Saying 'ni hao' to the Chinese business community

Ni hao. Ni jiao shen me ming zi?

Wo jiao Sunny Duann.

It's the short exchange I shared as I met Sunny Duann, a China native who has lived in the Tampa Bay area for 35 years.

Applause and a cheer followed.

"Very good," chimes in Linda Hibbeln, president of the Tampa Bay Chinese Chamber of Commerce, responding to my greeting and question about Duann's name. "You speak very proper. You even talked in the tone."

No more beads of sweat rolling down my forehead. I passed the latest test of my Chinese product review.

For the past couple of months, I have tested Rosetta Stone's TOTALe, an interactive, online language education program.

Rosetta Stone offered an opportunity to try TOTALe, which includes an online course, networking with other learners through "Rosetta World," and tutoring by a native speaker in "Rosetta Studio."

It's a total immersion program, where you do not use your native language at all.

I picked Mandarin Chinese because it is one of the top languages spoken at home in the Tampa Bay area. There are about 100 languages spoken in homes in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties.

To get a better sense of Chinese-American business in the Tampa Bay area, I met with Hibbeln and Duann, who are connected with area businesses and associations.

Hibbeln's Tampa Bay Chinese Chamber of Commerce has about 150 members, with about 50 active, including business executives, lawyers and various entrepreneurs.

In addition to the chamber, there's the Chinese American Association of Tampa, which includes scholars, professors and information technology experts.

And there's the older, broader Suncoast Chinese American Association, founded by immigrants in the 1970s.

A big sign of the growing Chinese-American community in Tampa Bay is the opening of a second Asian grocery in Brandon, called M D Oriental Market at 1027 E Adamo Drive, a 10,000-square-foot store. The first M D Oriental Market is at 1106 E Fowler Ave.

"That tells you the numbers are growing," Duann said. "You don't open a 10,000-square-foot grocery unless you know people are there."

Her estimates: about 20,000 Chinese-Americans in the area. Then Duann pauses to give me a friendly test.

"Do you know this?" she asks.

Hua, she says, touching the sunflower sitting in a vase on the table.

Huang se de hua, I reply. (Yellow flower).

"Wow," Hibbeln says and then laughs. "How did you learn that? Very good."

I began my own inquiry:

Zhe che shen me? I said, asking what her drink was called.

Hong jiu, she said, identifying it as red wine.

Bai jiu, Duann says, is white wine.

The lessons seem to be working, though at times it is difficult to practice every day when life gets busy. It requires discipline.

The program isn't cheap. The original cost was $999. With the recent release of TOTALe V4, Rosetta Stone is offering the program for $749, still a bit steep for many would-be learners in a tough economy, but increasingly it appears worth it.

We'll see over the next three weeks as Hibbeln and Duann take me on a tour of the groceries and restaurants for some authentic Chinese food.

Ivan Penn can be reached at ipenn@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2332. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Consumers_Edge and find the Consumer's Edge on Facebook.

About the series

Watch Ivan Penn as he learns Chinese at tampabay.com/chinese.

In Business

Today: Commerce. Ivan meets members of the local Chinese business community.

Oct. 31: Dining. Ivan seeks out the best Chinese restaurant and orders in Mandarin.

Nov. 21: Conclusion. How well did Rosetta Stone's TOTALe work in teaching Ivan to speak conversational Chinese?

About Rosetta Stone

Rosetta Stone launched TOTALe in July 2009. The company, one of the leading language learning businesses in the world with millions of users in 150 countries, says TOTALe now is its foremost teaching tool. The TOTALe program has 32 languages available. It originally cost about $999. Now the TOTALe V4 that Rosetta Stone is offering costs $749.

Saying 'ni hao' to the Chinese business community 10/08/10 [Last modified: Monday, October 11, 2010 1:25pm]

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