Chinese Becomes an “International Language” at a Faster Speed

[Source]    People's Daily Overseas Edition [Time]    2017-09-29 20:44:24 

From July 14th to 18th, 2017, the “Chinese Bridge” summer camp for secondary school students of the Confucius Institute at University of Graz, Austria kicked off in Jiangsu University, Zhenjiang City, Jiangsu Province. Via this summer camp, 17 Austrian secondary school students have learned Chinese and learned the skills of the traditional Chinese vinegar making, tea art, dough modeling, paper-cutting and martial arts from Chinese teachers and students. They have also felt the charm of traditional Chinese culture and had a wonderful trip of Chinese culture. The picture above shows that the Austrian secondary school students get to know about the vinegar fermenting process in the Hengshun Vinegar Culture Museum in Zhenjiang. Photo by Yang Yu /

In 1973, a French youth came to Beijing to start his long-awaited Chinese study tour. “In the 1970s in France, if you said that you are learning Chinese, you friends would think you are joking. Back then, Chinese is a ‘language on the moon’ for two reasons: one is that the country speaking Chinese is too far from France to reach in reality; the other is that Chinese is completely different from French for French is an alphabetic language while Chinese is an ideographic language.” Over 40 years later, the youth then has become a prominent expert in Sinology—Joël Bellassen, President of European Association for Chinese Teaching, who can speak fluent Mandarin. He used “entirely different” to describe the changes nowadays.

Take France as an example. In 2016, a total number of around 52,000 primary and secondary school students are learning Chinese in France, which is more than 500 times as many as that in 2004. Around the world, the need of Chinese learning in many countries has sharply increased since the new century. According to the data of Hanban, it showed that currently, except China itself (including Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan), the number of people who are learning Chinese across the world has amounted to over 100 million.

From “a Language on the Moon” to “Chinese Craze”

The heating up of “Chinese Craze” is closely related to the development of the Confucius Institute which regards carrying out Chinese teaching and spreading Chinese culture as its function. Since the founding in 2004, the Confucius Institute has developed rapidly. Up to now, there have been 516 Confucius Institutes and 1,076 primary and secondary Confucius Classrooms in 142 countries and regions, with 2.1 million students. In particular, since the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC), another other 34 countries have been involved in the past five years and 116 new Confucius Institutes and 541 primary and secondary Confucius Classrooms were newly built.

Foreign scholars and media said that it takes a dozen years for the Confucius Institutes to achieve the development that takes similar institutions of western countries decades or even hundreds of years, which is a wonder of the world like the economic development in China.

Behind these data is every individual Chinese learner. “Hello, everyone, my name is Toby and I’m 9 years old. I live in Sheffield, England, and now I am learning Chinese.” The boy Toby, who wrote the letter Hello, China! Hello, World has learned Chinese for 3 years and he could still remember the first time he learned Chinese was when he was participating a week-long Chinese school at the Confucius Institute at the Sheffield University. “After the end of the summer Chinese school, I hope to continue to learn Chinese. And there was this ‘Star Chinese School’ having classes every Saturday in the Confucius Institute at University of Sheffield. So I began to learn Chinese there.” Toby’s mother, influenced by Toby, also joined the team of learning Chinese and became Toby’s partner in Chinese learning.

Through language teaching and culture blending, the Confucius Institute has become an important window for the world to know China. In the past 5 years, Confucius Institutes and Classrooms in the world have held a total of more than 100 thousand cultural activities with the audience of 60 million.

Italian secondary school Chinese teachers teaching in a class

Dr. Xu Haiming, Director of the Confucius Institute at Oriental University of Napoli, Italy, and Professor of Shanghai International Studies University had many feelings toward this. He said, “Taking our Confucius Institute for instance, there are various sorts of activities complementary to classes in the classroom, such as Kunqu opera, Peking opera, Chinese folk singing, Chinese calligraphy, Chinese painting, and shadow play, etc. These activities can not only inspire students’ interest in Chinese learning, but also broaden their cultural horizon.”

In October 2015, when attending the opening ceremony of the UK Confucius Institutes and Confucius Classrooms Annual Conference, General Secretary Xi Jinping pointed out that as a window and bridge for languages and culture exchanges between China and other countries, the Confucius Institutes and Confucius Classrooms have not only played a positive role in bringing the people all over the world to learn Chinese and to understand Chinese culture, but also made great contributions to pushing forward China’s cultural exchanges with all countries in the world and promoting the development of the diverse and colorful world civilization.

Chinese Teaching Extends from Universities to Primary and Secondary schools

In Joël Bellassen’s view, Chinese “is becoming an international language”. The key to this judgment is that Chinese is gradually being incorporated into the local elementary education. “The total number of Chinese learners in France is about 100,000, and half of them are primary and secondary students, which well demonstrated that Chinese is included as a regular subject in the French national education system. This is a good trend.” The data shows that in 2016 in France, more than 150 universities and over 700 primary and secondary schools have offered Chinese courses.

Additionally, according to the statistics of the Chinese Language Teachers Association, USA, there are 400,000 primary and secondary students in the United States learning Chinese, accounting for 2/3 of the total number of people learning Chinese; and about 120,000 primary and secondary school students are learning Chinese in the UK, accounting for 60% of the total number in the UK; in New Zealand, only 10,000 primary and secondary school students were learning Chinese in 2010, yet by 2015, the number has skyrocketed to 40,000, which makes Chinese the fastest-growing foreign language; in Italy, the number of registered Chinese learners has exceeded 30,000 and the number of primary and over a hundred secondary schools offer Chinese classes.

The famous Cheltenham Ladies’ College in the UK has a history of more than 160 years. Gao Fei, who graduated from the University of Oxford and now teaches Chinese in the college said that in this college, Chinese is a compulsory course for students of the seventh grade. “From the very beginning, Chinese was merely learned by a few students. But now, Chinese has been learned as a compulsory course. The change reflects the improved status of Chinese.” Gao Fei said, “Every year, the number of students learning Chinese is quite stable and when I was a full-time teacher, I would have 80 students learning Chinese with me. Back then the school only had three full-time teachers and it was estimated that more than 200 students were learning Chinese. It is not a small proportion in a school with around 870 students in total. It is worth mentioning that more and more British people have begun to teach Chinese. I have a British colleague who was also graduated from the University of Oxford”.

Ma Jianfei, the person in charge of Hanban said that more than 60 countries have already listed Chinese teaching into their national education system through the promulgation of decrees. Chinese teaching has risen from the third foreign language to the second in countries such as the United States, Japan, the Republic of Korea (ROK), Thailand, Indonesia, Mongolia, Australia, and New Zealand, etc. “Chinese teaching is transforming from the interest of a small group of people in the past into a matter concerned with a school and different families. The number of younger generation to learn Chinese has become larger. A survey showed that the current number of primary and secondary schools offering Chinese courses is 8 times as many as the higher education institutions across the world. Chinese teaching has quickly spread from the higher education phase to the primary and secondary schools in many countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Thailand and the ROK. The K-12 (from kindergarten to high school) has become the most important ‘growth pole’ of Chinese teaching”, said Ma Jianfei.

Behind the “Chinese Craze” is “China Craze”

When we analyze the reasons for the “Chinese Craze”, the “China Craze” cannot be evaded from. Since the beginning of the new century, China’s economic strength, political influence, and international status have been elevated; the influence and radiation of the Chinese path and the Chinese model have been significantly enhanced. The international community is generally optimistic about the development prospects of China, so that the role of Chinese is highlighted in the process of international economy and trade as well as cultural exchanges. In the context of the ever-growing cultural and practical value, the demand of the international community for learning Chinese is becoming stronger and stronger, which leads to an unprecedented “China Craze” and “Chinese Craze”.

According to Xu Haiming, previously, Chinese was usually regarded as the third foreign language in the European Union countries. The first foreign language is usually English and the second is French, German or Spanish. “But now, Chinese is sometimes a second foreign language at the same level as French and Spanish. This change is closely related to the development of our country.”

The UK is pushing forward Chinese language teaching from the government to the public in an all-round manner. Gao Fei, who worked as a volunteer of Chinese teaching in the Confucius Institute at University of Wales Trinity Saint David, and later taught Chinese in native British colleges and universities, is a witness of this process. In her view, “with the development of China, there are more British tourists and investors coming to China. As they gained more understanding of China, their need of learning Chinese has become stronger and they would also encourage their children to learn Chinese. Some of my students have been to China with their parents while some British people try to understand China through media. As a result, the atmosphere created by media has laid a solid foundation for the heating up of “Chinese Craze”.

A considerable number of Chinese learners are learning Chinese because it could be an advantage in job hunting.

William Reed, Professor of Art Management and former Dean of College of Visual and Performing Arts at George Mason University expressed that nowadays, in the United States, more and more young people begin to learn Chinese, because the language “will bring more job opportunities”.

It is worth noting that many people overseas who use Chinese are overseas Chinese and they want their children to learn Chinese well and not to forget Chinese culture, so as to retain their roots.

Vietnamese student Zhu Ruihua, who studied at the University of International Business and Economics in China, grew up in a Chinese-oriented family atmosphere. “My grandfather attaches great importance to our Chinese learning, so the TV programs we watch, the newspapers we read and our daily communication are all in Chinese. I started to learn Chinese at home from the age of 5, and my grandfather would tell me stories, such as Journey to the West, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, etc.” Zhu Ruihua hoped that he will be able to be engaged in Chinese-related work in the future.

Ma Jianfei expressed that since the 18th CPC National Congress, China has been unprecedentedly close to achieving the goal of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. With China’s growth and the elevation of international influence, the demand for understanding China, studying China and learning from China around the world will rise unprecedentedly, which will greatly enhance the attractiveness, appeal and influence of Chinese and Chinese culture, so as to promote the continuous heating up of “Chinese Craze” in the world.

(Story by Zhao Xiaoxia, People’s Daily Overseas Edition, Page 6, September 23rd, 2017)


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