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Cantonese street slang, courtesy of a white guy from B.C.

Staring into the camera, Carlos Vidal mimics the distinctive whine of certain high-maintenance Chinese girls: "Hurry up and buy things for me! I want Louis Vuitton and Gucci!"

Staring into the camera, Carlos Vidal mimics the distinctive whine of certain high-maintenance Chinese girls: "Hurry up and buy things for me! I want Louis Vuitton and Gucci!"

Switching smoothly between Cantonese and English, Mr. Vidal uses the stereotype to explain the Chinese term for "princess syndrome."

In another YouTube segment, featuring Mr. Vidal and Chinese-American rapper MC Jin, he coaches viewers on the diverse uses of " ai-yah," an exclamation particularly popular with Chinese mothers.

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He may be an unlikely cultural ambassador, but Mr. Vidal's online lessons in Cantonese slang have been viewed almost four million times since last year - and turned him into a minor celebrity both in Canada and in Hong Kong, where he recently met with fans (mostly teenagers), signed autographs and guest-starred in a pop music video.

"Some Caucasian guy speaking a completely foreign language" is how Mr. Vidal, 25, explains the appeal of his cheeky videos. "I don't [intend]it as a serious way to learn Chinese - just learn some trendy words, have some fun and make friends laugh."

And although his video antics often involve exaggerated characterizations, he says they aren't meant to offend. "There is a line between being offensively racist or rude toward a culture, and being able to laugh together about funny aspects within that culture."

It's that inside-joke aspect of Mr. Vidal's lessons that resonates with fans like Otto Wong, a Toronto Web designer: "When he's explaining [a term, I say] oh yeah I get where that's coming from."

Mr. Vidal's Caucasian mother and Peruvian father find it funny that their son - a business student and student union president at the University of the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford, B.C. - has become an online sensation.

Mr. Vidal learned Cantonese relatively recently: In 2005, he travelled to Hong Kong as part of a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For the next two years, he immersed himself in the Cantonese dialect using books and audio tapes.

"I would try to study for an hour or so every day; just try to memorize vocabulary," he says. "When I was on the bus, or asked for directions, or buying food, I would always practise my Chinese."

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His proficiency has impressed Chinese speakers, including Duanduan Li, director of the Chinese language program at the University of British Columbia. Chinese is a notoriously difficult language to learn because every sound has a specific tone, Prof. Li says. "And even the same sound has so many different tones.

"I think people are very amazed by his gift in learning the language in just two years."

While Mr. Vidal's videos won't replace bona fide language classes, they're a good way to enhance them, she says. It doesn't hurt that Mr. Vidal is a born performer.

At a Chinese New Year banquet in Vancouver earlier this year, he captured the attention of hundreds of diners with his presentation of chok yeung - a term referring to the overposed gaze popular in photos posted to Facebook. Unafraid to ham it up, Mr. Vidal struck pose after pose to the crowd's delight.

In Canada, Mr. Vidal strikes a chord with Canadian-born Chinese. "CBCs" know some Chinese - usually to communicate with family or to order in a restaurant - but aren't up to date with the latest slang.

Many share childhood memories of tedious Cantonese classes taught by humourless instructors. "Our teachers were so old-school. If you talked, then you had to write dictation 30 times, like copy a story out, as your punishment," recalls Briar Gorton, whose parents enrolled her in Chinese classes to maintain her mother's culture. "Could the learning experience have been more fun? Definitely."

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Ms. Gorton finds Mr. Vidal's videos "hilarious and relevant."

"If you go to Hong Kong, everyone's talking in slang, and if you don't understand what they're talking about, you're missing half the conversation."

Mr. Vidal says the most rewarding part of his hobby comes from people who are having fun with the language: "I get messages saying … 'I haven't spoken Chinese for so long, and you inspired me to start again.'

Special to The Globe and Mail

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