Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs and Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, who are advancing the UN SDGs.
Hi friends, it’s Spiffy, back again on Planet Earth with an eye on entrepreneurs making the world a more equitable place! Today I’m excited to cruise around with Huayi He, the founder and CEO of Bilin Academy. Are you ready to be inspired?
Spiffy: Welcome, Huayi! Let’s jump right in. What challenge are you addressing through your startup?
Huayi: I’m happy to be here, Spiffy! As our world becomes more and more connected, it is becoming important to be able to communicate with people from different cultures. So many children are learning to speak two languages! Being bilingual also helps children in a lot of ways. For example, they might do better in school, learn about different cultures, and have more job choices when they grow up. By providing multicultural, diverse education, we can teach children to be multilingual global citizens and also help bridge the cultural and language gap among people.
Spiffy: I couldn’t agree more! So, what motivated you to do it?
Huayi: Most language learning is focused on repetition and memorizing. That's how I learned English 20 years ago in China. But these methods are boring and don't work very well. Unfortunately, 20 years later, I found that my kids were having the same struggle when they were trying to learn Chinese in the US. What really works for second language acquisition is to learn the language in a real context. However, if someone does not live in a country where the language is spoken, it can be hard for them to have such an environment. This spurred me to create Bilin Academy to allow children to access multilingual language immersion education from anywhere in the world.
Spiffy: How are you and Bilin Academy working towards a more equitable world?
Huayi: There is a lot of demand for multilingual education, but not everyone can get it. Schools that offer language immersion programs are only in some places, and many people can't afford to go to them or don't live near them. Some programs have a long waitlist or you have to be lucky to get in. All our classes are led by native speakers, so children can learn directly from them. We also have free workshops that anyone can join. For example, kids can learn Chinese calligraphy from native Chinese calligraphy artists, play chess with US Chess masters, and join free English story time, Spanish art sessions, and Japanese workshops from their home.
Spiffy: Wow that’s neat! Can you tell me about a recent organizational milestone or initiative and its impact on your community?
Huayi: We are proud to be a resource for our community, providing services and resources that may otherwise be inaccessible for children and their families. We also work with other organizations to help people learn about and appreciate different cultures. For example, we offered free cultural workshops during AAPI Month to teach people about Asian cultures. We are also sponsoring Chinese Performing Arts groups for their events so that more people can enjoy Chinese arts. We were a part of the YLAI Fellowship Program in 2021 and 2022. This is a program that helps young professionals from Latin America and the Caribbean region to build collaborative relationships with US-based businesses.
Spiffy: Please share an experience when you faced failure and didn't give up. What did you learn from it?
Huayi: A few years ago, I failed my student teaching. There are many reasons for failure, but language and cultural barriers are definitely the biggest ones. I was questioned by my professor if I was capable of teaching American content to American students as an immigrant. There were many nights I was struggling with the thoughts of giving up and couldn’t sleep. But I decided to try again. I kept improving my English and taking substitute teaching jobs before starting my second student teaching in the following year. I had great second student teaching experiences, passed, and became a licensed teacher in multiple subjects! It taught me one thing: You can almost always do better the second time! So don’t give up before you try again.
Spiffy: I’ll cheer for that! Thanks for speaking with me today, Huayi—it’s been an honor!
Huayi He is the founder and CEO of Bilin Academy, a learning platform for multilingual and international classes. She has been working in the education field for the past 10 years, and was a former high school math/special education teacher before starting Bilin Academy. Running is her recent favorite activity, and she also enjoys cooking for her family. (Nominated by Charlotte Michailidis at Parenthood Ventures. First published on the Ladderworks website on January 9, 2023.)
© 2023 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Anushree Nande. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Launchpad: Creative Entrepreneurship Workshops for K-3 Kids and their caregivers here.