For those in quest of a direct, efficient and alternative approach to the Chinese language, Chinese Tools presents YoYo Chinese, founded and run by Yangyang Cheng, a multi-talented and energetic lady, who agreed to answer some of our questions regarding her extremely successful teaching method. With a diverse background spanning education, entertainment, and entrepreneurial ventures, Yangyang is the founder and on-camera host of Yoyo Chinese. She is responsible for supervising all aspects of Yoyo Chinese operations with heavy emphasis on course development. Let’s hear what she has to say!
You’re the most watched Chinese teacher on Youtube with more than 6 million views. How did you get started?
As crazy as this sounds, I actually started out by bringing Western culture to Chinese people – I taught English online using popular American TV shows such as “Friends” and “Sex and the City” and was a TV host on “Hello! Hollywood”, reporting on the latest Hollywood scoop to Chinese viewers.
Thinking back, I’d always been interested in bridging the cultural gap between the East and the West. Teaching Chinese to English-speakers is just a natural continuation of what I’d already been doing.
What motivated me to make that switch from teaching English to teaching Chinese was Mandarin’s reputation as being one of the hardest languages to learn. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth! In fact, the success I’d had teaching Chinese as an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University and as a private tutor shows me that if Chinese is taught the right way, it’s not only easy to learn, students can have fun doing it.
Can you tell me a little about your students, who they are, and why they’re learning Chinese?
My students come from all over the world! Here’s a quick breakdown: 50% from the U.S., 40% from other English-speaking and European countries (Australia, the U.K., Canada, Norway, etc.), and 10% from other Asian countries (Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, etc.)
They learn for all sorts of reasons. Here are just a few examples: I have a student who’s an American business man in Shanghai. He wants to be able to laugh and talk with his colleagues when they knock a few beers back after work. Another student, my oldest one, is 80 years old, and he learns Chinese to sharpen his mind. He tells me it’s better than doing sudoku! Still another does it for love – he fell head over heels for a Chinese woman while corresponding over emails and phone calls, and he’s nervous about meeting her family in China. He wants to carry on a conversation in Chinese and be able to tell her parents that he’ll take good care of their only daughter.
I can go on and on about my students. Each one of them has a unique story. But the point is, the reason for learning Chinese has diversified in the past decade. Before, students learned Chinese for practical reasons only. Now, more and more people are motivated to learn for a wider variety of reasons.
Is Chinese too difficult to learn?
Absolutely not! For one thing, Chinese grammar is really easy. There are no plurals, nor tense, nor gender in Chinese.
Also, Chinese builds on itself. For example, in Chinese, telephone is “diàn huà”, which literally means “electronic speech”, computer is “diàn nǎo”, which literally means “electronic brain”, and movie is “diàn yǐng”, which literally means “electronic shadow”. So when you see the Chinese words for “telephone”, “computer” and “telephone”, you immediately know they’re all related to electricity. These connections help you learn words quickly.
So Chinese is really not that difficult to learn at all. In fact, most of my students were able to speak pretty well after only a few months. Take a look for yourself!
What advice would you give to people who are thinking about learning Chinese?
For a lot of students, trying to learn characters at the beginning feels like tackling two languages at the same time. It can become too overwhelming too quickly.
So my advice would be “learn Pinyin and learn to speak first.” As you get comfortable with speaking, you can start picking up characters if you want to.
What are some common mistakes you see Chinese learners make?
After years of teaching, here are the top 10 mistakes I see students making time and time again:
1. Assuming “to be” = “shì (是).”
2. Assuming “and” = “hé (和)”
3. Ignoring Chinese measure words
4. Using “ma” for “non-yes-or-no” questions
5. Using “bù (不)” to negate the verb “yǒu (有) – to have”
6. Using “bù (不)” to negate past action
7. Confusion about “verb + default object” verbs
8. Forgetting to insert “de (的)” in between adjectives and nouns
9. Using “le (了)” to indicate past tense for all verbs
10. Putting time and location words in the wrong place
If you want to know more about these mistakes and see plenty examples on how to avoid them, I recently wrote an ebook “Top 10 Mistakes Made by Chinese Learners” and it’s available on Amazon for only $0.99. Check it out!
You’ve taught quite a few celebrities Chinese. Who impressed you the most with his/her progress?
Eliza Coupe (“Scrubs”, “Happy Endings”) really impressed me during the filming of her movie “Shanghai Calling.”
When we began, she couldn’t speak a word of Chinese and I had only two weeks to get her sounding like she had lived in Beijing for 6 or 7 years and could speak fluent Chinese. She accepted the challenge and worked very hard to fulfill this tall order.
I was able to give her lots of shortcuts to teach her how to speak Chinese, but mastering the tones and pronunciation was definitely the hardest part. In the end, I taught her to sing out the tones like a song. We played a game where we’d sing out just the tones and then add the sounds afterwards. This method proved very effective and in the end I was blown away by Eliza Coupe’s hard work and learning success.
In this video, I talk about how I helped her master her Chinese lines within 2 weeks. Watch it to pick up a few learning tips yourself:
Thousands of students watch you teach live on Google Hangout on Air all at the same time. What do you think of this format for learning in general?
Now when we think about learning and classrooms, it no longer means a room with four walls and a blackboard. Instead, it means a student from Vietnam, who’s dragging herself out of bed at 4 in the morning while a student from Germany, who’s getting ready for bed, can both learn with me, a teacher in L.A. who’s just finished her lunch.
There’s just something really exciting about the live and interactive nature of Google Hangout on air, which allows me to teach Chinese to thousands of students from all over the world at the same time. I can interact with them. They can interact amongst themselves. The technology brings a global community together to pursue a common interest.
If you want to be part of the experience, visit our Hangout Page to sign up for our next Google Hangout on Air. Or you can see one of the hangouts I did earlier this year about “comprehensive pinyin review.”
Where can we find you?
We have lots of really fun and high quality videos on Youtube.
My website, yoyochinese.com, has 400 clearly explained video lessons that’ll take you from absolute beginner to conversational fluency in just 6 months.