Most people start learning Chinese

This is how you learn Chinese in just one week

Who is the woman? Suddenly she stands in the living room, eyes me, says hello, and then sits down on the small plastic stool in front of the computer in the corner. How rude! Or am I wrong? Is she even my hostess? I moved in here three hours ago.

Now there are four people in my new living room and I don't even know their names. When shortly afterwards two more men come with luggage and sit down at the deep living room table to smoke, I don't know what to do. Is this a hostel and not a private apartment at all? Where did I get into here?

Andreas Laimböck is to blame. I had met him four weeks earlier in a small pub in the Sanlitun district of Beijing; a colleague recommended him to me as a contact person for other research. Laimböck came to China 15 years ago as an exchange student, sold medical products in the country for a few years, then quit in order to set up a language school in Beijing.

What he told me over squid and tsingtao beer sounded like bad advertising: the teachers at his school could teach anyone to speak Chinese fluently and even write it within a year.

Immerse yourself in the language

That sounded almost not only implausible, but brazen. After all, Sinology students spend years studying to master the language. Laimböck went one better: "We can even bring absolute beginners within a week to the point where they can communicate in Chinese in everyday situations."

I had to try it out to believe it - and four weeks later I found myself in a strange apartment, surrounded by people I couldn't communicate with. My despair, however, had a system: you learn a language not only in the classroom, but in everyday life. LTL Chinese School (www.ltl-chinesisch.de), the Laimböck language school, teaches according to this principle.

The student should immerse himself in the language, this method is called immersion or language bath. In the metropolises of Beijing or Shanghai, this only works to a limited extent, here foreigners with English can get on in all important everyday situations - at Starbucks or in international hotels.