Deborah Fallows

To understand China, start with simple bits of the Chinese language.

Linguist, Author, and China Expert

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Deborah Fallows | Linguist, Author, and China Expert
Lavin Exclusive Speaker

The author of Dreaming in Chinese, Deborah Fallows spent the last few years absorbing the culture, the politics, and the people of China to offer talks that give a refreshingly different take of the world’s next superpower. Unlike many observers, she shed her Western preconceptions, and relied on her background in linguistics to grasp the enormity of Chinese life through language. 

While writing Dreaming in Chinese, Deborah Fallows’s approach allowed her to understand many of the idiosyncrasies that confound the West when interacting with the Chinese. As the New York Times Sunday Book Review says, “Fallows presents the common Chinese viewpoint,” adding that she “sticks to her own experiences and observations, which make her book all the more valuable.”


“You don’t have to know Mandarin to be captivated by Deborah Fallows’s Dreaming in Chinese...[she] shows us that the cultural implications of those words teach us about each other.”

O Magazine

A Harvard graduate with a PhD in Linguistics, Fallows is also the author of A Mother’s Work, which deals with child-rearing in the working-mom age. She most recently worked in research and polling for the Pew Internet Project. Fallows’s writing on women, education, work, and travel has appeared in, among others, The Atlantic Monthly, National Geographic, and Newsweek.

Speech Topics

Global Economy
Think Like the Chinese Think Understanding the Culture of Modern China Through the Lens of Language

Using her experience as a trained linguist and a new student of Chinese, Deborah Fallows shows how simple words, phrases, or bits of the grammar of the Chinese language can become windows to understanding  much of the Chinese culture—their sense of romance, humor, protocol, personal relationships, and interest in foreigners, to name a few. Why, for example, does abrupt language in Chinese actually signal a closeness between friends, rather than impolite behavior? Or why do the Chinese have such trouble saying "I love you" to the ones they love the most? With fluid grace and on-the-ground experience, Fallows provides a necessary human perspective on an emerging superpower that many in the West still struggle to comprehend.

Diversity & Race
Absorbing Diversity American Universities and an Increasingly International Student Body

American universities welcome international students for their diversity, perspective, and experience. Today, with growing numbers and nationalities of foreign students, campus dynamics are rapidly shifting. The new, young melting pot brings both advantages and challenges. What does it mean, for example, that there are suddenly 100,000 Chinese students, who have grown up with a largely pop-culture introduction to America and who are met by a western student body that is mostly unfamiliar with them and their country? How can the university community—faculty, staff and students of all sorts—get behind the change to understand the growing pains and pleasures? How can they help steer change in the best, positive directions toward a story of academic, social, and personal success? Fallows uses her first-hand experiences of living around the world to help scrutinize our own impressions of each other, and to move toward a more inclusive, generous context for living and working with one another.

Corporate Culture
Understanding China for Businesses Exploring the Critical (Human) Aspects and Social Dynamics
As Western companies and their leaders think about how to do business with China, they know that part of their success depends on crucial but elusive “soft” cultural issues that are always in play. What aspects of the culture are critical to the work and social dynamic between Americans and their Chinese colleagues and competitors? How can Americans look for and interpret similarities or differences with the Chinese in human qualities like humor, respect, trust, friendship, and identity? Fallows recently lived and worked in China for three years and traveled through every part of the country. She uses her own experience of coping with the Mandarin language as one model of how to be a good observer and a sensitive interpreter inside a different culture. She describes how some of her own foibles and missteps finally led to some insights. This is a talk that can encourage your company’s people to thrive both professionally and personally, and may ultimately help your company in its mission with China.