Building ties through language

[Source]    The Star Online [Time]    2018-01-29 09:58:23 

KZIUM is led by two co-directors, Prof Azarae (right) and Chen.

UNDERSTANDING is one of the key ingredients to building a cordial relationship between people and nations.

The Kong Zi Institute Universiti Malaya (KZIUM) is part of the global Confucius Institute (CI) network established by Hanban (Confucius Institute Headquarters) and Beijing Foreign Studies University (BFSU).

Set up on Nov 1, 2009, in Universiti Malaya as a government-to-government programme between Malaysia and China, the institute focuses on enhancing the understanding of the Chinese language.

KZIUM Malaysia director Prof Datuk Dr Azarae Idris, who has been managing the institute since 2010, says KZIUM is the fruit of “two governments and two nations working together”.

He notes that the programme is from China’s Education Ministry.

KZIUM offers Mandarin courses including Comprehensive Mandarin (Levels 1-6), Chinese Character Course, Essential Mandarin for Business (Intermediate, Advanced) and Essential Mandarin for Travelling in China.

Students who have completed their Mandarin courses have the option to take the Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi (HSK) test - the international standardised Chinese proficiency test that consists of six levels - to measure their ability to communicate in Chinese during daily life.

The YCT (Youth Chinese Test) is available for primary and secondary school students who are non-native Chinese speakers.

“The programmes here are tailored for people who want to take up Mandarin as a second language.

“About 95% of our students are Malay while the rest include other locals and international students,” he says.

Last year, KZIUM taught over 4,000 students from UM as well as other public and private universities, government agencies and the public.

He adds that knowing Mandarin will open job opportunities in Chinese companies based locally as well as in China.

“By knowing the Chinese language, we will also learn about each other’s culture,” says Prof Azarae who has turned 60 and retired this month. Assoc Prof Dr Noor Zalina Mahmood from UM’s Institute of Biological Sciences has been appointed as his successor.

KZIUM Chinese director Chen Zhong also believes that language is the vehicle for culture.

Chen, an English graduate with a Masters in Lexicography - the art of compiling, writing and editing dictionaries - has been in Malaysia since 2013.

KZIUM, he says, is a bridge between nations.

“We are a platform for our Mandarin teachers from China to reach out to the local teachers to help them improve teaching skills through workshops and conferences that KZIUM organises,” he says.

The institute also brings together organisations from China and Malaysia that are related to education and culture, adds Chen.

He says one of the misconception people have towards the Chinese language is they think they can learn it like how they learn Mathematics.

“This is not true. Mandarin has its own rules of learning, it takes time to learn the components - reading, writing, listening.

“One cannot speak a foreign language fluently in just three or four months,” he says, adding that many people often want to only learn the speaking component of the language.

“If you want to really learn Mandarin, you have to know the Chinese characters because they carry the meaning of the language.

“There are no shortcuts or easy way to learn a foreign language,” he says.

Practice makes perfect, this is the only way.

“You need to immerse yourself in an environment that uses the language frequently,” he adds.

The cultural programme in KZIUM ranges from health (Taijiquan, a martial art practised for both defence and health benefits), mental sharpness (Weiqi or Go, a board game noted for being rich in strategy), emotion (Guqin, the seven-stringed musical instrument), and skill in arts (calligraphy and Chinese painting).

(The Star Online)


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