How this Tech Entrepreneur is Bridging the East-West Gap through her Image-led Chinese Dictionary
How do you learn a language spoken by 15 per cent of the world’s population? You could start by learning to read Chinese first. But how? There are about 10,000 Chinese characters in common use. Well, ShaoLan Husueh, a Taiwanese entrepreneur and venture investor living in London, has a solution. Her startup, Chineasy, transforms cornerstone Chinese characters known as radicals into clever illustrations and stories to teach people basic vocabulary.
The idea of Chineasy came to ShaoLan in February 2013 while giving a TED talk in Long Beach, California, revealing a personal project for teaching Chinese — a task she had originally started to develop as a hobby to teach her Britishborn children their mother tongue, and also appreciate the Chinese culture. “The Chinese language has long been considered the most difficult major language to learn, largely on account of the vast number and complexity of the characters. When I began to teach my children Chinese, I realized just how difficult Chinese characters are for a native English speaker to learn. It was like torture for my kids!” she says. With Chineasy, her mission is to bridge the gap between the East and the West.
The Creative Streak
ShaoLan’s educational background has been in science and international affairs, but there’s also the creative streak in her DNA. Being the daughter of a calligrapher and ceramic artist, she grew up immersed in art and with a deep appreciation for the beauty of the Chinese language. “I was the youngest among three daughters, and there was a majority of women in my family, and I grew up to be more of the tomboy. Everyone in my family is very artistic except me,” she says. In her youth, she was more into Taoism (a set of ancient beliefs and philosophy recognised as a religion in China), Chinese acupuncture and science.
“Looking back, I see Chineasy as a return to my artistic upbringing, and technology background. It is an arts project that is the culmination of my life’s journey between traditional and modern, as well as through the East and the West,” she says.
ShaoLan says people are keen to be able to communicate with the 1.3 billion people in China, yet there is not much out there to enable them to do so. “As a Taoist, it was important for me to find my path and what could become a form of legacy. I am trying to make sure that our existence contributes positively to the world.”