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Overseas Craze for Learning Chinese Spreads
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"The overseas craze for learning Chinese has spread from university to primary and secondary education," said a senior official with the Office of Chinese Language Council International in Beijing Tuesday.


At the opening ceremony of the "Chinese Bridge for American and Korean Schools," an exchange program on Chinese language teaching, 1,000 primary and middle school principals from the US and South Korea expressed their interest in adding Chinese lessons to their school curricula.


Incomplete statistics show that more than 800 US universities and 300-plus universities in South Korea have already offered Chinese courses. And the number continues to rise.


Latest statistics from the US-based Society of Modern Language Research show that the number of primary and middle school students learning Chinese in the US increased from 33,000 in 2002 to 50,000 in 2006.


"The huge demand for Chinese courses overseas poses challenges and opportunities," said Xu Lin, director of the Office. "These exchange programs spur school-to-school cooperation."


According to Xu, the American and South Korean principals will visit 18 Chinese provinces and cities, talk with Chinese counterparts, and sign cooperation agreements with them. Once links are established, the Chinese schools will dispatch teachers to counterpart schools and help compile teaching materials.


With most of the principals visiting China for the first time, the Chinese organizers include cultural exhibitions, lectures and Chinese lessons in the program.


Chinese Minister of Education Zhou Ji said language is a key to cultural exchange. Young people should learn both their own language and other languages.


"We have to help people learn foreign languages," Zhou stressed. "Cooperation on language teaching will benefit young people from all three countries and promote bilateral and multi-lateral ties."


Prior to this, the Office of Chinese Language Council International had sponsored the visit of 400 US headmasters and 110 British headmasters, most of whom signed agreements with Chinese counterparts.


The Office said that 30 million people are learning Chinese the world over, but predicted the figure will hit 100 million by 2010.


(Xinhua News Agency June 26, 2007)

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