Latino Culture Is Going Mainstream In China Thanks To Chinese Millennials And TikTok
As our world becomes ever more connected, and the distances between different cultures shorter, speaking multiple languages is becoming increasingly common. Though most people around the world turn to English as a universal language, Spanish is actually more widely spoken, according to the Instituto Cervantes. There are an estimated 580 million native Spanish speakers in the world, making it the second most popular language in the world after Mandarin Chinese.
In China, learning English is basically a given. But many Millennials are turning to Spanish and Latino culture as an alternative to American hegemony.
In large part, this interest in Latino culture all the way from China is due to the popularity of Spanish-language TV shows and movies and, of course, TikTok.
The connections between Latin America and China are nothing new. In fact, they go back hundreds of years as Chinese migrants arrived in countries from Mexico to Peru, hoping to find work in support of booming industries such as mining and railroad building.
But now, Latino culture is striking it big on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, as many Chinese Millennials turn to Spanish and Latin American culture as an alternative to U.S. culture and English – which many now consider ‘basic.’
Lulu Yang, a Spanish teacher and social media star, told NBC News that “Nowadays in China, English is very common, and more and more people know it. Without Spanish, I feel I’d be a very ordinary person and that I’d have a very ordinary job, but because of Spanish, I’ve been on many trips and visited many cities.”
Meanwhile, global TV hits like Case de Papel and Elite are captivating audiences within China as well. For some Chinese Millennials like Yilin Ye, a student from Zhejiang, these became an opportunity to keep up with the language. She told NBC News in an interview that “when I’m speaking Chinese, I’m more calm. When I’m speaking English, I’m probably a bit more open, and when I speak Spanish, I’m very ‘wow.’”
Social media – especially TikTok – is said to be fueling the increase in the culture and language.
Like so many other things, TikTok is making it easier than ever to consume content from other cultures. From Zumba classes to makeup tutorials and recipe clips, Chinese Millennials are watching it all – en español. For those who have difficulty rolling their R’s, some on TikTok suggest gargling a bit of water to mimic the tongue’s rapid movements.
A scroll through DouYin, the original Chinese version of TikTok that launched in 2016, shows lots of users who aren’t shy about flaunting their language skills. They include Chinese Millennials lip-syncing videos and mashups in English — and showing their growing love of Spanish and Latino culture.
Bad Bunny is just one of many Latino super stars to be embraced across the Pacific.
Watching these Japanese YouTubers react to Bad Bunny rap in Japanese on his hit ‘Yonaguni’ is just as incredible as you’d expect it to be.
So just how popular is Spanish in China?
There are currently about 50,000 Spanish speakers in China, a number that education officials say is growing by the year. And that is largely attributed to students enthusiastically sharing their love and knowledge for the language on social media.
“The Spanish language is making waves in China,” Lu Jingsheng, an author and national coordinator of Spanish for the Chinese government, told The Guardian.
Lu, who teaches at Shanghai International Studies University, said the university previously offered only English, Japanese and Russian as second languages. But that changed in 2017 with the additions of new programs and electives.
Students are also hoping a mastery of Latin America’s languages coupled with their country’s expanding role in the region will prove a recipe for success – as China develops stronger economic ties with the region.
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