One interesting side effect of China's dramatic economic development is that more and more people from foreign governments, educational institutions and enterprises are learning to speak Chinese.
Mastering four tones, word order and measure words was once thought as difficult as climbing Qomolangma. And it will certainly take longer.
To strengthen communications, exchanges, understanding and co-operation with other countries in teaching the language, the first World Chinese Conference will be held in Beijing July 20-22, Ministry of Education officials announced yesterday.
"The conference is a distinguished international gathering for Chinese language teaching, providing an effective platform to develop the teaching of the Chinese language in all countries and strengthening exchanges and co-operation between China and other countries in language culture," said Zhang Xinsheng, vice-minister of education.
"The role of Chinese in promoting multicultural and economic development will be enhanced in the future as an increasing number of foreigners have begun to learn it."
It is estimated that more than 30 million foreigners around the world are learning Chinese now.
To Le Minh, a reporter with the Viet Nam-based newspaper Nhan Dan Daily, now studies Chinese at a Beijing university.
"I love China and Chinese culture," To said. "Learning Chinese is very important for my career development.
"I began to learn Chinese last year, and I believe I will be able to speak Mandarin fluently in one or two years."
Approximately 2,500 universities and colleges in more than 100 countries have established Chinese language programmes. Some primary and middle schools have also introduced Chinese language programmes, said Xu Lin, director of the National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language.
Xu said that since her office was established in 1987, it has been involved in promoting the Chinese language throughout the world and helping foreign countries acquire a better understanding of China.
To meet the worldwide demand for Chinese language teachers, the office launched the Volunteer Programme for International Chinese Teachers last year and sent 105 of them to 16 countries including Indonesia, the Philippines, Poland, Greece, Mexico and Cuba. The office also sent 88 government-funded Chinese language teachers abroad last year.
The coming World Chinese Conference will be a good opportunity for education experts to exchange their experiences in Chinese language teaching and research on the theory of second-language education, Xu said.
(China Daily June 16, 2005)