|"ACCORDING to Li
Guiling, deputy director of the National Office for Teaching Chinese
as a Foreign Language, more than 80 universities in the United
States offer degree programs in Chinese, and more than 700 American
universities offer Chinese courses. Surprisingly enough, not only
overseas Chinese and the children of foreign citizens of Chinese
origin are motivated to learn Chinese, but also many foreigners of
20 Million People Study Chinese
The office has come up with a conservative estimate of people
studying Chinese around the world at over 20 million. In the United
States, in addition to institutes of higher learning, over 300 grade
and high schools have also opened Chinese courses, and there are
also numerous weekend courses and programs. In recent years overseas
students from China's mainland alone have established more than 200
Chinese schools in the United States, where they teach simplified
Chinese characters and the pinyin romanization system. Chinese has
become the third most-used language in the United States. The
American Association of Chinese Teachers has a membership of 800, 80
percent of whom are from China's mainland.Chinese is also the third most-used
language in Canada, where many large universities have set up
Chinese programs. In the 1990s, Chinese entered the linguistic
mainstream of the United States and Canada, and it is now possible
to travel around North America without knowing a word of English, a
knowledge of Chinese being sufficient.
Chinese study has also gathered momentum in Europe and Oceania.
Italy formerly had only eight universities with a Chinese
department, but this number has now increased to 20. In Britain,
France and Germany, a number of universities have set up Chinese
departments, or sometimes even separate colleges of Chinese studies,
and Chinese courses have also started up in some middle schools. The
French Ministry of National Education has set up a special
department to supervise Chinese tuition in grade and middle schools
around the country. Australia and New Zealand have a close link with
Chinese as many local residents are of Chinese origin, and in order
to standardize Chinese teaching, the Education Ministry of New
Zealand and the education departments of several Australian states
hire Chinese teaching assistants or advisors.
Geographically speaking, South America is the continent
farthermost from China, yet several of the continent's countries,
such as Mexico, Chile and Brazil, have opened Chinese programs in
institutes of higher learning, as well as privately run Chinese
Africa also has a large number of people studying Chinese. A
large proportion of the first group of foreign students that came to
China to study Chinese was from Africa. Many universities in African
countries such as South Africa, Benin, Cameroon, Kenya, Cote
d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) and Sudan, offer Chinese courses, and Congo
was one of the earliest countries to teach Chinese in middle
schools. Ain Shams University of Egypt is advanced in Chinese
teaching, offering bachelor, master and doctorate degrees in the
subject. One year, the group representing this university came
second in a global Chinese debating contest between university
students. Tunisia also boasts institutes of higher learning renowned
for Chinese teaching that have not only attracted local students but
also people from neighboring countries.
Due to geographical and historic
reasons, the countries of Asia have shown more interest in studying
Chinese than those in other parts of the world. Asian students now
account for 75 percent of foreign students studying Chinese in
China. In the past, however, some Asian countries banned Chinese
study, the longest period being for 32 years.
Fervor Runs Highest in Asia
The Republic of Korea takes the lead in Chinese-learning fervor.
In 1945, Seoul University set up its Chinese Department, and in the
1950s, the number of universities providing Chinese programs
increased to five. After China established diplomatic relations with
the ROK in 1992, Chinese studies developed even faster. In 1996, 113
South Korean universities had Chinese departments, and this figure
has now surpassed 140. More than 300 middle schools in the ROK offer
Chinese courses, and the number of students from the ROK studying
Chinese in China has now outstripped those of Japan, becoming the
largest student body of all foreign countries.
Frequent cultural exchanges between China and Japan can be traced
back over 1,000 years. The Chinese language has a profound influence
on Japanese culture, particularly as regards its language. Today, no
less than one million people are studying Chinese in Japan.
In Indonesia, President Suharto banned Chinese study after he
came into office, and this ban lasted for 32 years until President
Abdurrahman Wahid came into power. During the Suharto era, all but
two universities cancelled their Chinese courses. Things are
different today. The Indonesian government not only allows
universities to set up Chinese departments, but also permits Chinese
schools in the private sector. The Indonesian Ministry of Education
and Culture has included Chinese in its middle school curriculum and
made Chinese a compulsory course at certain middle schools in seven
cities. According to a local educator, Xu Jingneng, if the speed of
current development continues, in five years the number of people
studying Chinese in Indonesia will have reached five million.
In the aftermath of Suharto's ban, Indonesia has a shortage of
Chinese teachers. This year Guangdong Province in southern China
sent eight teachers to Indonesia and helped train 1,000 Chinese
teachers within three months. They originally planned to enroll 200
people for a session, but 500 signed up.
The shortage of teaching staff is also a problem in other
countries. In Singapore, where members of the population of Chinese
origin account for more than 70 percent, Chinese is one of the
official languages. Singapore uses the standard Chinese dialect
(known in English as Mandarin), simplified characters, and pinyin
romanization. In 1999, it recruited over 30 Chinese teachers from
China's mainland, placing them mainly in primary and middle schools.
In 2000, this figure increased to over 40.
Chinese used to be the working language in the history of
Vietnam, and today Chinese has become the second most-used foreign
language in the country. More than 20 universities offer Chinese
programs, and many middle schools teach Chinese as an optional
course. Chinese teaching is now a respected and highly paid
profession in Vietnam.
Influenced by Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, who has
studied Chinese since 1980 and is highly proficient in the language,
Thailand has seen an unprecedented fervor for studying Chinese over
the last decade. Bangkok has become the center of Chinese learning.
The standard Chinese dialect (Mandarin), simplified characters and
pinyin romanization are gaining popularity throughout the country.
In order to teach Chinese effectively, some Thai universities have
recruited Chinese teachers to compile textbooks. The Thai Ministry
of Education encourages universities and middle schools to open
Chinese courses if conditions allow, and has included Chinese
teaching in its program.
Such fervor is also ongoing in other Asian countries, such as
Malaysia, the Philippines, Laos, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Nepal,
Pakistan and Kazakhstan.
Teaching Chinese to Foreigners
Propelled by the
worldwide fervor for learning Chinese, teaching Chinese as a foreign
language has developed quickly in China. In 2000, 35,000 foreign
students, out of a total foreign student population of 52,000, came
to China to study Chinese. "China has seen the most rapid
development in this field since the 1990s," says Li Guiling,
"accompanied by a marked increase in the country's cultural
exchanges, economic cooperation with the outside world, and a
tourism boom. Many foreign countries have a need for people
proficient in Chinese."
Today numerous universities in China offer flexible programs
for foreign students. The length of study ranges from short sessions
of a few weeks or months up to a full four-year course, or even
longer. The students are either on sponsored programs or
self-supporting. Courses have expanded from linguistics to different
aspects of Chinese studies in which bachelor, master and doctorate
programs are available. In 2000 China enrolled 13,000 students,
among whom 2,192 were studying for masters, and 1,059 for doctorate
degrees. In Chinese language study, courses of different
orientations are designed for language professionals,
businesspeople, government employees and those involved in foreign
trade and tourism.
In the early 1980s, China had 66 universities with facilities for
teaching foreign students. This figure has now increased to 357.
Besides schools, there are other channels of access to Chinese
language education, such as radio, TV and the Internet. China Today
(formerly China Reconstructs) was the first magazine to include a
column helping foreigners to learn Chinese. In the January issue of
1955, China Reconstructs launched its "Language Corner," which is a
regular feature to this day.
HSK: Chinese TOEFL
In the past China had no standard through which to gauge Chinese
proficiency. Today, however, HSK, the Chinese abbreviation for the
Chinese proficiency test, or China's TOEFL, has been established for
more than 10 years. "HSK is a test designed for non-native speakers
(foreigners, overseas Chinese, and students of Chinese ethnic
minorities)," explains Song Shaozhou, deputy director of the Office
of the State Commission for Chinese Proficiency Test, and director
of the HSK Center of the Beijing Language and Culture
HSK was designed by the HSK Center of the Beijing Language and
Culture University, and involves the efforts of over 100 experts in
Chinese. According to Mr. Song, HSK includes 11 levels. The top
three, from 9 to 11, are advanced levels, equivalent to the language
skills of a native speaker with a bachelor's degree. The levels from
6 to 8 are intermediary -- good enough for an ordinary job. The
levels from 1 to 5 are elementary. Those seeking to study a master
degree must pass HSK at Level 8.
HSK is held regularly in China and overseas. Those who pass are
issued a certificate by the State Commission of Chinese Proficiency
Test. In 2001, three HSK tests were arranged in China, on May 13,
July 8, and December 16. The dates for overseas HSK tests are set by
the State HSK Commission and its overseas representatives, and the
test questions are provided by the commission.
Today there are 47 HSK test sites in 27 cities in China, and 55
sites scattered over 24 countries, including nine in Asia. According
to Song Shaozhou, since HSK was launched in 1990, 350,000 people
have taken the test, with a pass rate of 75 percent. The number of
HSK participants has been increasing at an annual rate of 30
Chinese is a language used by people of all ethnic groups in
China and is an official and working language within the United
Nations. It is the most used language in the world, and its history
dates back at least 6,000 years.
The Future of Chinese
Both Li Guiling and Song Shaozhou believe that the current
Chinese learning craze is attributable to the long history and
splendid achievements of the Chinese civilization, as well as to
China's rapid economic growth over the past two decades.
Historically, China has made significant contributions to the
development of humankind, and today, China is representative of
today's world dynamism. From 1980 to 1999, China's average GDP
increased 9.7 percent annually, and hundreds of thousands of foreign
businesses entered China. Proficiency in Chinese has become a
qualification for those who want to work in foreign enterprises,
either on the mainland or in Hong Kong
Last August in Beijing, the Chinese craze swept across the
Universiade Village. People of diverse nationalities took up Chinese
study with enormous enthusiasm. A Swedish coach and a Yugoslavian
official admitted that they had long had an interest in China prior
to starting to learn Chinese. Kim Jung-hye from the Republic of
Korea said she had formerly studied English back home, but switched
to Chinese after making a trip to China.
Last January, the legislature of Utah in the United States
proposed a law that all public middle schools in the state should
offer Chinese as a compulsory element of their curriculums as from
2001, and in March, Governor Mike Leavitt endorsed this law,
bringing it into effect. According to the Chinese trade and affairs
chief representative (by the Chinese name of Hu Xiangqian) of the
government of Utah, this legislation represents recognition of
China's rapid progress by the mainstream of American society. More
and more Americans have come to realize that the relations between
China and the United States are not only regional, but also global,
and that the economy of the two countries is mutually supplementary
to a great extent. It is generally believed that the economic and
cultural relations between China and the United States should
develop towards that of a partnership. The decision by Utah to
popularize Chinese is in anticipation of this trend.