Chinese language learning booms as world enters new era

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sat Nov 11 14:31:56 UTC 2006

Chinese language learning booms as world enters new era

In recent years, the popularity of the Chinese language has gained
momentum in line with the international community's growing concerns about
China. Many countries and regions have established Chinese language
courses at higher education institutions and secondary schools. More and
more students are choosing China as the destination for their overseas
study. According to the China Scholarship Council, in 1991 there were only
11,000 foreign students studying in China. In 2000 the number increased to
20,000. In 2005, 140,000 overseas students chose to study in China. This
year there are more than 160,000 students studying in China.

To meet the needs of students learning Chinese around the world, the
Office of the International Chinese Language Council has established 111
Confucius Institutes or Confucius Classrooms across the world. In the
past, it was easy enough to find Chinese restaurants wherever we went in
the world. Now, we can expect to hear people say hello to us in Chinese.
More and more people are interested in China and want to learn the Chinese
language. To accommodate this new trend, domestic Chinese language
teaching has quickly shifted its focus from home to overseas.

China started to teach Chinese as a foreign language more than 50 years
ago. During those 50 years, it has gained valuable experience in Chinese
language teaching and published a large number of books and research
materials related to it. This has laid a very solid foundation for the
promotion of the Chinese language in the international community. In fact,
it was not anticipated that the Chinese language would become so popular
within such a short period of time. Tremendous changes have caused a shift
in attitude. Some people are excited, believing that the era of China is
coming. Some are delighted, happy about China's increasingly important
international status. Some are anxious, because Chinese is still not
widely spoken in the international arena. Others are impatient, hoping to
teach millions of people to speak Chinese within several years. In any
case, no one is indifferent.

The situation must be addressed rationally. In 2000 when the number of
foreign students studying in the United States exceeded 500,000, many more
people opted to study English as a foreign language rather than Chinese.
France, Germany, Japan, Spain and other developed countries were also
trying to promote their national languages. How can we maintain the
momentum of the popularity of the Chinese language? How can we ensure a
sustainable outreach of Chinese language across the world? We need to
think about it carefully.

To be able to ask that Chinese be spoken as one of the world's
international languages, like French and English, we still have many
things to do. Behind the language is a rich and diverse culture. It is
here that the charm of the Chinese language lies, but also the difficulty
of learning it. Promoting the Chinese language and the Chinese culture is
the duty of our generation. That non-native speakers might learn to speak
elegant and standard Chinese is by no means an unrealistic dream. In some
kindergartens in the United States, children have started learning
Chinese. Many primary and secondary schools also offer Chinese language
courses. In some parts of East Asia, Chinese has become a regional
language. To meet the changes, we should improve our Chinese language
teaching courses and corresponding research. We need to train more
teachers, publish more up-to-date teaching materials and books, and
introduce a more modern teaching method.

The author Cui Xiliang is President of Beijing Language and Culture

People's Daily Online ---


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