French expats set up Chinese language school

Updated: 2011-07-10 09:37

By Eric Jou (China Daily)

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French expats set up Chinese language school
Romain Tournier (left) and Jean Francois Pouliquen quiz peotential students to get a sense of the best learning track for them. [Photo/China Daily]

When new arrivals first land in the Middle Kingdom, arguably the most different aspect of local life is the language. For a non-Chinese speaker, negotiating anything: in shops, restaurants and on the streets can be a bit like walking blindfolded across a busy Beijing intersection.

Thousands of language schools and Chinese teachers offer courses, but none offer them quite like Jean Francois Pouliquen and Romain Tournier.

The Frenchmen came to China to pursue different careers but through a chance meeting and the friendship that followed, the two started their own language center to help foreigners learn putonghua.

Although neither Pouliquen, 27, nor Tournier, 29, has an educational background, the two business partners opened a language center because they felt their combined Chinese-learning experiences had provided them with special assets.

Like many young China-based Europeans, they've been swept up in the nation's wave of entrepreneurial energy.

"We decided to go into the Chinese education domain even though there are a lot of competitors because we had a lot of experience as students of Chinese ourselves," Pouliquen says. "We tried some private schools and private tutors and through those experiences we can see that there are a lot of things that we can improve on."

"For instance, sometimes the teachers don't show up on time, or they aren't graduates. So we said, 'It's quite easy to make a high standard,' and we started to do it.

"There are simple things that an international company can do better," Pouliquen says.

Aiming to find an edge over their rivals, the Tailor Made Chinese Center wants to live up to its name and develop different courses for different types of people.

When potential students first come to the school, Pouliquen and Tournier ask a series of questions in a bid to ascertain the best learning track. What are the goals of the client? Do they just want to learn oral Chinese? Do they want to learn how to read and write at the same time?

Speaking from experience, they promote learning oral Chinese first.

"When most of our clients arrive in China they don't speak Chinese at all," Tournier says.

If a person comes to China and everyone in your company speaks Chinese, he says, there is not much benefit in spending 70 percent of the class time learning hanzi, or Chinese characters.

"We focus on what the clients want, but what we suggest is to learn oral Chinese at the beginning."

In 2008, Pouliquen and Tournier both arrived in China as part of an exchange program between France and China. French companies were hiring young graduates under the age of 29, and sending them abroad to gain experience in the international market.

Pouliquen had been working in the field of renewable energy engineering. Tournier was in the pharmaceutical industry and especially realized how vital the language was after attending many conferences and visiting scores of hospital. It was all about the language.

Pouliquen and Tournier's business venture is starting to pay off, with about 200 students on their books.

German student Marina Hirscht, 24, began at the school about two months ago and is taking an intensive language course for speaking as well as reading. Her husband has signed up, too.

She had taken Chinese classes back in Germany, but she realized they had not prepared her for the communication realities of busy Beijing.

"I wanted an intensive course, not just two hours in the evening but like three to six hours a day," she says. Tailor Made matched her with a group that had already begun classes, but she caught up quickly and appreciated the company's flexibility.

Although many start-up businesses don't last for more than a year, Pouliquen is brimming with confidence about the future.

"From the first of January to now we have 55 new students, half of which were referred by our old students," Pouliquen says. "Now we have about 200 students."