Guilin, China - Robert Fried, 24, and his older brother Bradford have been at the forefront of providing study in China opportunities since establishing the Chinese Language Institute (CLI) in early 2009.
Expanding to include 18 Chinese teachers and managers, a newly renovated five-story learning center in China, and over 100 students in its first two years, the Fried brothers have surpassed their organization's initial goals and expect to continue growing as global awareness of China's increasing political and economic clout accelerates.
Robert took some time to speak with the Examiner about CLI and his advice for students of Mandarin.
How is the Chinese Language Institute different from other schools?
Unlike most Mandarin schools, CLI is operated by a diverse group of both Westerners and Chinese. This allows us to effectively bridge East and West by combining a strong team of Chinese educators with a core of international managers who fundamentally understand the Western student. After years of living and working in China, we’ve developed a unique cultural sensitivity that enables CLI to quickly navigate the countless contradictions that are experienced by any foreigner living in China, and in turn deliver a one-of-a-kind service to students from all walks of life.
Can you paint a picture for us of the day you decided to move to China?
In the summer of 2007 I visited my older brother, Bradford, in southern China for what was supposed to be three weeks. By day two I was certain I wanted to stay. It was the first time I’d ever been completely exposed to a foreign language in a foreign land. I was out of my element and I loved it. I studied the language 24/7, and within two months I felt that I had suddenly unlocked the ability to communicate with an additional one-fifth of Earth’s population. It was liberating, inspirational, and it left me wanting more.
Do you think that expats that decide to make China their long-term home need to mentally make a commitment to the country to avoid getting stuck between worlds?
Living long-term in China requires a sort of mental acceptance more than anything. Foreigners can drive themselves crazy by over-analyzing some of the more bizarre cultural differences that are experienced everyday in China. Making a commitment to the country isn’t enough. You have to accept it for what it is, for where it’s been and for where it’s going.
If you could only give one piece of advice to a new learner of Mandarin, what would you tell them?
Above all else, language is a habit. Make Mandarin second-nature. To do this, you first need to train your mind to think in Mandarin. You can work on building this habit anywhere and at any time. Developing this way of thinking is essential; only then can you reach the language’s highest level of proficiency.
What about the intermediate learner who has reached a plateau?
The infamous intermediate plateau haunts every Mandarin learner at one point or another, and I was definitely no exception. Once you get the ball rolling, working through the beginner levels is challenging but the rewards come quickly. But as with many subjects, the more you learn the less measureable the progress, and the more you learn the more you realize how little you actually know. So my word of advice: when you hit the plateau, push harder than ever. Read more, converse more, and move further outside of your comfort zone.
How important is the culture piece to mastering the language?
It depends on your purpose. If you want to master the HSK (one of the most widely used Chinese proficiency exams), cultural understanding isn’t important at all. If you want to do business in China, cultivate life-long friendships with its people, and play a meaningful role in cross-cultural exchange, the cultural piece is absolutely essential.
What lays ahead for the Chinese Language Institute?
About two years into the development of CLI, our founders came together to discuss our goals moving forward. We had grown from a simple idea in a Beijing dorm room to a thriving educational organization with a 5-story learning center and an 18-person full-time staff. We defined three main goals: to be a successful and value-based business, a strong and reliable bridge between China and the rest of the world, and a conscious member within the local community. Whether or not we achieve these goals relies on those who offer their ongoing advice and support, the continued efforts of the entire CLI team, and the growing trust on behalf of students from around the world that travel to a small city in southern China to learn Chinese with CLI.