The “Elder Students” in Chinese Classes

[Source]    People’s Daily Overseas Edition [Time]    2017-08-15 14:29:05 

It was on October 10th of last year that the Confucius Institute at the University of Lisbon in Portugal started to offer classes and I took over three classes: Advanced Class 1, Advanced Class 2, and “Super” Class. Some students of these classes have been learning Chinese for years, some have been to China for education and traveling, and some even have once stayed and lived in China.

Among the students of the three classes, three are college students and a few are office workers. After finishing their work, they leave their offices in a hurry and have Chinese classes in the university. Their work doesn’t have much to do with Chinese language, so they learn it simply driven by their fondness and love for Chinese language and culture. The majority of the students in the three classes are retired staff. I am deeply moved by their pursuit of knowledge, persevering and studious attitude. I often talk with them with a view to understand their learning demands, requirements and expectations for the course. I will then make some timely adjustments accordingly in order to live up to their expectations and really provide better service for them. It is their studious attitude and great personalities that touch me, making me exhaust all I have learned and acquired to help with their Chinese learning.

Mr. Paul, a retired professor of mathematics at the University of Lisbon, has delivered academic lectures at Nankai University in Tianjin, China for three times. The status of the University of Lisbon in Portugal is equivalent to that of Tsinghua University in China. When referring to Nankai’s mathematics, everyone will associate it with Mr. Shiing-shen Chern. So I asked Paul whether he knows Shiing-shen Chern. He said, “Of course I do.”

This respectable elder gentleman chose to enroll in Super Class. However, in this term, the Boya Chinese Advanced offered in the Super Class is too difficult. Around two weeks after the opening of the class, I suggested that he could go for the classes offered in Advanced Class 2 or Advanced Class 1. The gentleman answered with great determination that he could now understand 30% of the class, but he had to work hard in the hope of understanding 80% of it by the end of this term. Later, I found that, prior to each class he would print all the needed materials, refer to dictionary and translate them into Portuguese or English. He would also scan a copy of his homework and send it to me, and asked me to return it with my corrections. He would then correct it and study it again. What he has presented are the real “diving in and unyielding” spirits.

Fatimah, from Advanced Class 1, is probably the eldest student I have ever taught. He is a retired scientist who demonstrates classic toughness of a scientist when studying Chinese, which is really impressive. Another student in the class Mr. Gao Silong, who has once worked in the Beijing branch of a Portuguese company for 5 years in the 1990s, now still insists on learning Chinese. Though he has already studied the New Practical Chinese Reader Textbook 5, he decided to study it again. Whenever I help him correct his pronunciation, he always imitates attentively. With an active learning attitude, he also carefully finishes his homework.

Being retired, these students lead an enjoyable life and possess certain achievements and status in their respective fields. But why do they still learn Chinese so hard? Moreover, they need to pay for studying at the Confucius Institute, with a cost of € 350 for each course during every school year. Young people study Chinese for such reasons as job-seeking, subsistence, and life. What about them? Someone joked that they study Chinese in order to maintain an active brain. However, such persistent learning spirit is indeed admirable, which manifests the saying that “it is never too late to learn”. Such studious spirit and learning attitude inspires me a lot and also reminds me to work hard and constantly improve myself.

(The author is a Chinese teacher of the Confucius Institute at the University of Lisbon in Portugal)

(Story by Tian Yingxuan, People’s Daily Overseas Edition Page 9, August 11th, 2017)