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Chinese Teaching to Expand in a Big Way

The National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language has stepped up efforts to expand its teaching staff given that a rising number of foreigners are showing a keen desire to learn Chinese. 

More than 30 million people around the world are learning Chinese, the office's Director Yan Meihua told China Daily.


The Ministry of Education has predicted that the number of foreigners learning Chinese is expected to reach 100 million in the coming five years.


Some 2,300 universities in 85 countries or regions 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 hardly meet the demand of more and more foreigners learning Chinese. Southeast Asia, the United States, Europe, Africa and Latin America are all in need of Chinese teachers, says Yan.


To solve this problem, Yan says her office will look for teachers who are willing to work in foreign countries. The plan will go into effect in the first half of this year.


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 certificates to those who are qualified for them to teach Chinese as a foreign language.


China has more than 6,000 teachers who teach foreigners Chinese. Some of them work inside the country. While 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 is known in Western countries, but is still a stranger to Chinese characters.


"Chinese language is quite different from our alphabetic language," Musengo say. "The written Chinese, or the characters, is still beyond me. I will continue my language learning here."


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 glossary textbooks are good enough as they include Chinese characters, pinyin or phonetic symbols, English and graphics, he says.


Bilingual courses


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 has been regarded as an important task in both developed and developing countries. In the United States, for example, Chinese courses have been introduced in colleges and high schools.


China and the United States have started to jointly develop Advanced Placement (AP) courses to further promote Chinese language studies in the United States, China Daily learned from the Ministry of Education.


AP courses will start in the United States in 2006 and corresponding examinations will start in 2007.


The idea of offering such courses was initiated by the US College Board in 1995, aiming to open college-level Chinese language studies and hold examinations among high schools in the United States.


Senior high school students who pass such 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 Exchanges.


The development and popularization of AP courses will stimulate enthusiasm to learn Chinese among US high school students. It will also help promote the program of teaching Chinese as a foreign language, sources from the department say.


According to Zhang Guoqing, an official of 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 12-15. This is the largest educational cooperative project between the two countries, according to him.


(China Daily March 19, 2004)

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