Let's learn Chinese
Updated: 2012-12-09 14:51
By Mike Peters (China Daily)
Brad Fried and his younger brother Robbie at their Chinese Language Institute in Guilin. Photos Provided to China Daily
A family-based business from the United States has settled in Guilin, Mike Peters learns, and has introduced an innovative yet practical method of learning Mandarin.
If Virginia native Brad Fried liked milk, there's no telling where his younger brother Robbie would be today.
When the elder Fried came to Beijing in 2001 as a 22-year-old vegan, he was delighted to find that, unlike in the West, he didn't have to worry that dairy products lurked in all sorts of prepared foods.
That helped him to settle down to a happy life as an expat, first as an exchange student and later as an English teacher in Guilin, Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region.
And that set the stage for his brother, who came out for a three-week vacation in 2006 and heard his own siren song.
"I'd been here about two days, and I was hooked," Robbie Fried says. "For me it was the language. My experience with foreign languages before was in a classroom on the east coast of the US. It was basically an academic exercise, with no tangible benefit."
"But when I came here, and saw how quickly you could connect with people, how excited my language partner was - it was just real."
So instead of going home after his scheduled holiday, the younger Fried spend two months memorizing vocabulary and then taking it to the street.
The experience stimulated him to enroll in formal Mandarin study at a top Chinese university. But instead of getting the big boost he expected, Fried hit a brick wall.
"It was like I'd carried the old classroom experience across the ocean," he says. "There were a thousand foreigners studying Chinese - completely sectioned off from the university environment. We walked to class with other foreigners, where there was one Mandarin speaker in the room - the teacher. So English was the medium of communication among ourselves, whether in class or segregated in our dining hall."
In Guizhou with his brother, Mandarin had been organic and alive - a way to connect with people, to buy bread and cabbage, and to find your way in a new culture. In Beijing, it was suddenly theoretical, something in a book.