International Chinese Language Education: from Popular to Down-to-Earth

[Source]    Guangming Daily [Time]    2019-12-16 09:30:43 

Wonderful performance given by Chinese learners from all over the world on the 2019 International Chinese Language Education Conference Photo by Guangming Daily

“Learning Chinese is meaningful because language is the bridge connecting to the world.”

“I will lead you to behold China through live video streaming and tell China’s story to the world.”


The charm of Chinese is attracting more and more foreign friends to meet in China. On December 9th, the 2019 International Chinese Language Education Conference was held in Changsha, Hunan Province, which attracted more than 1000 native and foreign representatives of more than 160 countries to focus on the theme “Innovation and Development of International Chinese Language Education in the New Era”.

Though international Chinese language education originates from China, it belongs to the world. Since the first Confucius Institute was established in 2004, China has already set up 550 Confucius Institutes and 1172 Confucius Classrooms in primary and secondary schools among 162 nations (regions), and the number of foreigners learning Chinese around the globe rapidly mounted to 100 million. Those phenomena exemplify the gradual expanding friend circle of China.

Behind the popularity of Chinese is the coexistence of opportunities and challenges. How to realize the improvement from quantity to quality? How to adjust measures of the teaching Chinese to local conditions and fit into the native culture? How to enhance the yardstick and train the teachers? It’s still a long way to go in regard to the further development of international Chinese language education.

Chinese, a Global Language Stepping to the World

“Thanks to Chinese, I perceived my unlimited possibility of future. Youth is so precious that it couldn’t be wasted, and I hope next year I could have my further education in Chinese university and become ‘Marco Polo’ in the new era.”

With standard pronunciation, clear uttering and fluent expression, Jacob Jamal, an Italian boy, earned wide acclaims with fluent Chinese. He also has a catchy Chinese name, Zheng Yanke.

It took Zheng Yanke only four years from “the initial impression of China is just pandas and Kung Fu” to become the champion of the Chinese Bridge Chinese Proficiency Competition for Foreign Secondary School Students this year. He attended Rome Convitto Nazionale Vittorio Emanuele II, where studying Chinese and Chinese culture is popular. This most prestigious local school, which has been running a five-year Chinese language international scientific high school for 10 years, has the largest Confucius Classroom in Italy and includes Chinese as the first foreign language into the compulsory system.

“I hope you could be Marco Polo in the new era, the envoy of Chinese and Italian culture.” In March, Zheng Yanke as well as all staff and students in Rome Convitto Nazionale Vittorio Emanuele II received the letter of response from President Xi Jinping. Headmaster Reale said: “Our students are working very hard on Chinese these years, and the letter of response from President Xi Jinping is no doubt the best reward and support to them.”

Nowadays, around the globe, there are more and more youngsters like Zheng Yanke learning Chinese and knowing China via projects like the Confucius Institute, which enables them to recognize the amplitude of world and the value of multi-culture.

Foreign students displaying Kyrgyz culture at the Kyrgyz booth of the 16th World Cultural Festival of Beijing Language and Culture University

Photo by Guo Haipeng, Guangming Daily / Visual China Group

According to incomplete statistics, up to November 2019, a total of 69 countries and regions like South Africa, Mauritius, Tanzania, Cameroon, Zambia and other African countries have incorporated Chinese teaching into the national education system in the form of legislative and government decrees, teaching syllabus, course outline and so on.

Thailand, Malaysia and other Southeast Asian countries have formed a complete Chinese teaching system from preschool education, basic education, and vocational education to higher education through policies and regulations.

The United States, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Russia and other countries have listed Chinese as one of the foreign language subjects in the college entrance examination. Among the 50 million people in the Republic of Korea, there are more than 10.6 million learning Chinese and its characters.

“With the steady improvement of China’s overall national strength, Chinese has become the second global language after English in terms of the number of non-native speakers and international influence.” Professor Wu Yingcheng of Nanyang University of Technology in Singapore pointed out, “Chinese teaching has changed from ‘teaching Chinese as a foreign language’ at home to ‘international Chinese education’ abroad.”

Chinese+Occupation: Diversification of Chinese Teaching

Apply for instructions, activate the control system, and enter unmanned driverless mode... Sitting in front of the high-speed rail simulation system, Atitan, a youngster from Thailand, gently pushed the joystick to accelerate the “train”. Soon it reached to 80 kilometers per hour, passing through downtown area, tunnel, and into the station. Atitan looked out of the window from time to time and eventually stopped the car steadily on the marking.

“We have just started to learn to simulate driving a train, and so far we don’t find it particularly difficult because we have been trained in China.” Atitan said confidently.

With the advance of the China-Thailand railway project, Thailand has a greater demand for compound talents who understand both railway technology and Chinese. In 2016, Chinese training program for China-Thailand High-speed Railway was launched by the Confucius Institute at Khon Kaen University, and Atitan was one of the trainees.

It’s nothing new to see programs like studying both Chinese and techniques at the Confucius Institutes in Asian and African countries. Chinese + agricultural production technology, Chinese + car maintenance, Chinese + flight attendants, Chinese + e-commerce, Chinese + robot technology, Chinese + big data, Chinese + Internet of things …. Simple Chinese education is gradually changing to Chinese-based vocational and technical education. This change stems from the substantial increase in the demand for professional and technical personnel who understand Chinese in the international community, especially in the Belt and Road Initiative related countries.

Chinese Ambassador to Equatorial Guinea Luo Mei believed that the “Chinese +” project is a practice of Confucius Institutes extending to other fields with Chinese as a starting point, which reflects the cooperation in the field of humanities in the Eight Major Actions of China-Africa cooperation.

At present, more than 100 Confucius Institutes among more than 40 countries like Thailand, Malaysia, Tanzania and Ethiopia, offer “Chinese+” courses, covering dozens of fields such as high-speed rail, economy and trade, tourism, law, customs, aviation.

Oniniaina R. Andriamaonjy, a local teacher at the Confucius Institute at Antananarivo University, Madagascar, said in her speech that “Learning Chinese and knowing technology can provide a way out” has become the consensus of young people from many African countries including Madagascar. The Chinese programs represented by Belt and Road Initiative have been recognized and accepted by more and more countries. At present, 56 Belt and Road Initiative related countries have set up 167 Confucius Institutes and 172 Confucius Classrooms in primary and secondary schools.

The cooperation between China and foreign countries highlights cultural connotation and multi-actor participation, and the international Chinese education represented by Confucius Institutes has embarked on a new stage of transformation and upgrading.

Connotation Development: A Calm Reflection on the Popularity of Chinese

“The biggest problem is that there is not a local Chinese textbook suitable for Romanian students. This has greatly hindered the local Chinese teaching. Moreover, due to the limited number of teachers in Romanian public schools, most schools are unwilling to recruit full-time local Chinese teachers. This greatly restricts the promotion of Chinese teaching.”

Luminita Rodica Balan, Director of Department of Chinese Language and Literature of University of Bucharest in Romania, said in a speech at the conference that although the Romanian Ministry of Education officially confirmed that Chinese would be included in the latest foreign language curriculum list in primary and secondary schools on June 25th, 2016, Chinese teaching is still faced with many practical difficulties.

The incorporation of Chinese into the national education system in many countries, on the one hand, brings a substantial increase in the number of learners and the corresponding shortage of teachers; on the other hand, it also puts forward higher requirements for the quality of Chinese education.

Natalia G.Pecheritsa, Director of the International Department of Moscow International Business School, has also pointed out that there is a growing demand for Chinese talents in Russia. There are many kinds of Chinese training courses, but at present, both good and bad Chinese teaching in Russia are intermingled.

The Chinese teacher (right) of the Confucius Institute at the University of Vienna in Austria leading the students to learn Chinese By Xinhua News Agency

“Standards, teaching materials, teachers and management are all important parts of inner connotation construction. An important foundation for the next development of Confucius Institutes is to see the challenges against career development behind the popularity of learning Chinese.” Liang Yanmin, an associate professor at Beijing Language and Culture University who used to be the Chinese director of the Confucius Institute at the University of Sheffield in the UK, considering his own teaching experience, pointed out that foreigners will also have the psychological obstacle of “learning Chinese is difficult”. For the spoken language, the difficulty lies in the tone; for the written one, the difficulty exists in the text. In order to solve the problem of “learning Chinese is difficult”, we need to have simple and interesting Chinese conversation. This requires us not only to strengthen the basic research of Chinese characters, to teach with high-frequency words, but also to introduce the evolution of Chinese characters through animation, VR and other vivid means.

Huang Caiyu, an associate professor at the School of Arts of Heilongjiang University, suggested:“The content of Chinese international education undertaken by the Confucius Institute should not only be combined with the local regional culture, but also take into account the top-level design of the local education system. It includes educational policies, allocation of educational resources, relevant standards and language policies.”

It is also an essential responsibility of the Chinese Government to promote international Chinese education. Minister of Education Chen Baosheng puts forward six measures to support international Chinese education in the next two to three years: the first is to improve the master’s degree discipline system of international Chinese education, majorly recruiting outstanding young teachers at home and abroad; the second is to support Chinese universities to establish international Chinese teacher colleges; the third is to enhance the attractiveness of expatriate Chinese teachers and support the selection and employment of local teachers; the fourth is to implement high-quality teaching materials project; the fifth is to improve a series of international standards for Chinese education; and the sixth is to support and encourage people from all walks of life in China and around the world to participate in the construction of Confucius Institutes and international Chinese education by establishing a foundation.

Only through cultural exchanges and mutual learning can we develop ourselves and move forward together. More and more foreigners are learning Chinese to know and understand China. With the growing Chinese “circle of friends”, it’s believed that civilized exchanges and mutual learning will one day illuminate our common future.

(Story by Chai Rujin, Long Jun and Yu Aihua, Guangming Daily, Page 7, December 10th, 2019)

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