Skype renders a virtual classroom for people wanting to learn a new language. London-based stand-up comic Tommy Campbell sits down for Mandarin lessons, three hours every week, with Lily Huang, a mother of one and a qualified English teacher who resides in the Chinese province of Hainan.
Huang charges $20 per hour of lesson, which her students pay via Paypal. Her lessons are customized — Huang asks her students what they want to learn next and she sends them her lesson plan a day ahead of the tutorial session. Skype also allows her to examine the spelling of words and draw characters through a digital whiteboard. Following a lesson, Huang “Skypes” an MP3 recording of the material covered during the class.
Because her work relies greatly on technology, Huang said her teaching business was paralyzed following a powerful earthquake in Taiwan last December. That disaster immobilized undersea Internet cables, thus disabling services in Southeast Asia.
Eric Atherton of England’s Oxfordshire county, one of Huang students, cited the difficulty of finding a local private Mandarin tutor and the technology for taking up Chinese lessons online. “Although you don’t have someone in the room with you, face to face, you are actually talking to someone in China right now, that is the compensation.”