This month we catch up with Jocelyn Richards, a former editor-in-chief at That’s GBA (previously That’s PRD) who is now based in upstate New York. Richards founded @juicymandarinchinese last summer, a popular Instagram account that teaches helpful, everyday Mandarin and has quickly amassed a loyal following. We chat with her about tips on learning Chinese, how to grow a social following on Instagram and future plans for Juicy Mandarin.
How did you start learning Mandarin?
I took Latin in high school and was interested in traveling for a job in the future, but I knew Latin wouldn’t help me very much. I ended up Googling ‘what language will be useful in the future’ and all the results suggested Chinese. That was 2008, a time when China was in the news almost every day for the Beijing Olympics.
So, I started learning Mandarin as a freshman in college, but I was actually there for running. However, I got injured the second week of school, so I was on crutches – I couldn’t do anything or go out so I was stuck in my room all day. It gave me a ton of time to focus on my Chinese homework, which helped me to really start to like it more. The more I learned, the more I fell in love with the culture, country and language.
Image via @juicymandarinchinese/Instagram
What techniques or exercises were the most helpful for you to learn Mandarin?
In the very beginning, part of our homework was to record ourselves speaking and the teacher would go over every tone, marking it right or wrong. That really pushed me to focus on tones. I think it really does help to record your own voice, as what you think you sound like versus what you actually sound like probably differs. When I moved to China to work, it also helped to watch Chinese TV shows and write down words that I didn’t know. I’d note down words that were repeating in every episode or everyday words that seemed helpful. Those two things were the most memorable and helpful things I did in regards to learning on my own. I also had a few tutors who were very helpful.
Can you tell us a bit about Juicy Mandarin?
Last summer I launched the Instagram account, and currently I’m working on setting up a business to teach locally and online. I wanted the Instagram account to be a presence before I launched the business officially, but then it also turned into its own thing, as there’s actually a lot of expats who want to learn Chinese through Instagram. So, it grew into this big thing that I didn’t anticipate.
How important is offline versus online learning?
It’s very ideal if you can go out and practice. If you’re in China, interact with the locals or have a group of Chinese friends, which helps to learn much faster. I also do believe that having a one-on-one teacher in real life is beneficial, versus purely learning online. You can learn a lot online, but I personally do prefer offline [learning].
What makes Juicy Mandarin different from other courses or Chinese-language-learning Instagram accounts out there?
I try to give a long description in English of exactly how a Chinese word or phrase would be used. It’s not really enough to just list one example sentence or the English translation of a word in Chinese. You have to know what context to use it in, and how it might be used differently than the English word. For example, the word yumen (郁闷) roughly translates to ‘depressed,’ but in Chinese it’s often used to express that one is a little bit disappointed, or down, but not fully depressed. I aim for the tone of the posts to be humorous and playful, words that you could use every day while living in China or slang words to use when going out with friends – instead of using standard vocab from a textbook.
Image via @juicymandarinchinese/Instagram
How did you manage to grow the account so quickly?
It was a combination of organic growth and some sponsored posts just on Instagram targeting expats in China or people interested in learning Chinese. What really helped growth was doing quizzes on Instagram stories. At one point I was putting quizzes every day on Instagram stories, so people really appreciated that and it helped attract more followers.
What is your ultimate goal for Juicy Mandarin in the future?
I hope to publish some videos on the website that people could use as an intro course, learn about pronunciations and things like that. I’d like to also create a community, starting locally in New York, but have regular meetups where people can practice or study Chinese together. Internationally, I’d like to hold webinars or events to connect people, practice or just share challenges they’re encountering. All this, of course, at an affordable price for students. My ultimate goal is to change the stigma that Chinese is an impossible language, as it is actually really fun to learn. As long as you have the foundation you can even teach yourself a lot.
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