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The Chinese language will likely play an increasingly important role in Sino-foreign exchanges and co-operation, senior State officials said.

Reducing the language barrier among more and more people allows for better cultural understanding between China and the world, and helps facilitate peace, said Xu Jialu, vice-chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC).

Xu delivered his remarks Friday at the opening of the Seventh International Symposium on Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language, a leading academic event worldwide.

The event is held every three years. This year's event is the largest in its 17-year history.

It has attracted 450 scholars and experts from 38 countries and regions worldwide. The attendants will engage in extensive discussions on linguistic theories, second language acquisition, cross-cultural communication, Chinese language teaching material and language testing.

Because China's rapid social and economic development is linked to its further opening to the outside world, Chinese language and culture are becoming increasingly appealing to people worldwide.

Ministry of Education statistics show that 25 million people worldwide are now learning Chinese, and 2,100 universities in 85 countries and regions are offering Chinese language courses.

Statistics also show that more than 60,000 students from abroad are now studying in China, including 45,000 concentrating on the Chinese language alone.

China's entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) and landing of the bid to host the 2008 Olympics has helped the country get noticed worldwide.

Chinese language teachers will soon be in record demand, experts said.

"We have spared no effort to promote the Chinese language worldwide,'' said Jiang Mingbao, deputy director-general of the National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language (NOCFL), a State-level overseer of the field.

NOCFL's major undertakings include compiling quality teaching material and offering professional training for teachers at home and abroad, Jiang said.

In the past, people learned Chinese to better understand the Chinese culture. But a growing number of people are now mastering the language to make them more attractive in the job market, Jiang said.

Even so, tough challenges remain, experts said.

About 6,000 people teach Chinese as a foreign language, but only 2,000 of them have a professional certificate.

How to better teach the language to refute the widely held belief that it is too difficult is the biggest obstacle, said Lu Bisong, a senior scholar.

(China Daily August 3, 2002)

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