The website whose motto is, “Learning Mandarin in an unconventional way”, has become a runaway Internet hit since it was launched last December.
The course’s first lesson –titled ‘What time is it?’ – is conducted by two lingerie-wearing models who make pillow talk while grappling with each other on a bed. So far the lesson has received over 300,000 hits.
Lesson 3 tries to teach cooking vocabulary and shows a model sucking suggestively on a lime.
Another class shows female ‘tutors’ cleaning a black London cab with foamy sponges.
Would-be teachers are asked to submit a full-body photo, as well as any relevant modelling or teaching experience.
Kaoru Kikuchi, the University of Nottingham architecture graduate, who is behind the site, said that the aim of the project was to make Mandarin more accessible.
“If you go the textbook way with all these Chinese characters it just makes you intimidated,” a major newspaper quoted her as saying.
“If you start with the colloquial way … or sexy clips it is a different story,” the model said.
Mick Gleissner, the Hong Kong-based filmmaker who produces the videos, said that he hoped to inspire foreigners facing “the Herculean task of learning Chinese.”
“Chinese is intimidating. You look at the characters, the strange melody of sounds. And then you watch a video like this and it’s kind of ridiculous but it’s also fun,” Gleissner, originally from Regensburg, Germany, said.
“The fun aspect I think is what is very much missing in the existing approaches to language education.
“If you want to learn to play the piano and you try to play Chopin of course you are going to give up. But if you see a kid trying to play kid’s songs … you’ll say, ‘Hey that’s kind of easy and fun’,” he said.
The official language of the People’s Republic of China, Mandarin, or Putonghua, is said to have nearly 900m native speakers and up to 1.4bn speakers worldwide.
“I was blown away when I visited some of my friends in LA and found that their kids are learning Mandarin. It’s a cool language because China is now becoming cool,” Gleissner said.
Users of Youku, China’s answer to YouTube, joked that SexyMandarin.com might help many foreigners learn the language.
“The Americans are so happy learning Chinese,” beamed one, using the name Guo Shibo.
“We would not go through so much pain if we learnt English the same way,” one user said.
A user on the video website Ku6 wrote: “So eye-catching and heart-throbbing. No wonder they can learn it well!”
However, others are less impressed. Annie Chan, chairwoman of Hong Kong’s Association for the Advancement of Feminism, told one newspaper SexyMandarin.com “exoticised” Chinese women.
Sue-Mei Thompson, executive director of Hong Kong’s Women’s Foundation, told the newspaper that her group was “vehemently opposed to gender stereotyping, especially anything that objectifies women as sex objects”.
“Sexy Mandarin looks oddly dated,” she said.
Wu Yue, a teacher from Beijing’s Mandarin Connection School, said that the site’s teaching-style was “just about calling attention”.
“It is very entertaining, and might be good for marketing and promotion, but [it is] not good for serious language learning,” she said.
“Students would get easily distracted during a class featuring sexual content,” she said.
Gleissner said the website’s “viral” success was a sign that global attentions were shifting east.
“When I grew up … the thing that was your goal if you got rich and successful [was that] you could move to the US. Not so anymore. If you talk to young people today they say, ‘Forget the US, there’s China, there’s India, there are all these emerging markets’,” Gleissner added.