“Chinese Language” Blooms in Africa

[Source]    People’s Daily Overseas Edition [Time]    2018-09-05 08:48:34 

In 2014, Zhang Xian from Chongqing Normal University became the Chinese director of the Confucius Institute at the University of Rwanda. “At that time, there were only about 1,000 Chinese-learning students, whereas now we have 15 teachers and about 5,000 registered students.” In Zhang Xian’s view, behind the rapid growth of the number of Chinese-learning students are “the increasingly friendly China-Africa relations and the rapid development of China, which encourages more and more people to prioritize the language.”

“The students’ ardent love for Chinese language is beyond words.” This is the way through which Zhang Xian described his feelings on the phenomenon.

With the further development of China-Africa relations, especially the in-depth cooperation in such fields as economy, trade and culture between the two sides, more and more Africans are beginning to learn Chinese language. According to data from Hanban, as of now, 54 Confucius Institutes and 30 Confucius Classrooms have been established in 41 African countries, and more than 1.4 million students have been trained in total.

“Learning Chinese Language Is My Greatest Happiness”

Han Maoyu, a Nigerian student, is pursuing the Master of Teaching Chinese to Speakers of Other Languages (MTCSOL) at Nankai University. His undergraduate major is Religion and Anthropology, and his previous dream was to be a lawyer. “When I got in touch with Chinese language my dream changed, and now I want to be a cultural envoy between China and Nigeria.”

To realize his own dream, Han Maoyu has worked very hard. During his study at the Confucius Institute at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, he passed the HSK Level 6 with a high score and received a scholarship to study in Nankai University.

What makes Han Yuyu even prouder is that he overcame all difficulties in the way and finally won the national championship in the Second “Chinese Language Teaching Idols” Summer Camp and the 2018 Exchange Conference on Teaching of Master of Teaching Chinese to Speakers of Other Languages (MTCSOL). “I hope to stay in China to be a Chinese language teacher after graduation.”

Ding Jiaming, also from Nigeria, is well known for his wonderful performance at the 17th “Chinese Bridge” Chinese Proficiency Competition for Foreign College Students. In the process of learning Chinese language, he learned how to use WeChat, and the first record of his Moments was “learning Chinese language is my greatest happiness.”

Chen Andong from Kenya has been studying Chinese language at the Confucius Institute at the University of Nairobi for about one year. He hopes to successfully apply for a scholarship in the future “to study in China.” It is worth mentioning that the Confucius Institute at the University of Nairobi was established in 2005, and it is the first Chinese Confucius Institute in Africa.

“Learning Chinese language has brought tangible benefits to the students, not only in regards to culture acquaintance, but also in matters of employment,” Zhang Xian told the journalist. “The University of Rwanda has put the website links of our Confucius Institute on its campus website. For the university, Chinese language teaching is an important part of its internationalization,” he added.

“Learning Chinese Language Brings about More Possibilities”

Among the students in the Confucius Institutes in Africa, it is common to see some students from off-campus circles. Antoine, a costume designer is a student at the Confucius Institute at University of Lagos in Nigeria. After studying Chinese language for one year, he recently participated in the China-Africa Youths Summer Camp—“China-Africa friendship, youthful aspirations” sponsored by the Confucius Institute Headquarters (Hanban). “There is finally a chance to visit China. I have learned more about Chinese culture, Chinese people and Chinese environment, so I hope that I can introduce what I have learned about China and Chinese culture to my friends after returning to my country.”

At the Confucius Institute at the University of Lagos in Nigeria, it is not uncommon to see students who learn Chinese language in their after-work time, like Antoine. “Learning Chinese language can provide them with more possibilities”, said Wang Yongjing, Chinese Director of the Confucius Institute at University of Lagos.

At the graduation ceremony of the University of Lagos in Nigeria, the booth of the Confucius Institute at the University of Lagos was welcomed by students. Teachers of Confucius Institute playing the African drums

Photographer Ming Xu is also a student at the Confucius Institute at the University of Lagos in Nigeria. He decided to learn Chinese because he thought “learning Chinese language would give him more opportunities”. A short trip to China made him more “eager to learn more about Chinese people and Chinese culture and eager to communicate with others in fluent Chinese language.” He also has another wish: “When I have children, I will let them learn Chinese language, too.”

“We have set up special classes for part-time students, starting from 18:00 p.m. to 20:00 p.m. every day. These students are very perseverant, and no terrible weather can stop them from attending the classes.” Zhang Xian told our journalist that based on the needs of the Rwandan people for learning Chinese language, the Confucius Institute at the University of Rwanda highlights three features: “One is the specialization, which includes setting up courses such as martial arts, Tai Chi and Chinese Culture; the second is professionalization, which requires combining Chinese language teaching with vocational training; the third is comprehensiveness, which means making Chinese language teaching accessible to more people.”

In addition to the university campus, Chinese classes have also been opened in 12 other teaching sites of the Confucius Institute at the University of Rwanda, including middle schools, Chinese-funded enterprises in Rwanda and Masaka Hospital where the Chinese medical team is located.

“Promote China-Africa Friendship in a Down-to-earth Manner”

When talking about their motivation to learn Chinese language, many African students who study at the Confucius Institutes mentioned that “the directors and teachers of the Confucius Institutes in Africa are very appealing”.

From the viewpoint of Zhang Xian, this is closely related to the philosophy of running the Confucius Institutes in Africa. “Our wishes are very simple. We just want to promote the China-Africa friendship in a down-to-earth manner through Chinese language teaching. Taking the Confucius Institute at the University of Rwanda as an example, the only thing we bear in mind is to do something practical for the people-to-people and cultural exchanges between China and Rwanda.”

Teachers and students of the Confucius Institute at the University of Rwanda exchanging views in the Chinese reading room

Wu Jingyi, who volunteered as a Chinese language teacher at the Confucius Institute at the University of Lagos in Nigeria, still remembers a scene at the end of her volunteer term. On the day of her departure, Xue Yi, who appeared quiet and silent among other enthusiastic and active African students, ran to her from a very distant place and said, “Ms Wu, I know that today may be the last time I see you. I just want to say thank you! Thank you for teaching us Chinese language, thank you for teaching me to write Chinese characters. I really like Chinese language...I will study hard, and hope that someday I can meet you in China.”

“I always remember seeing the figure of Xue Yi getting smaller and smaller until she disappeared in the rain from the rearview mirror of the car,” Wu Jingyi recalls.

Data shows that since 2012, the number of students of the Confucius Institutes in Africa has increased by nearly 36% annually. The number of registered students in 2017 is close to 150,000. The average annual growth rate of Chinese language courses is 40.3%, and that of the teaching area is nearly 34%.

In response to Confucius Institutes’ rapid development in Africa, Ma Jianfei, Head of Hanban, said in a interview, “The Confucius Institutes in Africa have paid great attention to localization since their inception. It is mainly manifested in two aspects. One is the localization of teachers. For example, in 2017 the Confucius Institutes in Africa trained more than 1,500 teachers for local region and employed nearly 100 local teachers, which lays a quite good foundation for the localization and sustainable development of the Confucius Institutes. The other is taking the actual needs of the local region into full consideration. To meet the growing demand of Chinese-funded enterprises for local talents, the Confucius Institutes in Africa provide point-to-point service for enterprises, so that the cultivation of local talents can meet the direct needs of enterprises.”

(Story by Zhao Xiaoxia, photos by Wang Yongjing and Wang Xinjun, People’s Daily Overseas Edition, Page 9, August 31st, 2018)

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