Local Entrepreneur Releases Chinese Learning Books

Entrepreneur Jeff Pepper

Entrepreneur Jeff Pepper

Mandarin Chinese is the world’s most spoken language, but learning it can be a difficult task for Americans. This summer, local entrepreneur Jeff Pepper and Chinese teacher Xiao Hui Wang took a step towards making that effort easier with the first in a series of books translating the Chinese classic Journey to the West at a beginner-Chinese level. Mr. Pepper was kind enough to let me ask him a few questions about Imagin8 Press, his publishing venture, and the books they just released.

Daevan Mangalmurti: Can you tell us a little about yourself?

Jeff Pepper: I have worked in the computer software business for a long time, starting and running two successful software companies. I also enjoy listening to and playing music, and playing active sports such as table tennis, pickleball, and softball.

DM: What inspired you to create the Journey to the West series?

JP: I first learned a bit of Chinese about 6 years ago as I prepared to go on a business trip to China. The language was very interesting and completely different from any other languages I’ve studied in the past, so I thought it would be fun to learn to learn Chinese. As I studied Chinese, though, I noticed that there were very few high-quality fiction books for people like me who had a limited vocabulary.  So I decided it would be fun to write a book. Then I started a small publishing company to bring the book to market, and that led me to write several more books in the series, working with my co-author Xiao Hui Wang.

DM: What do you hope the eventual effect of your books on English-speaking Chinese learners will be?

JP: Well, I hope that it gives people a way to enjoy reading Chinese. There’s nothing wrong with textbooks, but it’s not much fun to curl up at night reading a textbook. I want our books to be really fun to read, so that people enjoy each sentence and paragraph and want to keep going to find out what happens next.

DM: Besides practicing reading through books like the Journey to the West series, what else do you recommend for Chinese students looking to improve their Chinese?

JP: I’m far from an expert in this, and I’m a pretty slow learner, but I think it’s really important to listen a lot to spoken Chinese. So there are several very good websites like Slow Chinese, and smartphone apps like Radio Chinese, that give you a chance to listen to native Chinese speakers.

DM: Have you used any of the Journey to the West books to work on your own Chinese?

JP: Yes!  I wanted to be able to listen to my own books (actually, listen to Xiao Hui’s translation of my books) while in the car, so I had someone create audiobooks of each of our stories, and I recently put them all on YouTube.  So now I listen to the Journey to the West books when I’m driving in my car.

DM: Are you interested in taking Imagin8 Press beyond being a small collaboration between you and Xiao Hui? If so, would you try to translate other Chinese classics, such as The Water Margin, or would you try to make Chinese more accessible to non-English learners? 

JP: I’m taking the first step in expanding the reach of Imagin8 Press, working with an author in China to publish a book for children called Dragon Island. It’s a picture book for kids around age 8, but it’s the same basic idea, showing Chinese characters, pinyin and English. The book is much shorter, and the subject matter is geared towards youngsters. We’ll see how that goes. Beyond that, I’m really not sure where we’ll go with creating our own books. We have a long way to go before we finish the Journey to the West series. We might create a series of books for Chinese speakers who want to learn English.  Or we might tackle another classic Chinese novel like The Water Margin. Or who knows, I might even start writing original stories.