LTL LANGUAGE SCHOOL STORY
LTL Founded by Andreas Laimböck
Born in Frankfurt, Andreas first came to China in 1999 and started studying Mandarin in Beijing in 2002. Working for different international medical companies in Beijing afterwards he kept studying Mandarin himself and helped newly arrived friends to organise their Chinese courses.Show More »
After many failed attempts and many stories of slow progress and bad organization, the lack of a reliable Chinese language school offering high quality Mandarin instruction became quite apparent.
In 2007 while living in a beautiful Hutong in old Beijing, he decided to start a Chinese language school to change that. It first operated out of a coffee shop in the Central Business District, just across the street from where we are located today.
The initial plan was to call it “Spaghetti Chinese” but thankfully a friend with a bit more marketing experience convinced him to use LTL (Live The Language) instead.
First Director of Studies Hired – Tina Xiang
After working for four years as a Chinese teacher herself, Tina decided to take on the challenge of building up the Chinese teaching team for LTL.
Her first decision was to not hire teachers part-time as back then all Chinese language schools did, but to offer full-time work contracts.Show More »
Those contracts included stable salaries and full social insurance packages with annual, sick and maternity leave as well as health, pension and unemployment insurance. Back then this was highly unusual, but the offer turned out to be a strong incentive.
Within a few months we had Beijing’s best and most experienced Chinese teachers working for us.
Tina worked as our Director of Studies in Beijing until 2013 when she took a one-year baby break.
Afterwards she moved with her little daughter back to her home town Chengde to lead our Chinese teaching team there.
Today Tina is our Director of Studies in Chengde, but still loves teaching and instructs students in the Chinese immersion program herself.
Our First School Opens in Beijing
After five months of construction and endless arguments with all kinds of people we finally moved into our first home in April 2009.
On the 16th floor in the “Sunshine 100” Building right in the center of Beijing we had four class rooms, a kitchen, lunch area, small office and a beautiful balcony overlooking Beijing.Show More »
Our interior designers Ms. Liang Min from the Beijing Institute of Technology created a very bright environment that quickly became our and our student’s home.
She also decided to cover all class room walls with glass so they could also be used as white boards.
This allowed teachers to move around in the class room and fit our inter-active and energetic teaching style very well.
Liang Min went on to design all LTL language schools, including the first school extension on the 19th floor, the new one on the 29th floor and our Shanghai school.
Today, she lives and works in Milan, Italy.
Our Very First Homestay
From the start the aim of LTL had always been to create an immersive environment for students who want to learn Chinese as fast as possible.
However, as we were still building our reputation, most of our students were foreigners already living in Beijing and studying Mandarin only part-time after work.Show More »
Our teachers went to their homes or offices to teach Mandarin a few times a week after work. This meant we had only limited opportunities to get them to be immersed into a Chinese language environment and just a few hours of instruction a week were not enough for rapid language progress.
However, in 2009 we had grown enough to start focusing on our main mission: Rapid language progress programs for students to coming to China for full time study.
This meant offering a lot more than just language classes, as homestays, visas, social events and 24/7 support are vital for a successful program. In 2009 – our first year of offering this – we had a total of three full time students coming to study in China from abroad.
The first one (Susanne from Germany) arrived in June and stayed with our first homestay family in Beijing for two months.
The Zhang’s were a retired couple living in the building opposite of our school and friends of the uncle of one of our teachers.
Their son had got married and left home so they had a free room and plenty of time available. Mr. and Ms. Zhang had never been abroad, couldn’t speak a word of English and previously had never had any contact with foreigners.
It was an exciting experience for all sides. However, after sorting out the initial challenges both Susanne and the Zhang family loved it.
Susanne passed her HSK exam and came back to LTL the next year. The Zhang’s remained an LTL homestay until 2013 when they moved to another city to be closer to their son and granddaughter.
The Chinese Immersion Program Was Born
We had always known that to achieve fast language progress we had to get our students to speak Mandarin not only during but also outside class.
We did well in getting our students to speak a lot of Chinese during class and to practice at home with their host family.Show More »
However, during breaks, social events and Beijing nightlife there was always a lot of temptation to speak English with other students, expats or Chinese who could speak English.
Knowing that this was less than ideal, we tried out a lot of different things, including a language pledge where students promised to not speak anything except Mandarin.
The results were not satisfactory. Students ended up learning each other’s grammar mistakes.
As Beijing is an international city, with a large expat population, international nightlife and increasingly more English speakers it became obvious to us that a complete immersion experience would not be possible in this city.
So we started to search for the perfect immersion city to learn Mandarin in. This was a lot more difficult than we had first expected.
Outside of Northeast China locals spoke very strong dialects which made immersion for a student of standard Mandarin impossible. The larger cities in Northeast China all had sizeable expatriate communities with a lot of opportunities to speak English and the smaller ones were rather grim industrial towns, not to mention the minus 40 degrees temperatures during winter.
However, after a lot of traveling and research we finally found our perfect city for a complete immersion program: Chengde.
China’s old summer capital was the birth place of Mandarin and standard 普通话 was codified in Chengde in 1952.
The city had no expatriate community whatsoever and nobody could speak English. At the same time, Chengde was a beautiful city with clean air, located in the mountains, a UNESCO world heritage site and home of the Old Imperial Summer Palace with amazing hiking and outdoor sports opportunities.
At half a million people the city still offered all the amenities of a proper city though and the locals were famous for their hospitality.
Our First Ever Student in Chengde
On May 25th 2010 our first student went to Chengde to study and live with a homestay family.
The very next day two very concerned government officers arrived at the homestay to discuss the situation.
They had not seen a foreigner live in their city since the 2nd world war and were very unsure how to deal with the situation.Show More »
After countless meetings, phone calls and several days of deliberations they finally decided that there was nothing wrong with someone coming to Chengde to learn Mandarin.
We were allowed to continue the program. We had not expected how little even the government in Chengde really knew about foreigners and it was an exciting time for all of us.
Once all settled down, the three week program was a huge success and it became very obvious how much faster students can learn Mandarin in a completely immersed environment.
Our students are the only foreigners living in Chengde.
To ensure a complete immersion experience we never have more than ten foreigners study there together.
In a city of 500,000 people the chances of running into one of the other nine students are pretty small. The government today is very supportive and both officers who came to visit our first student later asked to become homestay families themselves.
Time to Expand
Little by little we were building our reputation as the place to go to for students who wanted to experience immersion and improve their Mandarin quickly.
As a result, we started to run out of class room space and had to build a school extension on the 19th floor of the same building with an additional six class rooms.
We kept the extension until 2014 when we moved into our new Beijing school on the 29th floor of the same building.
Our First Intern
We realized that many of our students did not only want to learn Mandarin, but also gain work experience in China.
Teaching Chinese to many international companies already, we had very good connections to the HR departments and started to offer our internship in China program.
Today most interns combine studying Mandarin with working in a company in Beijing or Shanghai.
Zhongwen Joins LTL
Zhongwen joined the LTL Chengde team in November 2011.
Before LTL came to town there were no opportunities to teach Mandarin in Chengde because there were no foreigners in the city.
Zhongwen however had always believed that Mandarin was her destiny and so did her parents when they chose her name: 仲文 (Zhongwen) which is pronounced the same way as 中文 (Zhongwen – Mandarin).Show More »
Once she heard about a Chinese language school setting up shop, she immediately applied and quickly became one of our most valuable team members.
Once she heard about a Chinese language school setting up shop, she immediately applied and quickly became one of our most valuable team members.
Zhongwen today is our Chengde school director and very much the heart and soul of LTL there.
She organizes classes and homestays, helps students to make local friends, organizes hiking trips and is always there when someone needs help. Also after all these years she still picks up every student from the train station herself.
Alex Joins LTL
Alex joined us as a student advisor in 2012. Back then he organized all full time Chinese language programs for students at LTL Beijing and Chengde.
He continued to do so until 2016, when he moved to Shanghai to become our school director for LTL Shanghai.
Alex is a language learning enthusiast and polyglot who speaks over 10 different languages including of course fluent Mandarin.
He since moved to Taipei to manage the opening of our new school in Taiwan (more on that later) and is now living back where his heart lies, mainland China.
Our First Ever Gap Year Program
Luke was our very first full gap year Chinese student. He started as a complete beginner and over the course of a year we took him to HSK 6 with a homestay and Chinese immersion program.
We had always thought with a well planned program, including homestays, immersion and well taught intensive classes it was possible to get a complete beginner to HSK 6 within a year.
However, Luke’s program was the first time we put theory into practice – and it was amazing to see it work in real life.Show More »
Today we offer many different gap year options for students in China.
They are always tailored and can include many different components from language courses, immersion programs, multi city options and internships.
However, those who follow the same path as Luke are the most fascinating for us.
Seeing a student who arrived in China barely being able to say “ni hao” leave with a HSK 6 certificate a year later is an amazing experience.
Our First Shared Apartments
LTL is all about immersion, but we had to recognize that some students wanted more freedom and did not want to stay with a homestay family.
We decided start offering shared apartment options in Beijing. Here students had full privacy, but still lived with Chinese flat mates.
The shared apartments were also located in a very Chinese part of Beijing. Even though it is only four subway stops from our school in downtown Beijing very few foreigners live in that area.
Except a new bar street that developed next to the Grand Canal which flows just south of the development, nothing much has changed in the area and our shared apartments are still located there today.
New Beijing School
As our reputation grew we started to run out of space again and needed bigger school facilities.
We did not want to leave our central location in downtown Beijing, so we looked to move into the 29th and 30th floor in the same building.
The two floors are connected with a staircase so we could finally have all LTL class rooms together in one place again.Show More »
Also after we had seen how important our school balcony was for students to mingle and quickly make friends, we definitely wanted a place with a nice outdoor space again.
The massive roof top on the 30th floor with amazing views all over Beijing sealed the deal for us and after five months of renovations – and plenty of trouble with the construction company – we moved into our new premises.
While most other schools got pushed out of downtown due to the huge rent increases in the next few years, we were lucky as we had bought the premises before prices went crazy and could remain in the middle of the city.
Our 2nd School Opens – Shanghai
Over the years we had been asked countless times if we could offer Chinese courses in Shanghai.
However, we were always concerned whether it would be possible to provide the same outstanding quality we had become known for when operating in a city that far away.Show More »
However, in 2015 long term LTL team member Alexander Krasnov decided to move to Shanghai.
This was finally our chance to bring our Chinese teaching and immersion expertise to another city.
Like in Beijing we built our Shanghai school right in the middle of town and kept the same concept of small Chinese group classes, a lot of social services, support, homestays, internships, and shared apartments with a focus on fast Chinese language progress.
Our First Multi City Students
With now three schools in Shanghai, Beijing and Chengde we decided to offer a multi city Chinese course in China that allowed students to experience three very different cities during the same program.
Alex and William were two friends from the UK who decided to spend nine weeks of their gap year studying Mandarin in China and were our first multi city program participants.Show More »
They started with three weeks in international Shanghai where it is easy to settle into China, moved on to more traditional Beijing for another three weeks and finished completely immersed in Chengde.
In all cities they stayed in a homestay and took the intensive option with four hours of small group plus an additional two hours of 1-on-1 Chinese classes per day.
Both made it from complete beginner level to HSK 2 within those nine weeks and within just two months learned more about China than many do in their whole lifetime.
The program was a huge success and today the multi city program is one of our most popular options. Especially students who want to come to China for a longer period often on a gap year before or after university choose to study in two or three different LTL schools during their Chinese program.
School #3 Opens – LTL Taiwan
Looking back, moving over to Taipei, Taiwan was one of the best things we ever did. Our students absolutely adore Taipei, and we can see why!
Our first Chinese language student in Taiwan was Andy. He started a four week full time Mandarin course in Taipei.Show More »
Andy was from the USA and of Taiwanese decent. He often visited Taipei for business trips and grew up speaking some Mandarin at home.
Already having the basics, his main aim was to be able to speak Mandarin confidently in business situations.
He did four hours a day of one on one classes and progressed very fast.
Andy also wrote about his experience of studying at LTL Taipei, which you can find on our individual Chinese classes in Taiwan page.
LTL Taiwan has grown rapidly since then and is currently one of our most popular destinations to study Mandarin.
Our 4th School – Beihai (The Hidden Gem)
Beihai is a city unbeknown to even a lot of Chinese believe it or not. This gem is based on the south coast of China, hosting some of the finest beaches in the country.
Beihai is a fascinating place which provides an ultra cheap lifestyle, a wide variety of accents, and some of the finest beach scenery in all of China.Show More »
Whilst our local friends are heading down to the increasingly crowded Hainan Island, and Sanya, we decided to make a left-field move which has paid off hugely in the form of some very happy students, and a truly immersive Chinese experience.
Our first student in Beihai was Chris who came all the way from Ireland to study for 3 weeks in Beihai.
Our wonderful program manager/teacher in Beihai, Anna, looked after Chris (as with all our Beihai students) and gave him a unique insight into life in Beihai.
It helps she’s a local!
Our Beihai courses, due to the cheap lifestyle, are vastly cheaper than the equivalents in Beijing and Shanghai and provides our students with something truly different.
Needless to say Chris went home a very happy man and was the 1st of hopefully many students who take this rather different route to studying Chinese in China!
Visit our website to study Chinese in Beihai.
LTL Xi’an is Born
Thanks to a lot of happy students and a great team we decided to take a further step into China, but where next?
Xi’an is a city often overlooked when people visit China, or if not, just referred to because of the Terracotta Warriors. Trust us when we say Xi’an has bags to offer.Show More »
Xi’an is often referred to as a mini Beijing. But what does that mean?
When comparisons are drawn between Beijing and Shanghai, the former provides culture and history that Shanghai simply cannot match.
However, go to Xi’an and you see a city that is incredibly comparable to Beijing, just on a much smaller scale.
Due to this, we wanted to make sure our next move was here and in May of 2019, we made that dream a reality.
With courses now available in Beijing, Shanghai, Chengde, Taipei, Beihai and Xi’an we can truly say we are able to provide students of Chinese with all kinds of different aspects of life in China.
- Want something truly immersive? Head to Chengde.
- Want to experience big city life? Enjoy Shanghai.
- What about a slow pace of life in a smaller location? Go to Beihai.
Something for everyone!
Creating Our Own Free Tools
Something our Marketing team spoke of for many months was providing something for our website visitors completely free of charge.
We are far more than just a language school. We are a community and because of that we brainstormed ideas and came up with some brilliant suggestions which have since, proved a huge hit!Show More »
Our tools have included:
- A Chinese Name Generator where you can create your own Chinese name.
- A Chinese Zodiac Calculator where you can not only discover your Chinese Zodiac, but also your lucky numbers and colours.
- A Chinese Pinyin Generator where you can actually type tones as you type Pinyin, something we absolutely love!
- HSK Vocabulary quizzes for all levels
- A Chinese Proverb of the Day, everyday.
Why spend time on these you ask?
We genuinely care about every visitor that comes to our website and we want you to all feel part of us, so these little free tools are a small gesture of us giving something back.
The feedback has been great and we’ll continue to provide plenty more.
Check out our full list of Chinese Tools here. If you have ideas for further tools we could provide, let us know. We’ll be happy to create it!
LTL Singapore & Our First Student
Branching out as far as Singapore was of great excitement to us here at LTL.
We’ve enjoyed planting our flag throughout mainland China but to step further afield into Asia was always a goal of ours and Singapore seemed the perfect place
We welcomed our first student, Stephanie, in March 2020.Show More »
Stephanie studied with us for 5 weeks and during that time we even welcomed our 2nd student!
We were delighted that Stephanie enjoyed her lessons with Teacher Tim so much she booked on for more classes.
Singapore is an interesting place to learn Chinese because Singapore actually has four official languages, Mandarin being one of them.
Despite the fact Singapore is largely English speaking it is also very easy to immerse yourself into Mandarin whilst in Singapore as there are so many communities you can jump between.
We are excited to welcome further students to this incredible and unique country in the coming years!
Congrats to Stephanie and Tim for being a part of LTL history!
We have all our usual range of courses in Singapore such as:
Come and check us out!
Flexi Classes Launched
2020 of course threw a spanner in the works for so many of us, and whilst we had to deal with closed borders, rather than feeling sorry for ourselves we got hard to work one something quite amazing.
The LTL Flexi Classes were born after 6 hard months of graft.
The brand new revolutionary way to study Chinese online – where students can study anywhere, anytime and have complete flexibility to cancel, re-book and change classes. All this with a few clicks of the mouse.
Early feedback was amazing – with our very own branded PDF’s for our classes, and our wonderful teaching team.Show More »
Flexi Classes remains a work in progress, with our team making tweaks every week to enhance the experience.
We’d love you to check our Flexi Classes our yourself if you have a minute:
- We launched a brand new website showcasing Flexi.
- Find out how Flexi works with the man behind the idea.
- See what some of our first students said.
Lex the Lion is Born
An exciting project our Marketing team embarked on towards the end of 2020 was to bring LTL to life with our very first mascot.
After months of debate about the name, the animal and the look – we finally settled on Lex the Lion and we couldn’t have been happier with him!Show More »
Lex was proudly paraded to the world in January 2021 and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive.
We love having Lex around and he’s become a prominent part of our Flexi Classes, blog posts and our social media.
If you see him online, say hi 🙂
New Languages Launched // Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese
Things got even more interesting in 2021.
Flexi Classes was proving a big hit with our Mandarin students, and with a team behind the scenes who live and breathe languages, we thought why not try our hand at teaching some other east Asian languages?Show More »
We had a good chat as a team and decided to go for it.
Our immediate target languages were Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese.
After spending plenty of time hiring the right team members we went to work at writing our own curriculum’s from scratch, just like we did for Mandarin.
Months later we were ready to launch.
Alongside Mandarin, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese we also teach a number of Chinese dialects including Cantonese and Taiwanese (Hokkien).
To this day Flexi Classes offers more than 10 different languages which are all available to study 24/7.
Our 1st School in Vietnam
Vietnamese, to our surprise, proved to be our 2nd most popular language on Flexi Classes.
This took us all by surprise but the proof was there for all to see.
So what do we do when our students shout – we make it happen. We opened the doors to our very first Vietnamese language school in March 2023.Show More »
The school is based in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City, or know by the locals by the old name of Saigon.
From the original idea to the actual opening – this was the quickest built LTL school in history and much of the credit there goes towards the wonderful Margot.
We’ve welcomed our first students to the school and our Flexi Class team all work from our Saigon school.
Whatever could be next on the horizon at LTL… 👀