1. Victor now offers 1-on-1 Chinese tutoring. Register your interest here:
2. Victor will be in China in late April and he is organising a Chinese immersion and photography trip. Register your interest here:

Vladimir (竹文峥) comes from France. He speaks French and Serbian natively, where Serbian his mother tongue. Apart from speaking fluent French, Serbian, English and Chinese, he also speaks Russian. Vladimir has lived in Shanghai for the last 16 years. He is the founder and CEO of Labbrand – a leading global brand consultancy originated and headquartered in China.

Interesting fact: He named some famous brands in Chinese including LinkedIn(领英), Marvel(漫威), (缤客) and Airbnb(爱彼迎)

“The beauty [of Chinese] is that you always have something to discover and dig out. There is always an interesting story hidden behind a character.”

Vladimir Djurovic


Time Stamped Show Notes

  • [4:11] – Vladimir decided to start studying Chinese as his third language (with Russian and English) when he entered university in 1998
    • [4:36] – Vladimir was debating between Spanish and Chinese and chose Chinese because he wanted to really challenge himself
  • [5:03] – In 1999 and 2000, Vladimir participated in a 3-week summer language program in Shanghai
  • [5:15] – In 2001, Vladimir actually moved to Shanghai to continue studying Chinese and work on his master’s degree in management science and engineering at Shanghai Jiao Tong University
  • [6:32] – The highlight of Vladimir’s university experience was to graduate after defending his thesis in Chinese
  • [8:00] – After graduating, Vladimir didn’t formally study Chinese for a while, but he continued to speak Chinese as he lives in China and is married to a Chinese woman
  • [8:18] – 3 years ago, Vladimir created a small class for Chinese practice with some of his colleagues and began ‘studying’ through that
  • [9:06] – Vladimir started studying Chinese while working on his undergraduate degree in France, and that’s how he built his language foundation
  • [10:04] – There is a huge gap between the language level required to take university courses in Chinese as opposed to just passing Chinese language courses at university
  • [10:31] – Vladimir didn’t actually reach the level of Chinese typically required to enter into university until he was finishing his master’s degree, so he was fortunate that his exchange program was lenient
  • [11:39] – What has been Vladimir’s biggest motivation in learning Chinese?
    • [12:01] – Vladimir’s motivation began with his very first Chinese lesson
      • [12:09] – Vladimir shares the must-hear story of this very special lesson when he learned the meaning of ‘我说中国话’ (I speak Chinese) just by interpreting the characters
    • [14:06] – Vladimir’s first Chinese teacher gave him a great passion for ‘decoding’ Chinese characters
    • [14:49] – Vladimir was studying Chinese so much after that first lesson that his roommate at the time decided to move away to escape his Chinese practice
    • [15:56] – That first Chinese lesson completely changed the trajectory of Vladimir’s life, forcing him to reinvent himself and learn new skills in order to stay in China
  • [16:40] – What has been Vladimir’s biggest challenge in learning Chinese?
    • [16:49] – Chinese feels like a language that is impossible to fully master, which is both a challenge and a motivation
  • [17:42] – The beauty of Chinese is that you always have to discover and dig out something. There is always an interesting story hidden behind a character
  • [18:10] – Vladimir’s passion and love for characters has helped him a lot in his professional career
  • [19:16] – Being a foreigner means that you can always be in discovery mode, learning something new about the language
  • [20:43] – Vladimir talks about the process of creating Chinese names for major companies such as LinkedIn(领英), Marvel(漫威), (缤客) and Airbnb(爱彼迎)
    • [21:28] – Vladimir explains the legal aspect of his work
    • [21:59] – It’s also important to make sure that names work all over China with the variations in language and dialects
      • [22:22] – Vladimir shares a specific example where a name worked perfectly in Mandarin and horribly in Cantonese
  • [24:10] – How did Vladimir learn Chinese?
    • [24:18] – Vladimir spent his first year of Chinese learning the 400 most common characters and the second year extending that to 900
      • [24:25] – The memorisation process always built on previous knowledge of characters by reusing them in combination with newly learned characters
      • [24:49] – Throughout the process, Vladimir would practice reading, writing, and pronunciation
    • [25:18] – After reaching an intermediate level, Vladimir began learning through fast reading as he was trying to keep up with Korean and Japanese international students who were faster-reading characters
      • [26:09] – Today, Vladimir still learns by reading about interesting trends in Chinese society
    • [27:28] – In order to retain what you’ve learned, you have to continue using it. This is why the method of learning new characters by connecting them with previously learned characters is so helpful
    • [29:16] – Learning the basic rules for writing characters (e.g. stroke order) makes it much easier to quickly understand characters
    • [30:13] – It’s also helpful to learn the story and the culture behind why a character is composed of its specific radicals
  • [31:52] – What has been Vladimir’s biggest challenge in learning Chinese?
    • [31:57] – Vladimir struggled the most with being able to naturally identify and use the tones
      • [32:52] – Vladimir spent 1 semester learning Shanghainese with its 6 or 7 tones, which made Mandarin seem simpler
      • [33:30] – If you are tired it’s easy to lose the tones in your conversation
  • [34:15] – If Vladimir were to start learning Chinese again from scratch, how would he do it?
    • [34:19] – The only thing Vladimir really would like to change is to have started learning even younger
    • [34:29] – Vladimir would try to learn more from conversational practice in an immersive environment because that would be easier and faster
    • [35:00] – Vladimir now understands that Chinese is a very simple language without difficult grammar
  • [36:29] – Embarrassing moment: The social media reaction for the Chinese name of Airbnb
    • [36:35] – The meaning of the Airbnb’s Chinese name is ‘greet each other with love’, which became a popular subject for joking on social media in China
    • [37:46] – On the other hand, the name does well to reflect the brand identity of Airbnb. It introduces the idea that sharing accommodation should be about more than just money – also human connection
  • [39:30] – Most rewarding moment: Being able to convey personality and passion in a professional context for the first time 
    • [39:38] – Vladimir recently conducted a full 1-hour product pitch in Chinese while still conveying passion and expertise in that professional environment
    • [41:00] – Vladimir ended up feeling more fluent during that meeting than he even thought was possible for him
    • [41:25] – Another rewarding moment was being able to speak on behalf of his friend (who is French) at his wedding with a Chinese woman
  • [42:25] – Life before learning Chinese vs. life after learning Chinese
    • [42:31] – Learning Chinese was an awakening to Chinese culture which completely changed the trajectory of Vladimir’s life and has been extremely rewarding
  • [44:05] – A difference between Chinese culture and Vladimir’s own culture
    • [44:12] – Vladimir talks about the difference between eating with chopsticks vs. a fork and knife and how that is perceived by many Chinese people as well as the cultural implications of the different ways of eating

Vladimir’s Favourite Chinese Quote

  • 是 – yes; to be
    • [49:02] – Vladimir breaks down how this simple character expresses such an abstract concept (being, to be, existence)
    • [49:33] – The top radical represents the sun, and is separated from the bottom by a horizontal line. On the bottom left is a man who has an obstacle in front of him
      • [50:02] – You can read this character as a man who is walking and meets an obstacle. You start ‘to be’ only when you can look beyond the obstacle and see the light of the sun

Vladimir’s Advice for Chinese Learners

  • [51:38] – Learn to love the characters

Connect with Vladimir

Resources Mentioned:

  • [28:04] – Bellassen Method – French teacher of Chinese who devised the method of learning Chinese by progressively building knowledge of new characters on top of characters you’ve already learned
  • 45:53 – Pleco and the lookup function in WeChat are very useful
  • [46:17] – Book: Bellassen Method (mentioned earlier) – The English version is called A Key to Chinese Speech and Writing
  • [46:44] – Book for culture and history: On China by Henry Kissinger – Explaining the long history of China all the way up to modern times

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