More than 30 million people around the world are studying Chinese, Director Yan Meihua of the National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language told China Daily.
The Ministry of Education predicts that the number of foreigners studying Chinese will reach 100 million in the next five years. Some 2,300 universities in 85 countries have opened Chinese language courses.
Yan attributes the global fever to learn Chinese to the country's rapid economic growth and especially its accession to the World Trade Organization in 2001.
The current number of Chinese teachers can no longer meet demand. Southeast Asia, the United States, Europe, Africa and Latin America are all in need of teachers, says Yan.
Her office plans to begin in the first half of this year recruiting teachers who are willing to work in foreign countries.
Those who are recruited will be sent abroad after a short training period.
At the same time, her office will try to encourage foreigners who know Chinese to teach in their home countries. Yan's office will issue proficiency certificates to those who are qualified.
China has more than 6,000 teachers who teach foreigners Chinese. Some of them work inside the country and others are sent abroad, says Yan.
Mwendanga Musengo, a student from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, considers China his second home. He has studied in China for six years.
"I came to China because I love Chinese culture, especially the traditional Chinese music," says Musengo, a former student at the Central Conservatory of Music who is now seeking a master's degree in journalism at the Central University of Nationalities in Beijing.
Knowing only one Chinese phrase, "Ni hao," Musengo arrived in Beijing in late 1997 with two other African students. After two years of language study at Beijing Language and Cultural University, he can speak and understand putonghua (standard spoken Chinese), or Mandarin as it is known in Western countries.
Musengo complained that when he began learning Chinese, very few Chinese teachers spoke English or other languages, which made communication between teachers and students difficult.
However, the vocabulary textbooks are good enough as they include Chinese characters, pinyin or phonetic symbols, English and graphics, he says.
At present, 36 Chinese universities have opened bilingual courses (Chinese and English or another foreign language) to train Chinese teachers.
Each year, the country invites foreign teachers who teach Chinese in their countries to China to upgrade their teaching skills. Meanwhile, Chinese experts are sent to foreign countries to help train foreign Chinese teachers, says Yan.
She says learning Chinese is regarded as important in both developed and developing countries. In the United States, for example, Chinese courses have been introduced in a number of colleges and high schools.
China and the United States have started to develop jointly Advanced Placement (AP) courses to further promote Chinese language studies in the United States, said the Ministry of Education.
AP courses will start in the United States in 2006 and corresponding examinations will begin in 2007.
The idea of offering such courses was initiated by the US College Board in 1995 to open college-level Chinese-language studies and hold examinations among high schools in the United States.
Senior high school students who pass the examinations can obtain college credits for Chinese language in advance, and the credits will be useful for students who want to enter prestigious universities, according to the ministry's Department for International Cooperation and Exchange.
The AP courses are expected to stimulate enthusiasm to learn Chinese among US high school students. It will also help promote teaching Chinese as a foreign language, sources from the department say.
According to Zhang Guoqing, an official from the National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language, China and the United States have also started to develop computerized Chinese learning programs, targeting American students aged 12 to 15. This is the largest cooperative educational project between the two countries, he says
(China Daily March 19, 2004)