On a frigid November afternoon in Chicago, internet phenom Jessica Beinecke (Bái Jié 白洁), the founder and host of the hugely popular blog series “OMG!美语”, spoke to University of Chicago students about her hopes to strengthen US-China relations through… slang.
When she first launched her video blog that teaches English through slang three years ago, Beinecke snared a million viewers with a video called “Yucky Gunk,” about snot, earwax, and other facial terminology.
Beinecke was the latest China expert to join the Institute’s Contemporary China Speakers Series, held with the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy.
Opening with a montage of videos from her hugely popular video blog series, Beinecke engaged the crowd with a behind-the-scenes glimpse of her process for creating the daily videos, which have been viewed by more than 40 million people. When asked why she thought her series had gained such popularity, Beinecke pointed to the shared interests of American and Chinese students. “What Americans and Chinese care about every day is so similar,” Beinecke said, “and that allows me to do what I do.” As proof, she showed a short film that highlighted American and Chinese students beat-boxing to each other via video.
Beinecke, who recently launched a second multimedia platform called Crazy Fresh Chinese, noted that while her videos went viral in China nearly overnight, her own journey was more circuitous. Learning Mandarin was a challenge, Beinecke explained, though she is now fluent. Based upon her own difficulties, she was motivated to provide an educational tool that students would actually enjoy. “If there had been a show when I was studying that was fun and was about slang and engaged me,” she said, “I would have watched it over and over.” Turns out, after just three years, “OMG!美语” has become instrumental in furthering US-China exchange at a people-to-people level.
Very early on in her video series, which is sponsored by Voice of America, Beinecke realized the true potential of “OMG!美语” as a connector of people across the world. In fact, Beinecke believes that a greater understanding of American culture and language will only help young Chinese further understand America, and vice versa. Illustrating the connecting power of Beinecke’s videos, the event concluded with a member of the audience sharing the story of how he met his now-girlfriend at a bus stop—while discussing one of Beinecke’s videos.