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JJC prof’s ‘Chinese With Mike’ now going by the book

Mike Hainzinger writes 'I am Teacher Mike' board his New Lenox garage. Whbegan with fun video lessons teach Chinese has

Mike Hainzinger writes "I am Teacher Mike" on the board in his New Lenox garage. What began with fun video lessons to teach Chinese has led to a book deal with a London-based publisher for the Joliet Junior College English professor. | Susan DeMar Lafferty/Sun-Times Media

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Updated: September 11, 2014 6:03AM



From his small New Lenox garage, armed only with a wipe-off board, a video camera and a closetful of Hawaiian shirts, Mike Hainzinger set out to teach Chinese.

His 50 YouTube video lessons have been seen by “well over a million” people and caught the eye of a London-based book publisher from John Murray Learning.

The project Hainzinger started for “fun” in his garage four years ago has become a worldwide sensation that led to this summer’s publication of his two textbooks, only available in the United Kingdom. They will be sold in the United States through McGraw-Hill Publishing in mid-November.

“It’s been a surreal experience. I never expected to reach a million people,” he said, back in his kitchen after a 14-day book tour in London. (Listen to his interview on the BBC at www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p022x7cm).

Nor did he ever expect to become world renowned.

A publisher’s representative — exploring the Internet for fresh ideas — found Hainzinger’s homemade videos on YouTube, liked his humorous, off-the-cuff methods and sent him an email about creating a textbook from it.

He previously had written a “casual” book, with notes and outlines to accompany his first videos, but now it was time for the real thing.

It took two years to hammer out the contract and write the textbooks.

“This was my baby. I really wanted to protect it and control it. The publisher still let me be creative. It’s been quite a journey. I hope it’s well received,” Hainzinger said.

He has published a whole package that includes two books: “A Coursebook for Absolute Beginners” and a “Coursebook for Advanced Beginners to Intermediate.” Each comes with a workbook, two DVDs of his filmed lessons and an audio CD with the language recorded by native Chinese speakers — all suitable for self-study. Preorders are available by visiting Amazon.com.

The London publisher already has suggested that Hainzinger do a similar series of video lessons, teaching English, and “there’s a good chance that may happen,” he said.

An English professor at Joliet Junior College since 2005, Hainzinger also teaches Chinese at the college, when enough students enroll, using the same curriculum as in his videos. Now, however, he will be able to use his new textbooks and see firsthand how they work in a classroom.

Ironically, his “Chinese With Mike” lessons have caught on all over world, but not at home — yet. He’s hoping his new textbooks and a new international studies program at JJC will help fill his classroom seats on the Joliet campus.

“It’s amazing to me that more people outside our country are learning Chinese,” he said. He gets emails from all over the world and believes it eventually will catch on here.

Hainzinger taught himself Mandarin Chinese while he was teaching English in Taiwan and figured there had to be a better way of communicating than “smiling and pointing,” he said.

Learning Chinese then became the main reason he was there, he said.

“It gives you a deep sense of personal accomplishment to speak a foreign language and get intimate with another culture,” Hainzinger said.

He admits the Chinese language looks “intimidating” because of its characters but said those can be converted — or “Romanized” — into letters, as he discusses in one of his videos. He said he makes learning Chinese “ridiculously easy and fun” and will have students speaking basic conversation in a couple of months — able to order fried rice and find out where the bathrooms are.

Unlike many other online courses, Hainzinger, in his video character of Mike Laoshi (Teacher Mike), talks to students as if they are in his classroom, at least offering the illusion of being face to face with a teacher.

It adds a “human element” to his lessons, he said.

Practice is important and students still can speak the language with others, via Skype, he said.

The YouTube videos have been the best way to reach people, he said. A JJC colleague, Geoff Rusch, a technician in the college’s media department, offered his expertise in filming the videos in Hainzinger’s garage.

The popularity of his lessons can be attributed to his unconventional methods. As he said in his book promotion, “My teaching style is highly addictive, so if you have a family, career or social life, you may want to put those on hold for a little while.”

The first 10 videos still are available for free viewing at www.chinesewithmike.com, to give folks the flavor of his lessons.

“Give it a shot,” he said.

His “hobby” of teaching Chinese briefly has become a full-time job, but Hainzinger said he is not looking to become a full-time Chinese teacher.

“I still have my full-time job, and I’m very happy with what I do,” he said. “There’s more to life than my garage. I have to keep things in balance.”



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