Jessica Beinecke channels Frank Underwood, from Netflix series House of Cards.

Language tutor Bai Jie, aka Jessica Beinecke, takes Weibo by storm

Xiaoqing Rong in New York

Most of us are aware that learning a language is not easy, but who knew it could be such fun?

With followers in both the United States and China, Bai Jie, meaning "white and pure", is helping to take down the language barrier.

Bai Jie, aka Jessica Beinecke, is a 27-year-old bilingual American with 400,000 followers on Weibo whose online teaching videos, uploaded from her Manhattan apartment, have had 40 million views. Her resources? An iPhone camera, a bubbly personality and endless quirky ideas.

Appealing to a young audience, Beinecke delves into pop culture, tackling phrases such as "LOL cats", "frenemy" and "butt dial".

The videos last between 40 seconds and four minutes and are uploaded every weekday onto her YouTube accounts: OMG Meiyu, for English learners, and Crazy Fresh Chinese, for Putonghua instruction. Followers have so far learned that "twerk" in Putonghua is " ("electric butt dance") and "fashionista" translates to " , literally "fashion imperial big sister".

Beinecke also does imitations: in one sketch, she dons a suit, a tie and a wig, and adopts a Southern drawl to become Frank Underwood, the notorious politician in Netflix series ( ).

"There are two types of vice-president. Doormats and those who cannot speak Mandarin," she says.

In another, Beinecke sings , a hit pop song in China. She changes the lyrics to teach viewers to use the words "honey" and "sweetheart" for loved ones in English, rather than "little apple".

Beinecke's blond hair, blue eyes and gapped-tooth, all-American look make her an engaging host - even when her Chinese occasionally wavers.

She started to learn Chinese in 2006 as a student at Ohio University and became fluent in one-and-a-half years by listening to and watching Chinese songs and movies, and spending semesters in Beijing and Hangzhou.

After graduation she joined Voice of America, which she convinced to underwrite her shows (the US broadcaster is still a sponsor). While Beinecke won't say how much money her videos make, this is now her day job.

In the mainland, Beinecke is a rock star. She is asked for her autograph in restaurants, is invited to A-list parties and receives letters from admirers asking her to be their girlfriend.

To that question, "Ha ha" is Beinecke's standard answer. Maybe a segment on the word "shoo!" is in order.


This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Pure genius