Corinne Dillon is the founder and CEO of Discover Mandarin, which connects professionally trained, Beijing-based Mandarin instructors with Chinese language students for personalized one-on-one classes over the Internet.
Corinne is originally from Ridgewood, N.J., and her involvement with China began in the early 90’s when she spent three years living in Hong Kong. In 2005, Corinne returned to Beijing on a scholarship to study Mandarin and relocated there permanently in 2007 after graduating from Harvard University. After working for Ogilvy China, Corinne realized that her true passion was for sharing the Chinese language with American students interested in learning about one of the world’s oldest civilizations and most dynamic economies.
Corinne struggled for years to learn Mandarin in a traditional classroom setting. It was only after moving to Beijing, and connecting with the group of teachers who would eventually form her core Discover Mandarin teaching team, that she really began to learn Chinese. Now fluent in Mandarin, she and her teachers use the same methodology that was so effective for her to teach Mandarin to students all over the world.
What are you working on right now?
We’re doing a back-to-school push with big discounts for all new students and free trial classes.
While I’m in the U.S. this fall, I’m also teaching free Mandarin classes to beginners at places like the YMCA and the Harvard Club of New York. (Join us if you’re around!) I incorporate a lot of pictures and words that have a similar sounding English equivalent to get newbies curious about Chinese. People are shocked by how much they can learn in just an hour!
3 Trends that excite you?
1. The explosion of interest in China and Chinese language amongst Americans of all ages. I love Chinese language and culture and enjoy sharing that passion with fellow students.
2. Better and better technologies that allow my teachers and students to connect on the clearest, crispest network possible.
3. The availability of effective and affordable online advertising opportunities for small businesses like Discover Mandarin.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Staying on task and maintaining efficiency is sometimes challenging when you don’t have a boss breathing down your neck. I use a stopwatch to time myself when I’m working so I get a real idea of how much I’m actually getting done — and how much I’m getting up for a drink or chatting with my teachers.
Take advantage of your network of friends, family and colleagues for advice and ideas. I’ve learned a lot from other entrepreneurs, insights from people in the education field and have especially valued the feedback from my very earliest customers. Take that advice and turn it into tangible improvements in your business.
Get out there and network. You never know how someone might help you — or how you can help them. Look to help others, and that kind of positive, generous attitude will come back to you.
What is one mistake you’ve made that our readers can learn from?
Starting and running a business is tough — and you don’t see results right away. Be patient and don’t give up, because you’re not seeing the sales you imagined when your business was still just an idea in your head.
Don’t assume that because you’re thinking about your company 24/7, everyone else knows about it, too. Invest in advertising and SEO to bring people to the site.
What is one book and one tool that helps you bring ideas to life?
“The Now Habit,” by Neil Fiore. It helped me better structure my work time and taught me how to tackle even the most intimidating tasks with confidence and enthusiasm.
What is one idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
This idea is already in place in some places, but there’s incredible demand for bilingual (especially Chinese-English) preschools and kindergartens.
I always tell people that a dedicated, hard-working adult can learn Chinese better than a child, but growing up in a bilingual environment is obviously an advantage.
Learning Chinese is a great idea. Even now, far too few Americans speak Chinese — and speak it well. Given all the business opportunities in China right now, Chinese-speakers have a huge leg up over people not at all familiar with the language or culture.
What’s the best way to learn Chinese, and why is Discover Mandarin best positioned to teach me?
I get this question a lot, and I always answer it the same way — one-on-one classes with a native speaker who’s also a professional language instructor.
Too many people try to learn Chinese from outdated, boring textbooks, and not surprisingly, they lose interest and give up. One-on-one classes mean that all the focus is on you and improving your Chinese. You’re not negatively influenced by the mistakes of your classmates, and your mistakes are corrected immediately. You start speaking from minute one of class one — unlike a traditional classroom setting or language software program where you never get the chance to speak.
I struggled for years to learn Mandarin — and failed repeatedly. It wasn’t until I moved to China and dedicated myself to one-on-one lessons with enthusiastic teachers that I began to see progress. We used cartoons and blog articles instead of a text, and my teachers would record all the new sentences I learned that day so I could listen and read those sentences out loud at home to work on pronunciation.
I know how hard Chinese can be for Americans if they don’t have the right methodology — and how amazingly rewarding and exciting it can be when they do. Discover Mandarin is about sharing great teachers and methods with students who are excited about Chinese.
What do you enjoy besides studying and sharing Mandarin?
A lot of things! I majored in English literature, with a focus on Irish literature and drama. I love to read — everything from William Yeats to Agatha Christie. I love running and Renaissance art, classic rock and traveling. I want to do a full family tree and then travel to Ireland with my husband and explore my ancestry in further depth.
I love meeting new people and talking with other entrepreneurs, so feel free to get in touch.