Prague: Asian delegation offers to finance Chinese classes

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sat Nov 11 14:27:48 UTC 2006

Looking to close the language gap
Asian delegation offers to finance Chinese classes

By Hela Balnov For The Prague Post November 8th, 2006

Chinese school officials visited the Czech Republic Oct. 5. If the recent
experience of an educational delegation from China at Prague's Brna jazyku
Primary School is any indication, the burgeoning Eastern giant will be
facing some stiff competition in its efforts to bring the Chinese language
to the Czech Republic. A group of 18 Chinese Education Ministry officials
visited the school Oct.  5 with the intention of researching local
teaching methods and the Czech education system. The delegation also made
a spontaneous offer to finance Chinese classes at Brna jazyku, but, at
least for now, that looks unlikely to materialize. Many students said they
prefer learning English, not Chinese, as a second language. "I like
English, this is my favorite subject, I have the best marks in it,"
explained 9-year-old Hae-Ryon Choi, who is in the fourth grade at Brna

Renta Nechanick, deputy head of the school, admitted that, while it was an
interesting offer, it was probably more suitable for high schools or
universities. "The kids were really excited about the Chinese writing that
was really interesting for them, as it is very special, but, when it comes
to the grammar and day-to-day work, their interest drops," Nechanick said.
And the language barrier could pose another problem. The teacher brought
in by the Chinese ministry would have to speak at least a little Czech in
order to work effectively with the students, Nechanick pointed out. And if
the teacher didn't speak Czech, a translator would have to be hired.

Brna jazyku, which is divided into two facilities on Vojtesk and
Mikulandsk streets in Prague's New Town, may not have jumped at the
delegation's offer, but that hasn't discouraged the Chinese officials who
also visited schools in Austria and Italy during their European trip. "If
they are interested in the Chinese course [anytime], we will send the
teacher and pay for all the materials connected with the course," said Li
Cai, the head of the Chinese Embassy's education office in Prague. "We
want to encourage more students to study Chinese." Students welcomed the
visitors with the well-known elementary school song "Strcek Kuba," which
they sang in Czech, German, English and Chinese.

Marek Cernk, the school's English teacher who conducted the singing, said
students really enjoyed the song, their first brush with Chinese. "They
themselves learned it by heart the day they were given the text and were
looking forward to performing it," Cernk said. Once the entertainment died
down, the delegates spent a lot of time asking some very pointed questions
about the Czech Republic's education system.  Questions ranged from
textbook publishing to schools' finances. They were also very curious
about foreign-language instruction and asked to observe English classes at
different levels, Nechanick said.

In China, children start learning English in the fifth grade, when they
are between 11 and 12 years old. Czech students, by contrast, start their
first foreign language at the age of 8, and, by 11 or 12, are introduced
to a second one. This system might not work well in China, though.
Delegates pointed out that Chinese students don't have much day-to-day
contact with English speakers and other sources that can help in the
process of learning the language, like books, newspapers and
English-language broadcasts.

Hela Balnov can be reached at info at


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