Retrospectacle: A Neuroscience Blog

i-c03b2450f849ebb9b61a61d8ef8185d1-vanstone.jpg So, I’m trying to learn Mandarin right now, in order to be able to communicate when I go visit my parents in China. I’m learning from a student here at UM, for a modest per hour wage. However apparently some people think that all those tones and characters will just jump into your brain if you throw enough money at them.

In Australia, the former Federal Government’s Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone’s obsession with learning Chinese Mandarin has been revealed to the public. The public that is footing the bill estimated to be worth AUD$70,000 (RMB430,000 or USD$55,000).

Yikes. But at least she mastered the language, right? Right? RIGHT?!!

However, she failed to impress a seasoned Mandarin-speaking businessman when she delivered a speech in Mandarin in Canberra last year. The man described her effort as excruciating.

Now, with China becoming more and more involved in global politics its certainly a worthwhile endeavor to learn how to speak Chinese. But isn’t it counter-productive to deliver speeches that native Mandarin speakers describe as “excruciating”….I mean if thats all $55,000-worth of lessons can buy she either had a terrible tutor or just wasn’t paying attention.

Hat tip charlie for the story.


  1. #1 Decline and Fall
    March 19, 2007

    She could have gotten a top-notch summer course from Middlebury College for a little more than $8,000. Everyone I know who has gone through their program, each of whom uses their language every day, swears by it. “Better than in-country immersion” is a comment I’ve heard a lot.

    Good luck with Mandarin.

  2. #2 apy
    March 19, 2007

    You might like to check out They have free podcasts which I found quite helpful.

  3. #3 caseysm
    March 19, 2007

    I’m also a UM grad student picking up Chinese for curiosity and a complex systems summer school next year, although I’m going through the undergrad courses. Probably slower than a tutor in a lot of ways, but cheaper and it keeps me structured for the moment. It’s too bad that language education is so weakly encouraged if one is in the sciences.

    While I can’t imagine how someone could spend that much on such bad lessons (or on such a bad student), I would still be happy if more people here kept learning languages after college. Imagine if we had congresspeople actively picking up a bit of Arabic on the side?

  4. #4 darius
    March 20, 2007

    To be fair, you don’t know how skilled she is at public speaking. Her speeches in English might be excruciating as well. =]

  5. #5 Jonathan
    March 20, 2007

    I wonder how many hours of wasted time that comes down to.

    My biggest tip for learning Chinese is to give the Pimsleur language tapes a go. You may be able to find them in a library because they’re pretty expensive to buy. I’ve found them very useful in going from very bad Chinese to slightly bad Chinese.

  6. #6 darius
    March 20, 2007


    I can’t tell if you’re trying to joke. I hope you are. But if not, can you name any industrial society where the manager of a factory is NOT paid better than the workers?

    SB: Don’t bother with that guy. He’s some wacko that trolls here every now and then. Pathetic, huh?

  7. #7 Mandarin
    June 12, 2007

    You can try to learn Chinese in Beijing Online School of Chinese Language. There are famous Chinese teachers and over 3000 volunteers from China to provide 1 0n 1 Live Class. Practical Chinese, Business Chinese, Children Chinese Course and Chinese Courses for School / University / Corporate.

  8. #8 jane
    November 28, 2007

    I think it’s best to have a live teacher.
    Anyway I’m using a Chinese site from Taiwan:

    They spend a lot of time on tones..good for a beginner.

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