ties have con­trib­uted to a course­ware reser­voir of more than 17,000 items and nearly 20,000 ques­tions de­signed for the HSK ex­am­i­na­tion, the stan­dard Chi­nese lan­guage pro­fi­ciency test for non-na­tive speak­ers.

The plat­form is open to staff and stu­dents of in­sti­tutes af­ter they sign a part­ner­ship agree­ment with Tang Chi­nese Ed­u­ca­tion.

Teach­ers may use the online course­ware in class or tell stu­dents to do their home­work on the ed­u­ca­tional por­tal, Li said.

Liu Fei, chair­man of the com­pany and Li’s wife, said, “some teach­ers are re­ally ta­lented yet they only have a lim­ited au­di­ence in a con­ven­tional class­room. The plat­form moves them onto a big­ger stage and helps more peo­ple ben­e­fit from their ex­per­tise”.

Nowa­days teach­ers, es­pe­cially the younger gen­er­a­tion, are more cre­ative and tend to use mul­ti­me­dia in their lessons, Liu said.

How­ever, those who are short of cap­i­tal or lack IT skills may feel frus­trated that they are un­able to use mul­ti­me­dia ef­fec­tively.

Tang Chi­nese Ed­u­ca­tion of­fers tem­plates and tools to help solve this is­sue. All that teach­ers need to do is fill in the con­tent, she said.

“It is as if we are build­ing a ve­hi­cle and putting all re­lated re­sources on it, in­clud­ing those we have de­vel­oped pro­pri­etar­ily and con­tri­bu­tions by our part­ners,” she said.

“We are mov­ing in the right di­rec­tion,” her hus­band added.

‘Ben­e­fi­ciary sup­ple­ment’

Un­like cen­turies-old English ed­u­ca­tion as a for­eign lan­guage, the in­ter­na­tion­al­iza­tion of the Chi­nese lan­guage started less than 10 years ago, and there is a lack of qual­ity teach­ers and stan­dard­iza­tion in lessons, he said.

Cap­i­tal­iz­ing on their IT prow­ess, Li and his team have de­vel­oped an online HSK sys­tem over three years of re­search, which de­buted in South Korea in 2010 and has been ac­cepted as a na­tional stan­dard since 2012.

As a re­sult, the com­pany was named the only tech­no­log­i­cal as­sis­tance ser­vice provider for the Chi­nese ver­sion of TOEFL. That sta­tus has helped turn around the com­pany’s for­tunes.

Based on the HSK sys­tem, the com­pany has also launched a se­ries of tests and ex­er­cises to fa­cil­i­tate eval­u­a­tion of progress in learn­ing.

Fur­ther­more, the eval­u­a­tion sys­tem can of­fer sta­tis­tics and anal­y­sis ser­vices, aid­ing teach­ers and stu­dents to lo­cate their weak­est ar­eas and im­prove ef­fi­ciency.

“We have forged close co­op­er­a­tive ties with the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion, its af­fil­i­a­tion Han­ban, which is in charge of the HSK exam, the Over­seas Chi­nese Af­fairs Of­fice of the State Coun­cil, Con­fu­cius In­sti­tutes world­wide and var­i­ous ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tutes to whom we pro­vide ser­vices,” Li said.

Billing the part­ners as a “na­tional team” that have in­vested heav­ily in pro­mot­ing the Chi­nese lan­guage and cul­ture, the pres­i­dent de­fined his own op­er­a­tions as “a ben­e­fi­cial sup­ple­ment” to the mar­ket.

The cir­cle ap­pears lively from out­side, yet it’s not been easy for the com­pany to find space and sur­vive in the mar­ket, as gov­ern­ment-run agen­cies com­pete to pro­mote Chi­nese ed­u­ca­tion at a fa­vor­able rate or in some case, even free of charge, Li said.

Based on a ra­tional com­mer­cial judg­ment, he would have not jumped into this field, he said.

Tang Chi­nese Ed­u­ca­tion has faced many crises in the past years — some­times he was un­able to pay wages and the rent on time, he re­called. “But I never thought of giv­ing up.” Nei­ther the gov­ern­ment nor ven­ture cap­i­tal has funded the com­pany. “Gen­er­ally, ven­ture cap­i­tal re­quire a re­turn in five to seven years, but for an ed­u­ca­tion busi­ness like ours it usu­ally takes longer to be suc­cess­ful. We don’t want to twist the com­pany’s growth to meet the fi­nan­cial goals set by in­sti­tu­tional in­vestors,” he said.

Li said that he feels grate­ful that his fam­ily is on his side. His fa­ther who had a pri­vate art col­lec­tion sold paint­ings by the renowned artist Qi Baishi to raise money for his com­pany.

“For­tu­nately, the art mar­ket is on the rise,” Li said cheek­ily. “He had to sell two pieces last year, but this year, one Qi Baishi was enough to sup­port my busi­ness.”

IT- based ed­u­ca­tion is a global trend, he said, adding that online com­pa­nies are more adapt­able to mar­ket needs.

“We con­tinue up­dat­ing soft­ware and im­prov­ing user ex­pe­ri­ence,” he said. “We are not alone — our part­ners in China and abroad are with us.”

L i at­trib­uted his per­sis­tence to his be­lief in the cause. “I felt the call of pro­mot­ing Chi­nese, so I just fol­lowed the voice in my heart.”

Go­ing global

De­spite the dif­fi­cul­ties it has faced, Tang Chi­nese Ed­u­ca­tion has es­tab­lished sub­sidiaries over­seas, be­cause Li be­lieves that prox­im­ity to the mar­ket is key to suc­cess.

To date, the com­pany has a pres­ence in South Korea, Spain, the UK, Malaysia and New Zealand.

The en­tre­pre­neur po­si­tions his com­pany as “a com­pre­hen­sive ser­vice so­lu­tion provider of global Chi­nese ed­u­ca­tion”, ded­i­cated to of­fer­ing tai­lor-made ser­vices to dif­fer­ent tar­geted mar­kets.

“The Chi­nese lan­guage does not only be­long to the Chi­nese peo­ple — it should be in­ter­na­tional,” Li said. His pur­suit at­tracted birds of the same feather. A num­ber of in­di­vid­ual in­vestors who share his val­ues have joined in his com­pany.

“With such a com­mit­ment, our com­pany can go fur­ther, and the clear and sound com­mer­cial op­er­a­tion en­ables our com­mit­ment more ef­fi­cient.”

His wife Liu said, “We feel proud when bring­ing our busi­ness abroad. It’s not about pri­vate van­ity, but a pride in our cul­ture.”

There is a widely held per­cep­tion that Chi­nese is hard to learn. But Li said, “It’s eas­ier to learn than English.”

In the eyes of West­erns, each Chi­nese char­ac­ter looks as if a pic­ture, he said, not­ing that an im­age is much eas­ier to rec­og­nize than a sound or a group of let­ters.

And be­hind one sin­gle char­ac­ter stand one or sev­eral sto­ries from the sea of rich Chi­nese cul­ture, he said.

So learn­ing the Chi­nese lan­guage is en­ter­tain­ing and en­light­en­ing, he said. “I’m sure it will help peo­ple in­crease their wis­dom and have a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of China.”

Cur­rently, some 50 mil­lion for­eign­ers are pay­ing to learn Chi­nese around the world, and the num­ber of learn­ers is still ris­ing at an an­nual growth of more than 10 per­cent, Li said.

“The grow­ing de­mand is in ac­cor­dance with China’s ris­ing eco­nomic power and in­creas­ing po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence in the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, as lan­guage is al­ways re­lated to a coun­try’s com­pre­hen­sive com­pet­i­tive­ness,” he noted.

Af­ter the pop­u­lar­iza­tion of the Span­ish lan­guage re­sult­ing from Spain’s pros­per­ity in the 18th cen­tury, the strength of the United King­dom and the United States en­abled English to achieve global dom­i­nance in the fol­low­ing cen­turies.

“It is the same with the Chi­nese lan­guage,” he said.

The Bri­tish gov­ern­ment has an­nounced it plans to in­clude Chi­nese into the 2014 au­tumn cur­ricu­lum as a com­pul­sory sub­ject for pri­mary school third-graders.

At the same time, Malaysia’s min­istry of ed­u­ca­tion has rec­og­nized aca­demic diplo­mas granted by 146 uni­ver­si­ties on the Chi­nese main­land since last year, a move ex­pected to prompt more Malaysians to learn in China.

The US took ac­tion even ear­lier. It in­tro­duced a plan in 2010 to send 100,000 stu­dents to China over the next four years, a sharp rise com­pared with some 5,000 US stu­dents a year be­fore.

Still the growth pales next to the an­nual 70,000 stu­dents from South Korea who come to China to study.

“They all rep­re­sent the in­creas­ing value coun­tries place on cul­tural and lan­guage ex­changes,” Li said.

Li with an ex­ec­u­tive of Tang Chi­nese Ed­u­ca­tion’s sub­sidiary in South Korea. The Chi­nese com­pany val­ues lo­cal­iza­tion and has es­tab­lished a pres­ence in sev­eral coun­tries. Li briefs the au­di­ence upon the online HSK sys­tem his com­pany de­vel­oped. HSK is China’s only stan­dard­ized Chi­nese pro­fi­ciency test for non-na­tive speak­ers. Liu and her col­league with a group of Ital­ian po­lice of­fi­cers who ben­e­fited from Tang Chi­nese Ed­u­ca­tion’s train­ing.

PHO­TOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Li Jin­song, pres­i­dent of Tang Chi­nese Ed­u­ca­tion, and Liu Fei, the com­pany’s chair­man and also his wife, to­gether with their son.

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