Chinese lessons – recession-proof?

Chinese Pod’s Ken Carroll hits the PR jackpot today in a full-length profile with a branded photo in one of the world’s great papers.

Ken Carroll is challenging a basic tenet in the global economy: that we all need to learn Mandarin Chinese to conquer the world’s largest market – but that learning Chinese is boring. Mr Carroll, a Shanghai-based language teacher turned internet entrepreneur, says that does not have to be so: he has pioneered a painless podcast method for learning Mandarin, and nearly a quarter of a million people worldwide are using it on, which sends daily Mandarin lessons to iPods and Google phones around the world.

Chinesepod revenues have defied the global economic downturn, too, rising 250 per cent from December 2007 to the same month last year and climbing strongly again in January, according to the company. Study without suffering may sound too good to be true, but there seem to be plenty of people willing to listen to this particular siren song, especially now that more professionals are taking enforced vacations from the workforce, giving them time to learn new skills such as languages.

Investment analysts think education in China could even prove to be a recession-proof business. Bejing’s National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language says 40m foreigners studied Mandarin last year. Chinesepod is riding that wave: with China’s economy expected to grow by 8 per cent this year – compared with a flat global economy – learning Chinese has rapidly begun to look like a clever investment.

Let me just say I renewed my subscription to Chinese Pod about three weeks ago, and rely each week on a steady diet of both their podcasts and those of their competitor – each useful in its own way. Chinese Pod has become an institution, and for good reason. I can criticize them for this and that, but in the end all that matters is this simple truth: they helped me push from the elementary to intermediate level, and provided me with a panoply of practical phrases I use all the time.

Education in general seems to be a smart way to go during the great recession, with many people returning to school due to job scarcity. Teaching Chinese is positively brilliant, because the number of customers willing to spend money on it is growing constantly. These should be good years for language tools that can actually make a difference, and Chinese Pod really made a difference for me. Well done, Mr. Carroll.

The Discussion: 8 Comments

Recession proof business? Maybe they so plan for an IPO. 😉

March 11, 2009 @ 3:05 pm | Comment

Teaching Chinese market…. The next market bubble?

March 11, 2009 @ 3:07 pm | Comment


Thx for the vote of confidence. I’m not sure that education itself is going to see lots of innovation/investment from a business perspective, but informal learning will. None of us has any choice but to get better and better at learning going forward and technology is making that possible. Your blog is a perfect example of that – we all get to learn from you!


March 11, 2009 @ 4:03 pm | Comment

But surely not all of those 1/4 million daily users are actually paying customers, or are they? (If they are, I am incredibly impressed!)

March 11, 2009 @ 4:30 pm | Comment

Chinese lessons – recession-proof? » The Peking Duck…

Investment analysts think education in China could even prove to be a recession-proof business. Bejing’s National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language says 40m foreigners studied Mandarin last year. ……

March 11, 2009 @ 4:32 pm | Trackback

Wow, certainly not a get “rich quick scheme”. Congrats for living in China for 15 years. That in itself is commendable.

The demand for Chinese seems insatiable, but it is indeed a difficult language to learn.

March 11, 2009 @ 8:42 pm | Comment

Ken, my pleasure. Chinese Pod is a way of life.

Thomas, I don’t know about 1.4 million paying subscribers, but if they have a decent enough fraction of that it might pay the bills.

March 12, 2009 @ 1:50 am | Comment

I checked out the site and it looks great! If there’s a simple way to improve your Chinese like the services offered on this site, then we should be grateful that they exist. I studied Chinese for a couple of years but I think that this is a good way to learn Chinese on your own time and at your own expenses. If you are doing business with/in China, you should definitely have a look on this site. Could come in handy!

March 19, 2009 @ 10:20 pm | Comment

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