May 2010 issue

Agency News
Agency Survey
Market Report

Special Report
Course Guide
Regional Focus

Contact Point:
Request information from our advertisers

Digital version
To view this page in the digital issue click on this graphic.

Back issues

Status Survey

Link to our site

Get a Free Copy

What are agents?

Calendar of events
Useful links
Language Travel Magazine
11-15 Emerald Street
London, England
T: +44 (0)20 7440 4020
F: +44 (0)20 7440 4033
Pacific Office
T/F: +61 (0)8 9341 1820

Other products

Mandarin market blossoming

An increasing number of new language schools are cropping up in China, while existing providers are all honing their programme offerings to cater for the growing wave of keen Mandarin students. Jane Vernon Smith reports.

The rise to prominence of China as a global political and economic force, and its projected future growth, make learning Mandarin Chinese today as great a priority as [it was for] immigrants and settlers [to learn] English a century ago,” says Jaede Tan, Managing Director of China Study Abroad in Beijing.

Mandarin Chinese’s rising status as an important language is underlined by the fact that it is increasingly becoming a standard foreign language in high schools and colleges worldwide, as Swagata Pal of Minds Abroad in Kunming, Yunnan Province, points out. And, according to Tan, the core of China Study Abroad’s business has always been – and will continue to be in the medium term at least – students from abroad travelling to China as part of their degree programme in their home countries.

However, “What is changing,” he observes, is that “in the past two years, we have seen significant growth in what we call pre- and post-degree interest.” These trends indicate a shift in the rationale of students coming to study Mandarin away from “simply gaining sufficient credit points,” he explains, to an investment of free time and resources to learn Mandarin. “Essentially, students from around the world are beginning to realise that learning Mandarin is a value-add, and a way to ‘get ahead’ and stand out from the crowd in an increasingly competitive job market,” he concludes.

Rising demand for HSK
This translates to a situation in China where, not only is demand for courses growing, but also a stronger market is developing for programmes targeting higher levels of proficiency. Evidence for this lies in take-up of the HSK examination [Chinese proficiency test]. As Kevin Zhang of Beijing’s Capital Mandarin School points out, more and more people have now heard of this qualification, thus fuelling demand. Designed as a qualification for foreign students intending to enter a Chinese university, the HSK contains a heavy written component, which, as Matthew Worley of East-West Connection, Beijing, notes, can be offputting for Western students. However, it is growing in popularity at many schools, not just for university entry, but also as general proof of attainment for employment purposes.

At Beijing Easyou Chinese Language School, Julia Zhou is witnessing increasing demand for HSK preparation, particularly among European college and gap-year students, and Mandarin House, with schools in Beijing and Shanghai, is finding that many post-university students are showing interest. “These students would like to work in China, and many Chinese companies would like to see the HSK certificate as proof of their Mandarin ability,” comments Director, Jasmine Bian.

Tan concurs that demand for the examination is on the rise, noting that a further motivation can be fulfillment of criteria for obtaining a work permit, particularly in Hong Kong, as well as meeting requirements for job applications in China and throughout Asia. “There are also a few, but not many, students who take the… examination out of personal interest,” he notes. “We fully expect demand for HSK and examination preparation to increase, as it becomes a more internationally recognised examination standard.”

Reasons for study
It is not just full-time students who are coming to China in increasing numbers in order to gain a competitive edge, as Tan relates. “One student, an investment banker from London, who fell victim to the recent financial crisis, commented that he considered applying to business school, but decided that dedicating two years to learning Mandarin in China would put him in better stead in regaining employment than an MBA, which seemed to be the path of choice for most others in his position.”

At Easyou, Zhou encounters a range of learners, from college students to young professionals and also some middle-aged and senior language lovers. A range of courses are available, from general Chinese to business Chinese and HSK preparation. While older people tend to enrol out of personal interest, young professionals come to the school each year in order to refresh their skills, she says, and are often interested in taking business Chinese courses, with the aim one day of using the language to enhance their career.

Underlining the professional motivation of many students, internship programmes are a major feature at Hutong School in Beijing, being the choice of approximately 50 per cent of its students. Capital Mandarin has also recently introduced this option. At iMandarin Training Institute in Shanghai – where most students come to study for business and life in China, and for future business development – general Chinese and summer camp programmes are the most popular options out of a wide range that also includes internships and business Chinese, as well as long-term academic and examination programmes and children’s programmes.

China’s language schools generally offer a wide range of extra-curricular activities and trips that allow all students to sample the local culture, whatever their motivation for being in the country. “Over the past few years, we have seen a growth in demand for electives and extra-curricular activities,” relates Tan, and China Study Abroad has responded by providing options that include kung-fu, traditional Chinese medicine and Chinese cookery.

Language plus programmes are also appearing, and Cao Liang reports that International House in Xi’an has recently added a Chinese weight-loss programme and Learn Chinese on the Silk Road to its programme choices. As Tan observes, “It is becoming clear that, whilst the core focus is still learning the language, students in China often want to confront and tackle the cultural side of China and explore as much as possible of it.”

Extra-curricular services
Any impression that Chinese language schools are less sophisticated in their range of course and service options than schools in other language travel destinations is belied by the facts. Many schools now offer a range of accommodation options. Shanghai-based iMandarin, for example, can arrange homestays and private studio apartments, as well as hostels and hotels. At present, homestays and private apartments are the most popular choice, according to the school’s Jaya Zhu. According to Bian at Mandarin House, accommodation choices depend on the type of customer. “An overseas student will be interested in options for accommodation including their own room within a Chinese family, or their own room in a shared apartment,” she says. “Some students like to have their own private apartment or hotel room.”

Whatever the individual preference, clients “expect us to help them with keeping them safe from scams or unsafe areas”, adds Bian. Tan also stresses the importance of the school’s role in guiding students in what to them is “a very foreign environment”. Acknowledging that clients often expect to enjoy a worry-free experience when they come to China, Worley explains that East-West Connection provides help and advice both before and after arrival.

Services such as airport pick-up and drop-off, extra-curricular activities and arranging accommodation are all available. Hutong School also offers visa assistance, a travel booking service and help with police registration and other problems that may arise, and, says General Manager, Ferry Rebergen, is currently working on adding travel insurance as an extra service to clients. Meanwhile, visa assistance is the latest service to be offered by Capital Mandarin in Beijing, as schools compete strongly for their share of a developing market.

Market performance and outlook
Indeed, Chinese language schools have been reporting excellent growth in their business over recent years. In 2008, rates of increase in the region of 20 per cent were typical, and even in the midst of the global financial crisis over the past 18 months, business at most Chinese language schools appears to have remained relatively buoyant. A rise of 10 per cent for 2009 is reported by both Bian at Mandarin House and Emma Wang at Miracle Mandarin in Shanghai.

While Worley warns of a number of restraining factors – such as the new visa restrictions, which were put in place just before the Beijing Olympics, and the entry of many new, local Chinese companies into the market, thus increasing price pressures – Rebergen feels, by contrast, that the current economic crisis has actually served to strengthen demand. “Over the first quarter of this year, we expect a 25-30 per cent growth, compared with last year’s first quarter,” he reveals. His confidence is echoed by both Bian and by Wang, who points to the potential catalyst of the World Expo, being held in Shanghai from May.

As to future years, confidence is high. “China is still on the rise, and will be for at least the coming 10 years, and, thus, so will the need for people all over the world to learn Mandarin,” asserts Rebergen. However, language schools will need to remain in tune with changing demand.

With more and more overseas schools and colleges teaching the language, Bian foresees that a greater number of students will be looking to polish their advanced Mandarin skills. At the same time, Tan anticipates a shift away from traditional semester and year-long degree-style programmes to shorter-term, more focused learning that is tailored to developing skills for specific clients. Corporate training, work experience and cultural immersion projects will all have their part to play, according to Tan, while still retaining a firm emphasis on core Mandarin language learning.

Student recruitment trends

While students travel to Chinese language schools from all over the world, reports suggest that the majority of places on their Mandarin programmes are filled by students from the English-speaking world and Western Europe. However, the profile may be changing.

While noting that his school’s own efforts towards greater co-operation with universities in Belgium and agents in Korea has reaped rewards, Hutong School’s General Manager, Ferry Rebergen, comments that the school also attracted more students from South America, as well as from Spain and Italy, over the past year.

At Beijing-based China Study Abroad, the largest source market has always been the USA. However, reports Managing Director, Jaede Tan, there has been a significant increase in students from South and Central America, the UK, Australia and Southeast Asia, to the extent that 2009 was the first year when students from the USA represented below 40 per cent of the school’s total intake.

Mexico has grown in importance as a result of increasing trade ties and, says Tan, the country is looking to establish itself as the gateway to China for the whole of South America and the southern United States. Tan also notes that Australian and UK students have increased their presence: Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd – a fluent Mandarin speaker – having helped raise awareness of the importance of China and the Chinese language in that country.

The global economic crisis has damaged demand from the USA, according to Matthew Worley of East-West Connection in Beijing but, like Tan, he reports that other countries, especially in the Pacific Rim, have shown moderate signs of growth.

In terms of how schools recruit students, language schools had tended to rely on their Internet presence and word-of-mouth recommendation as their main means of recruitment. However, this pattern may be set to change, as schools seek to work in new markets.

For example, Tan reveals that the school is now embracing a direct sales approach, “especially in countries where students are not as Internet-savvy, and where local market knowledge is key to attracting larger numbers of students”. He adds that while the school relies strongly on its online marketing in the more developed countries, including the USA and UK, it finds that agency agreements are “crucial” in other areas, such as Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

Elsewhere, the use of agents is already well established, as at International House Xi’an, where International Marketing Director, Cao Liang, says that nearly one-third of students book through agents. Notwithstanding a high rate of referrals from past students, Mandarin House’s Jasmine Bian believes that agent relationships are “very important”, and, having built a successful agent network over the past six years, more than half of students are recruited in this way, she reports.

Beijing-based Hutong School has used language travel agents in a small way in the past, but has recently signed co-operation agreements with more agents in different countries, and, comments Rebergen, “I expect to see the number of students coming through agents growing, hopefully doubling, this year.”

Contact any advertiser in this issue now

The following language schools, associations and accommodation providers advertised in the latest edition of Language Travel Magazine. If you would like more information on any of these advertisers, tick the relevant boxes, fill out your details and send.





Britannia Student
Nido Student Living  

English Australia  
Feltom Malta  
International House
      World Organisation  
NEAS Australia  
Quality English  

Alphe Conferences  

Cambridge Esol  


Dr. Walter GmbH  

LTM Star Awards  

Malta Tourism

Ecela - Latin

Bond University  
Carrick Institute
      of Education  
      House Sydney  
La Trobe University  
Language Studies
Pacific Gateway   
      International College  
      International College
Universal English
      (Global Village
University of
University of
      Western Australia  
University of
      Western Sydney

      House Toronto &

China study
IH Xi'an  
      Training Institute  

      House Newcastle  
Kaplan Aspect  
      (Australia, Canada,
      Ireland, Malta, New
      Zealand, South
      Africa, UK, USA)
LAL Language
      and Leisure  
      (Canada, Cyprus,
      Ireland, England,
      South Africa, Spain,
      Switzerland, USA)
Malvern House
      College London  
Kings Colleges
      (Prime Education)  
Spinnaker College  
St Giles Colleges
      (Canada, UK, USA) 
Study Group  
      (Australia, Canada,
      England, France,
      Germany, Ireland,
      Italy, New Zealand,
      South Africa, Spain,
Thames Valley
      Summer Schools  
Queen Ethelburga's
Twin Group  
      (Ireland, UK)
University of
      Essex -
Wickham Court

      House Nice  

International House
      Berlin - Prolog  

Q Language Ltd  

Alpha College of
Galway Language
MEI Ireland  
University of

      House Palermo  

      Language School  

      Language School  
Feltom Malta  
inlingua Malta  
International House

Dominion English

International House
International House
International House
International House
      Sevilla - CLIC  
International House
Malaca Instituto -
      Club Hispanico SL  
Pamplona Leraning
      Spanish Institute; 

EF Language
      Colleges Ltd  
      (Australia, Canada,
      China, Costa Rica,
      Ecuador, England,
      France, Germany,
      Italy, Malta, New
      Zealand, Russia,
      Spain, Switzerland,
      (Australia, Canada,
      England, France,
      Germany, Italy,
      Japan, New Zealand,
      Russia, Spain,
      Switzerland, USA)

IH New York  
Meritas LLC  
University of
      California San Diego  
Zoni Language
      (Canada, USA)

Copyright : Hothouse Media Ltd. All rights reserved.