Lisa Mullins talks to Jessica Beinecke, who hosts “OMG! Meiyu,” a video show produced by Voice of America that helps Chinese speakers learn American English.
The show has become popular in China by teaching words like “booger” and “oopsie” and phrases like “muffin top”.
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Lisa Mullins: Catchy slogans and phrases in one language don’t always translate easily into another, and that’s why for millions of Chinese who want to learn English, this voice is so helpful.
Jessica Beinecke: [speaking Chinese]
Mullins: This is the voice of Jessica Beinecke who’s a 24-year-old American. She hosts OMG! Meiyu. OMG! Meiyu is a daily three minute video that’s produced by voice of America. It’s aimed at helping Chinese speakers learn American English. Jessica Beinecke, translate OMG! Meiyu for us, what does it mean?
Jessica Beinecke: OMG! Meiyu means OMG! American English.
Mullins: Oh, American English is the Meiyu part?
Beinecke: Meiyu, yes, American English.
Mullins: Yeah, and you know, the energy you just put into answering that question is the same energy that’s on your videos. How long have you been doing the show and how did you get so excited about teaching American English to Chinese speakers?
Beinecke: Oh, wow, we started posting episodes July 27, so it’s just over four months now, oh, three months now. And at our three month anniversary this Monday we passed the four million hits mark on the Chinese web hosting site, Youku.
Mullins: How did the word get out?
Beinecke: We have a few other English teaching accounts here at Voice of America. They helped retweet my videos in the beginning, but this one show that is about all the yucky gunk that comes out of your face really resonated with everybody and you know, this human emotion, you never know what’s really gonna catch on.
Mullins: Let’s play a little bit of that video now. This is the one that you said went viral, ah, the yucky gunk video.
Beinecke: …all of the gunk that comes out of your face. [speaking Chinese] sleepies, [speaking Chinese], ear wax, [speaking Chinese] booger, [speaking Chinese] annoying. You are being such a booger!
Mullins: I love that last part, you are such a booger. Did that go over well?
Beinecke: It did go over well and I think with great influence comes great responsibility, and after I taught that phrase I mentioned you probably don’t want to say that to your parents, just use that among friends…and it’s just a funny way of saying someone’s being annoying.
Mullins: Yes, a little cultural context is helpful here. Okay, let’s have another example of what you’re teaching the Chinese. In this case it’s telling them how to apologize.
Beinecke: I apologize, I apologize [speaking Chinese].
Mullins: And you go on because you like to focus on slang, with another way to apologize.
Beinecke: My bad [speaking Chinese].
Mullins: Now, my bad is cool. I guess badonkadonk is cooler, but I don’t even know what that means. You have a whole video about badonkadonk. What is it?
Beinecke: A badonkadonk is your rear end. One OMG! episode I focused on working out, so I talked cardio and I talked different sit-ups, and I said you know, my badonkadonk is getting a little bit big, I’ve gotta work out a little more. And…0
Mullins: Thanks for being such a good American ambassador, Jessica.
Beinecke: You know, all young people I think in America know badonkadonk, and I think it’s a funny enough phrase that they really appreciated it.
Mullins: And so did you have to give some context to that? I mean when you’re translating American slang, muffin top and oopsy into Chinese, you’d think there’d be something lost in translation.
Beinecke: Yeah, I think muffins also are sort of foreign to our Chinese viewers, so I included a little graphic there, a muffin and then an actual muffin top. And so…
Mullins: How did you include that, maybe you should describe it.
Beinecke: I found graphics online and just threw them up there.
Mullins: I thought you’d brought in a friend with a muffin top.
Beinecke: Right next to each other.
Beinecke: Oh, no, I didn’t bring in a friend or anything, but yeah, they think these phrases are really funny and I always remind them that this is fun English to learn.
Mullins: Now, you’re a midwesterner. Where are you from?
Beinecke: I’m from Ohio.
Mullins: How did you learn such at least what it sounds like, convincing Chinese, Mandarin?
Beinecke: I started freshman year at Ohio University coming out of marching band in high school. And I sort of banded music for journalism and I was looking for a new instrument. And it turned out that Mandarin really, really fit. The four tones in Mandarin are just gorgeous and the melodic language, and it really just sort of sparked my passion for music in a weird way.
Mullins: The four tones you call it an instrument, like the four tones, give us the four.
Beinecke: The four tones, so the word ma, you can say ma, ma, ma, and the fourth tone is down, which is ma. And so you can call someone a mother, which is ma, or a horse, ma, very easily. So you gotta be careful.
Mullins: Jessica Beinecke hosts Voice of America’s OMG! Meiyu program and Jessica, we’re gonna feature links to OMG! Meiyu, including that yucky gunk episode. And also we have several more stories on the Chinese language and on the latest edition of our weekly podcast called The World in Words. That’s all at theworld.org. Jessica Beinecke, good luck and how do I say thanks in Chinese?
Beinecke: [speaking Chinese]
Mullins: [speaking Chinese] Thank you.
Beinecke: [speaking Chinese], Lisa.
Mullins: This is theworld.pri, Public Radio International.
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