Startup Stories: Bringing China to America

End-of-Semester Creation:  T-Shirt with Chinese Characters

Tell us about your product or service.
Portland Chinese Lessons was founded in 2011 by a native to Portland, Oregon, to create personalized and engaging Mandarin lessons based on individual learning styles. Chinese is a beautiful, fascinating language-and we all know that economic ties with China have become increasingly close over recent years.

The challenge in learning Mandarin is remembering tones and characters. Some people are visual learners, and love the unique color-coded tone system. Most children don’t think so much about the tones but adding color is lots of fun and helps them say it at home.

Others are more kinesthetic and find tone-based hand movements to be the best way to remember them. Or, if she wants to learn the written characters in a way that incorporates more movement, then we “dance” the characters using the hand, leg, or foot.

Some prefer to focus on the spoken aspect of a foreign language rather than the writing, so the instructor creates audio files to match the individualized lessons and emails them in mp3 format. And the kicker to a method that focuses on the auditory is that kazoos (crazy, fun, and it works!) are used to reinforce the tone of the character, compound word, or phrase.

What inspired you to launch your business?
My original inspiration leading me to think I could start a successful business was my mom. She ran a home daycare business for years while I was growing up, and also encouraged me to take Chinese in college, long before it became popular.

Having studied Chinese for so long, there were never enough mnemonics, especially in the early years. I had good ideas to help other non-native learners with Mandarin, and I had yet to come across an excellent textbook, so I launched this venture with money I’d saved. Since fall of 2011 word of mouth has really spread, so the after school programs are filling up more quickly than they used to.

What problem does your business or organization solve?
Lots of adults are cowed by the mere thought of learning Chinese. I show folks that there are so many ways to learn-and that if one method doesn’t work for them, we’ll try another.

I like to point out that when we speak English, we use tones all the time, so there’s no reason to feel intimidated. Riiiight? Right!

By adding plenty of levity, people start to think less about whether they are saying something the right way-and just say it. And more often than not it turns out juuust riiiight….

What has been your biggest challenge and how are you working to overcome it?
I have a number of long-term projects in the works, some of which are of a collaborative nature, so I am creating an LLC to get the legal and financial protection I may need. It also creates a more solid entity, beyond just giving a venture a try.

Give us one word that people might use to describe you.

How has Project Eve helped you and/or your business?
Looking through all the stories written by women, busy moms like myself-one thread that links us is that we are courageous and willing to give it a shot.

Life’s short. And you need to know you’re not alone. Nancie Weston, the creator of GRAYL, sums it up: “I decided to create something better.” Just reading that is incredibly inspiring.

Give us an insider tip that relates to your industry.
Good teachers are life-long learners, in the subject they teach, and something entirely different that will help bring back the feeling of how hard it is to be a complete novice. Because that’s what your students experience, and teachers should never forget what that’s like.

I’m learning to swim. Want to join the Bosphorus race with me in 2015?

Company: Portland Chinese Lessons


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