An increasingly large percentage of the Chinese population is learning English. However, in the Western world the Chinese language continues to feel allusive, complicated and unobtainable to most.
The Chinese language does indeed seem daunting to a new learner of the language, with over 20,000 characters in the average comprehensive dictionary, and that’s before we even get into the tones! However, Chineasy founder ShaoLan is breaking down these psychological barriers with an innovative approach which combines technology, storytelling and beautiful aesthetics – giving aspiring learners a real access point into the Chinese language.
Using the 80/20 principle, ShaoLan is confident that by breaking down just 20% of Chinese characters, 80% of basic communication needs can be met. In this way, learners do not need to memorize thousands and thousands of characters to be able to communicate in Chinese; by obtaining a deeper understanding of a few of the basic ‘building blocks’ of the language, a more well informed and enjoyable journey into the language can begin.
More than simply being an access point to the Chinese language, Chineasy uses sleek design and a storytelling approach to enable learners to delve into the history and cultural nuances that come with language learning. Through this deeper understanding, ShaoLan believes that Chineasy can achieve its primary goal of bridging the gap between the East and the West with the most powerful tool we as human beings have – communication and understanding.
Where did it all begin?
ShaoLan grew up in Taipei, where she was surrounded by her artistic family and lived by her grandfather’s studio – who was a Professor of Ceramic Art. It quickly became clear that ShaoLan was artistically the black sheep of the family; her intelligence lay in the realms of problem solving and science. Through ShaoLan’s interest in all things problem solving and analytical, she was eventually lead into the world of technology, however her artistic upbringing was something which never failed to underpin her scientific endeavors.
ShaoLan moved to the UK in 2001 to study at Cambridge University. Through her studies, ShaoLan improved her English (with much initial difficulty) and began to understand not just the language, but the nuances of British culture. At the same time, ShaoLan was surprised to discover that many of her friends in the UK found Chinese very difficult to learn. Chinese being her native tongue, she had not considered that it would so difficult for foreigners to learn.
Her curiosity piqued, ShaoLan took to her computer and began to analyse and break down thousands of Chinese characters. Realising that language is not a science, but a human creation, ShaoLan went right back to the ‘caveman’ roots of the language so she could break complex characters into small, basic building blocks. ShaoLan later transformed these blocks with modern illustration and design and accompanied these memorable images with historical and culturally informed storytelling.
Chineasy is not just about learning the Chinese language. It is an insight into the culture and the psychology behind the language and people. Just by picking up a couple of characters you can begin to communicate with 1.3 billion people and delve into an ancient and complex society and culture.
ShaoLan’s latest venture in the world of Chineasy is a podcast series, delivered in the typical fun, effective and short style of Chineasy. Through interviews and discussions, each episode delivers a practical word, phrase or anecdote which can be applied in real-life conversation.
“Learning another language is not only learning different words for the same things, but learning another way to think about things.”
– Flora Lewis.