Perhaps the best app for living in the future is an app that will help you know what everything means.
What Is Like Learning Chinese Online Ass
Phebe Wang launched Mi Ming in February. The graduate student at Harvard is working through the prerequisites for the Ph.D. in international comparative literature and has yet to take her first class. Born in Taiwan, and raised in the US, she speaks English only with a slight American twang. She said the relatively scarce number of Chinese higher education resources could help legitimize Mi Ming, although not completely. “When you’re a foreigner, you’re setting up a school on your own dime,” she said.
Wang raised money for Mi Ming through the website AngelList, a site popular among techies who want to get their next startup off the ground. A surprisingly high number of Americans are willing to invest in young Chinese entrepreneurs, Wang said. “I think that American venture capitalists have a higher risk tolerance,” she said. “So I think that they can take more risk by investing in a Chinese startup that’s less likely to achieve success than in a more established venture in the US,” Wang said.
Mi Ming employs a tutor model—either one person or a team of three—that caters to the status-obsessed, which may explain its huge enrollment so far. Those interested in enrolling in the first class must obtain an endorsement from their China University. Wang said that’s easy to do, because as of last week, Mi Ming’s only principal sponsor was the woman who taught the course with her. “She is also my mother,” Wang explained. “I really want to show a strong woman to start a business with my mom.”
Most importantly, Wang thinks Mi Ming should be cheaper than Mi University, which for a nine-month course in the English majors’ first language costs roughly $40,000. The majority of Mi Ming students are purely curious. “Most of them, when they read the paper they can’t even believe that I can teach you that well,” Wang said. “When they ask me, ‘How do you know how to teach English?,’ I tell them I just came back from Cambridge, and I’m working on it. I just read that three times in class.”
Mi Ming draws students from around the country and even from overseas. Although some students come from Harvard, elsewhere, Wang estimates that about 80 percent of Mi Ming students are from China. Many spend between 20 and 40 percent of their income to complete the course, a low barrier to entry. She has no plans to expand beyond China. “Every Chinese student who wants to go to study in another country, I just guide them to other countries,” Wang said.
Wang describes teaching Mi Ming as “daunting,” but it’s something she really enjoys. “To me, there’s no limit to the language,” she said. “How far you can go with it—I don’t know.”
But Wang thinks a graduate degree in comparative literature is a good idea. “It’s something that I would like to do, because I would love to take back all the reading from my writing,” she said. “If I’m taught to write in Chinese, it’s something that I would miss out on.”
It’s also something the Mi Ming community will miss out on, at least for now. Wang said some students who were already with her have been holding out for a bigger investment, a suggestion that resonated with her family. “My dad, he said the best thing would be if I get more investors, because then the business will be established and I will have less interest for my family,” Wang said.
Wang plans to celebrate Mi Ming’s birthday by expanding the business to another country. She’s thinking of Vietnam, but says the process is tougher. “After this life, they think, ‘Oh, whatever we do, it will be good for all of us,’” Wang explained. “They’re not really realistic. So it is very difficult for me to tell them, ‘No, no, this isn’t really possible.’”