In China, millennials are embracing Spanish, Latino culture and shaking it up on TikTok

Yilin Ye, a student from Anji in eastern Zhejiang Province, China, spends some time abroad at the University of Zaragoza in Spain.

Ye, 25, said she first learned Spanish after hearing about its “excellent reputation”. She said she felt a little different when she spoke Spanish.

“It’s a really beautiful thing, really fascinating,” she said. “When I speak Chinese, I’m calmer. When I speak English, I’m probably a little more open, and when I speak Spanish, I’m very ‘wow’.”

As well as reading comics by Argentine-Spanish cartoonist Quino, Ye likes to keep up with Spanish-language TV shows and films such as “Tres Metros Sobre el Cielo”, “Ocho Apellidos Vascos”, “Diarios de Motocicleta” and Netflix’s “Elite”. “

A scroll through DouYin, the original Chinese version of TikTok launched in 2016, shows many users not shy about flaunting their language skills. This includes Chinese millennials who lip-sync videos and mashups in English – and show their growing love for Spanish and Latin American culture.

How popular is the world’s second most popular spoken language in China? The numbers speak for themselves.

There are roughly 50,000 Spanish-speaking people in China, a number that scientists say is growing every year. The language has grown in popularity as students enthusiastically share their new knowledge on social media.

“The Spanish language is making waves in China,” said Lu Jingsheng, author and national coordinator for Spanish with the Chinese government, in an interview.

Lu, who teaches at Shanghai International Studies University, said the university has so far only offered English, Japanese and Russian as second languages. However, that changed in 2017 with the addition of new programs and electives.

As Spanish grows in popularity, many Chinese students find it beneficial to study while preparing for Gaokao, a national college entrance exam that typically lasts two days and nine hours. Students often choose to test in Spanish or English for the foreign language portion of the test.

Yes, enthusiasm for the language and culture is not uncommon, especially among young people, Lu said. “We try to create an atmosphere that goes hand in hand with the culture of the language.”

From Zumba videos to makeup tutorials – en español

Media and entertainment play a leading role in language learning for Chinese millennials. Some have entire DouYin channels devoted to the Spanish language with vlogs and makeup tutorials.

For those struggling to roll the rugged Spanish Rs, the content creators hilariously recommend gargling a little water to mimic the quick movements of the tongue.

Lulu Yang poses with antique cars on a work trip to Cuba. Courtesy Lulu Yang

Lulu Yang, a Spanish teacher and aspiring DouYin star – she has over ten thousand followers – said her journey began after she took her first Spanish electives. Yang, 28, who is originally from Beijing, said her father encouraged her to start studying first.

“English is very common in China these days and more and more people know it,” she said. “Without Spanish, I feel like a normal person and have a normal job, but because of Spanish I have traveled a lot and visited many cities.”

Yang, who lived in Spain and traveled to Cuba for work, opened her DouYin account last February when she had more free time during the pandemic.

“I just wanted to try and I didn’t think it could get that big,” she said. “And then I was like, ‘OK, I can go on.’ I wanted to share my experience. “

From donning Latino-inspired jewelry like large hoops and gold cross chains to dancing to Latin American rhythms and remixes, young people in China embrace a culture that is bold, loud, and a little different from their own.

Yang said she enjoys posting Zumba-style dance videos on her personal DouYin account, adding that she enjoys listening to Shakira, Luis Fonsi, and other artists. Using a well-known Chinese language, 能歌善舞 (néng gē shàn wǔ), Yang said that those who speak Spanish are usually “people of many talents”.

“If you’re the type to study [a language] really tough then you are definitely open-minded, lively and lively. You like to come into contact with new things, “said Yang.” All I know, any job opportunity or love story I’ve had is thanks to my Spanish. “

Scott Xia, 29, says he made many friends in 2014 who traveled through Mexico.Courtesy Scott Xia

Another DouYin content creator and teacher who has nearly 3 million fans on the platform, Scott Xia, said he also had unique opportunities due to his fluency in Spanish.

Xia, 29, from Chengdu, Sichuan, started learning Spanish seven years ago, which initially depended mainly on platforms such as Duolingo, Netflix and YouTube. He often used Netflix to re-watch some of his favorites with Spanish subtitles and audio.

“I like ‘Dragon Ball Z’ and having seen it before, I already knew a lot of the content,” said Xia. “I made these connections automatically and didn’t have to try too hard to understand them” in Spanish.

He said the main reason he publishes educational content now that he is a teacher is because it cheers him up.

“Doing these things makes me quite happy because I enjoy learning languages,” said Xia. “I can take this experience with me and share it with everyone.”

Xia has also worked as a seafarer, which has allowed him to travel to Mexico and other places in Latin America.

“Look at a map. There are tons of Spanish-speaking countries. If you speak Chinese, English, and Spanish too, you’re basically covering all of your bases – there’s nowhere you can’t go.”

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