Candise Lin Teaches the Internet Funny Chinese Trends and Cantonese Grammar
September 25, 2023
Dr. Candise Lin is the internet’s viral Chinese teacher you didn’t know you needed, but love because she’s there for you. You may be familiar with her straight-talking explainer videos on TikTok and Instagram, sharing weird and wonderful aspects of the Chinese speaking world and the Cantonese language.
A Cantonese-speaking implant from Guangzhou, Candise was raised on the sunny west coast of California and grew up in a generation unique with their dual identities as American and southern Chinese.
The Beat Asia caught up with Candise Lin on Zoom from her home in southern California to understand her journey teaching the internet how to speak Cantonese and promoting a dying language in the west.
What brought you to live and work in California from Guangzhou?
I immigrated with my family over 20 years ago [to California]. When I was a baby, my family had applied for a Green Card to move to the States. They thought that with the American dream, I would have a better future here. However, growing up in a big Chinese community in San Gabriel Valley, we didn’t need to use English day-to-day.
I am not an American-born Chinese (ABC), but I usually feel stuck in the middle. I speak fluent Cantonese and Mandarin, but I am not like my parents who don’t speak any English. I grew up with friends who had similar stories growing up [of speaking a mix of English and Cantonese].
With your unique identity and your views of Hong Kong and Cantonese culture, why do you want to report interesting and meme-y stories from China?
I want to provide a more objective story for China and [my] unique perspective to reconcile that difference between the English-speaking world and China, to present the information coming out of China as neutral as possible.
What began your journey tutoring Cantonese and Mandarin Chinese to people online?
What came first was TikTok [with teaching]. I taught psychology at the University of Southern California. During the pandemic, TikTok blew up as people had nothing to do at home, besides stare at their phone.
I started making videos because I was bored. The first video to go viral was on what English names sound like in Cantonese. David sounds like “big appetite,” Robert sounds like “carrot.” That video blew up and I found out that many people were interested in Cantonese culture.
I began making more videos explaining Cantonese culture. My following grew, and people would message me asking if I teach Cantonese. ABCs who wanted to relearn the language as their grandparents age, non-Chinese people wanting to speak with their partner's family, and adoptees wanting to understand their heritage better.
There are very few resources online for learning Cantonese. I have my PhD in educational psychology, and I was already a teacher before. That’s how I began teaching, and gradually it has become a full-time job.
Why do you value teaching Cantonese?
It is a good challenge. The teaching method [between Cantonese and Mandarin Chinese] is different. Cantonese is focused on listening and speaking, but Mandarin has a different grammar and vocabulary.
We need more support for Cantonese learning. Culture and language go hand in hand, and Cantonese is rooted in both spaces.
Our grandparents don't speak any English, and of course, they're aging, getting older. If you want to have a meaningful conversation with them, you got to speak their language. In my hometown of Guangzhou, Cantonese is dying out. I want to preserve this language and promote it. I am passionate about teaching languages, and I am happy to do what I love and make a living out of it.
I am honest with my students. If you want to connect with China, learn Mandarin Chinese. But if you're learning Chinese for sentimental reasons, to connect with your family, connect with your culture, then learn Cantonese.
You have blown up on TikTok and Instagram for your insights on funny aspects of Chinese culture. What type of content resonates with your audience?
The videos that work best and I like are when I roast Chinese celebrities. I was surprised by how popular these C-dramas are internationally!
Chinese netizens are brutally honest, so it was funny to pick out the muscle suits male actors wear to look buff, or the pads female actors wear underneath their tight outfit to create their hourglass figures. These weird things are funny and people resonate with [them].
What’s up with your straight face on your videos? Aren’t they supposed to be funny?
English is my third language, and I always get nervous. I write a script first before I shoot a video, so I don’t jumble up my words. Even though I find something funny, if I record it multiple times, I eventually don’t laugh or smile anymore.
I cut up the pauses on the video, and that makes me sound like a robot talking really fast, contrasting with the content. I think people find that combination hilarious.
What is the future of your business tutoring Cantonese to eager learners?
My goal is to begin recording my courses for tutoring, so people can access them online and in any time zone.
I want to grow my account and continue to upload quality videos. It’s a never-ending cycle on social media to speak about new trending topics [in China] and you never know something crazy will happen.
More and more foreigners are using Chinese apps like Taobao and Xiaohongshu for searching content. Many of these things can be consumed across language and culture. We all share similar values and views.
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