As part of the Beijinger’s Mandarin Month series ahead of our June 25 Mandarin Mixer, we're profiling some of the most bilingual laowai we know. The star of today's installment, Jessica Beinecke, became an online sensation thanks to her series of instructional English slang videos, and later expanded her repertoire with Crazy Fresh Chinese for Mandarin learners. Known in China as 白洁 (Bai Jie) Beinecke has been praised and profiled by numerous news outlets and even US Secretary of State John Kerry. Below, Beinecke gives advice about choosing a Chinese name, recalls how her "eye gunk" video captured the hearts and minds of thousands of Chinese netizens, and more.
One news article describes you as: "the young woman who has taught Americans how to say 'twerk' in Mandarin." When did you first realize your passion for bridging that divide?
I started making video blogs using Chinese to teach American slang in 2011, when Sina Weibo was becoming popular. I was really inspired by the passion our followers have had for five years to improve their conversational English skills. They are so driven and excited to learn! I am really impressed by their enthusiasm for learning English.
Numerous westerners struggle while taking Mandarin lessons before giving up. If you could offer them one piece of advice, what would it be?
I started learning Mandarin 10 years ago. If I knew then how many friends and wonderful connections I would make by learning how to speak Chinese, I would have studied much harder! There is difficulty in learning anything new, especially trying to learn how to express oneself in an entirely new set of words and characters. What has made learning Mandarin a complete joy for me are the friends I've made because I can speak the language. My advice is to keep in mind that the more you learn, the more fun you will have!
What aspect of Mandarin did you struggle with the most, and how did you rise to the occasion?
During my first year of Mandarin studies – back in 2006! – I really struggled with tones. I still struggle with the third tone sometimes. I'll never forget the practice exercise my teacher gave me to overcome this problem. She had me repeat "美国女孩很忙" over and over again so I could master the third-to-second tone progression. That really helped me!
What feedback have you gotten from followers about learning how to say words like "twerk," "life hack," or "swag?"
The most popular Chinese video blog I have made to date went viral back in 2011. It was about all of the yucky gunk that comes out of one's face, like eye gunk, ear wax, snot, things like that. It always makes me laugh when I meet a Chinese fan who tells me "Hey, Bai Jie! I have been watching you since you talked about boogers five years ago!"
I've read that you chose your Chinese name: "in college to sound a bit like her given name. Directly translated, bai means white and jie means 'clean' or 'pure.'" What advice do you have for westerners that are trying to choose a Chinese name of their own?
That's right! I wanted a Chinese name that sounds like my English name. My first Chinese teacher, Zhu laoshi helped me choose this name. I would highly suggest working with your Chinese teachers to pick out a Chinese name that suits you. They've got your best interest at heart, and will help you pick out a good name.
Any other advice for the newbie Mandarin student?
Don't get too down on yourself while you learn how to speak a new language. It's going to feel awkward and embarrassing to make mistakes and fumble through the beginning. Those mistakes teach you the most, because you don't want to make them again! And you will improve the more you use the language. 加油 (jiāyóu)!
And there you have it! Be sure to pre-register for our June 25 Mandarin Month mixer (by clicking here) to take advantage of free booze, schmoozing with Mandarin teachers and fellow students, and more.
And keep checking our Mandarin Month page for new articles about the wonderful world of Chinese language learning.
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