Within a generation, the Asian American experience has changed dramatically. While more opportunities have opened across industries and in higher levels of leadership, the community continues to face anti-Asian sentiment in a post-pandemic world. However, the community has also become more emboldened to speak out against xenophobia, racism, discrimination, and violence.
To reflect on what it was like growing up Asian in America and how that has changed, LingoAce is launching a new podcast series called Glowing Up Asian. Through conversations with AAPI leaders across different industries and fields of expertise, we want to explore what this change means for the parents raising the next generation. Join us as we learn about their ‘glow up’ origin story and the role that education and culture played. We’ll also explore a variety of issues that matter to the broader Asian American community.
To kick off Glowing Up Asian, we welcomed Hugh Yao, Founder and CEO of LingoAce as our first guest. In serving students from more than 100 countries, many of them based in the United States and Canada, he shares his observations on Asian and Western style education and parenting, deconstructing why many Asian parents place such a heavy emphasis on test scores and getting into a good college. He also shares his personal experience working at multinational companies early in his career and how learning to embrace both Asian and Western cultures and workplace expectations helped him build a successful global company.
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Discussed in this episode
Meet Hugh Yao, Founder and CEO of LingoAce. Hugh shares his story on how his personal struggle as a father to help his son learn Chinese led him to start LingoAce. (0:58)
What was your glow up origin story? Hugh shares that he started learning English as a second language as a 12-year-old kid – the boring way – and how that propelled him into an international career throughout Asia. (1:56)
What were your parents’ dreams for you growing up? Becoming an entrepreneur and building a global company wasn’t something Hugh aspired to do as a child, nor was it his parents’ hope for him. Instead, it was the opportunities that became opened to him because he was bilingual that led him on this path. (5:50)
What observations have you made between Asian-style parenting and Western-style parenting? Hugh breaks down why many Asian parents place so much emphasis on academic results and getting into top universities. In the last few decades, Asia’s rapid economic growth has led to life-changing opportunities, especially for those who are highly educated. By comparison, Western parenting has a stronger emphasis on building their children’s character and creativity through sports and the arts. In today’s changing world, there are learnings that can be taken from both parenting styles. (7:08)
Retaining fluency in a family’s heritage language is a common struggle for Asian immigrant families. What can parents do differently? Hugh shared his observations having experienced this struggle firsthand with his son. One of the reasons why kids stop speaking their mother tongue is because it’s “not cool.” For this reason, it’s important to instill in children a strong sense of pride in their heritage. Secondarily, we need to make learning languages fun, practical and meaningful. (10:51)
Looking at the Asian diaspora globally, what similarities and differences have you observed? The differences that Hugh observes are more generational. First generation immigrants – no matter if they live in Los Angeles or Singapore – often have a similar lifestyle and values. This is why they tend to push much harder for their kids to retain their mother tongue. Later generations naturally become much more assimilated to the local culture. But interestingly, it’s the third-generation parents who often become more driven for their children to learn and connect with their heritage language because their parents (the second generation) didn’t emphasize it as much growing up. (14:40)
Going back to our original conversation about Asian and Western style parenting. Have you observed parents that have incorporated both styles together well? The short answer is yes, says Hugh. Asian parents who have been able to move their families because of the opportunities afforded through education often hope their children can repeat their success. Nevertheless, we see those same parents adapting where academics aren’t their sole focus. Simultaneously, we have also have non-Asian parents who enroll their children in LingoAce’s Chinese language learning programs because they see the value and opportunities that come with being bilingual. (18:04)
Going back to glowing up Asian. Before starting LingoAce, you worked for American companies – leading their Asian-Pacific business units. What was it like to navigate different cultural expectations from both your leadership team in the US and colleagues in other parts of Asia? “Learning a language is just a starting point,” says Hugh. Though he did struggle early on, he learned to gradually adapt to the Western-style workplace culture and helped him build LingoAce into a global workforce across North America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific. (21:51)
Hugh wraps our conversation with his thoughts on the future, sharing his hope for the next generation. (29:29)
Hugh Yao founded LingoAce to make it possible for children to learn from the best – no matter where they live. Previously, he held leadership roles at the world’s leading global technology companies across the Asia Pacific region, including IBM, Oracle, and Salesforce. He earned his master’s degree in management and bachelor’s degree in engineering physics from Tsinghua University.