Zheng Yingyan, an anchor at China Central Television for more than a decade, prepares to record an article from a Chinese textbook for school student. [For China Daily]
Former CCTV anchor rallies colleagues to help produce Mandarin audiobooks for students
Zheng Yingyan had worked as an anchor at China Central Television for more than a decade, but had never read anything to her son in her professional newsreader's voice.
But in March 2016, the then 8-year-old turned to her for help on the correct pronunciation of words in his Mandarin textbook for Grade two students.
"I turned to the internet immediately as I was trying to find an audio version with the right pronunciation," she said. "My voice is familiar to my son and he might listen more carefully if the reader is someone else."
But what astonished her was that she couldn't find an audio version of the Mandarin textbook, from either the education department or volunteer readers.
"For English-language learners, from primary school to university, audio material can be easily found online. But what I found were only a few articles from Chinese textbooks that were recorded in the 1970s, or even earlier, of a poor quality," she said.
Zheng made a decision, which she described as "the most meaningful cause driven by a mother's impulsion" — she was going to invite the country's greatest news anchors to read the Mandarin textbooks for primary students.
With support from Yang Liu, her former colleague at CCTV who is also the director of the Chinese Culture Promotion Society's anchors' branch, Zheng attracted about 60 newsreaders in Beijing to the project, most of whom are known nationwide.
In only two months, they finished recording 500 lessons from the Mandarin textbooks — all for no charge.
"China is a big country with a great diversity of language. People from south to north, from east to west, have accents that sometimes differ like a foreign language," Zheng said.
She said the audiobook series is expected to help children learn and experience the beauty of the Chinese language.
"Our efforts are not simply to promote the right pronunciations. A good reader will lead audiences into the interests of Chinese literature and help them to better understand the emotion and meaning behind the words."
Ready on time
On Sept 1, 2016, the first day of a new school semester, the series was officially released on a WeChat public account named Mei ("beautiful" in Chinese) Sound Audio Library.
It is also available on several major domestic audio platforms, including QingTing FM and Ximalaya FM for free.
Yu Jianjun, chief executive officer of Ximalaya FM said in many remote areas, students had never had the chance to learn the correct pronunciation of Mandarin. "The series will bring them a precious chance."
Yu said some rare pronunciations were at risk of disappearing, as they only appeared in ancient books.
"The series that covers some classic ancient articles will also contribute to the preservation of some of those polyphones," Yu said.
On the first day of this year's Mid-Autumn Festival, Zheng and her team released another album consisting of 208 ancient Chinese poems, selected from Mandarin texts for primary and high school students.
Both series have been fed into 30,000 computers donated to schools in remote areas by nongovernmental organizations and enterprises. About 150 kindergartens nationwide are also permitted to use the series.
Zheng said the series documents some of the most beautiful voices in China. "The background music is also carefully chosen and edited by our campus volunteers. Many of them are in their 20s and have similar tastes to those of younger generations," Zheng said.
Feedback from youngsters and their parents has been encouraging. "Many of them leave messages strongly supporting our efforts. On our WeChat public account, lots of children and even their parents use the voice-recording function to read the articles and poems following the anchors," Zheng said.
The audiobook series has been listened to more than 20 million times on China's major audio service platforms and popular education apps.
A few months ago, Zheng received a phone call from a Chinese mother in New York, who paid a lot of money for her child to attend a private school that offers Mandarin class. But the mother said she was disappointed with the class as her child was only taught basic sentences for daily use.
"She told me that she was impressed by our audio series and said interests in learning Mandarin can only be triggered when people truly realize the beauty of Chinese characters. She asked me to consider promoting the series overseas, which I had never thought about before," Zheng said.
Fate soon knocked on her door. VIPKid, one of China's biggest education platforms, told Zheng of their desire to teach 30,000 overseas subscribers Mandarin using the audiobook series. The contract has signed recently.
Next year, Zheng plans to cooperate with overseas social media platforms, such as YouTube, and turn the audiobooks into short animations featuring Chinese characteristics, such as traditional paintings.
"Chinese characters possess beauty in sense, sound and form. The beauty of sound has been shadowed by the modern way of communication that mainly relies on text messages. I hope the beauty of sound can be further explored and spread, not only in China, but also the world," she said.
(Source: China Daily)
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