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Now You’re Talking!

Chris Lonsdale  
Chris Lonsdale, founder, The Third Ear  

Chris Lonsdale’s language-teaching tool, Kungfu English, is an innovative software programme designed specifically for mobile devices. By using your iPhone during downtime, he says, a Chinese English-language student can go from a zero base to effective communication within six months. 

The programme is the latest language-learning breakthrough from Mr Lonsdale’s company, The Third Ear, established in Hong Kong in 2007. But its origins date back decades, says the New Zealand-born entrepreneur, who moved to Asia in 1981 and has run an eponymous consultancy business since 1995. 

The executive coach and linguist realised that Chinese people who have studied English for 10 years might be able to read and write the language, yet still don’t know how to speak it. It wasn’t the case for Mr Lonsdale, who became fluent in Mandarin within six months of arriving on the Chinese mainland, and fluent in Cantonese after only four months in Hong Kong. 

Physical Response

People assumed he’s a naturally gifted linguist, but Mr Lonsdale insists there’s a more scientific explanation. “I struggled with French at school – I was in the bottom third of the class,” he says. But when he went to Tahiti as an exchange student, he picked up far more French than he had ever learned in class. 

Later, having graduated with a psychology degree, he made the connection between that experience and total physical response, a method to enhance language-learning by physical, concrete interaction. Just as infants learn to communicate by watching their parents’ faces, and the deaf can interpret sign language, Mr Lonsdale reasoned that the human brain is biologically programmed to acquire any language on earth. 

“In 2005, after a couple of decades of hearing ‘you’re talented,’ I sat down and wrote The Third Ear – You Can Learn Any Language,” Mr Lonsdale says. 

The first in his book series (now in print and online versions) was followed by The Third Ear’s Rhythmic CD series in Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, Korean and Spanish. 

iPhone App Launch

The Kungfu English iPhone app has found a ready market on the Chinese mainland   

The Kungfu English
iPhone app has found a ready market on the Chinese mainland

In late 2009, the company joined the mobile revolution by launching Kungfu English, an application (app) for iPhone and iPod Touch handsets. Word has since spread, with many of the top mainland multinational corporations equipping their workforce with the product, including Kraft, Danone, Agilent, Coca-Cola University, Bayer and Yum, which owns KFC and Pizza Hut.  

“Even Apple Computer is about to start using the Kungfu English app,” says Mr Lonsdale. “Not bad for a little business with a new idea.” 

After living in Hong Kong for 27 years, Mr Lonsdale knew the city was the perfect place to launch his venture. 

“Hong Kong is a place where nobody bothers you – you can get on with what you want to do,” he says. “And there is a positive energy here: people want you to be successful.” 

He describes Hong Kong’s tax regime as “rational and reasonable,” saying this is immensely attractive for business. “It is a great hub for operating throughout all of China and Southeast Asia,” he adds. 

Recipe for Success

Mr Lonsdale believes Hong Kong’s dynamism brought his ideas to fruition. “I don’t think I could have done this anywhere else in the world.” 

Why? Firstly, he rates access to lots of resources, including multilingual staff. There is a real need here, too, Mr Lonsdale continues. 

“Since Hong Kong is a small market, you can test products at minimal cost. And we can access even cheaper labour across the border to do some of the grunt work.” 

It is easy to set up a business in Hong Kong, and access to international information is freely available, he adds. “You are prepared to take a risk here, where maybe you wouldn’t anywhere else.” 

A home-grown Hong Kong company, The Third Ear has started to get the world talking. About 350 million Chinese are currently learning English, either at school or in outside classes, and Mr Lonsdale says his Kungfu English app is the cheapest – and, he believes, most effective – learning method. By the end of this year, or early 2011, a complementary app, teaching Mandarin and Cantonese to native English speakers, should also be available. 

Ten years from now, Mr Lonsdale predicts every person on the planet will be able to speak three languages – thanks largely to one man’s idea, and the city that made it happen. 

Related Links
Kungfu English
The Third Ear

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