[photopress:Confucius.jpg,full,alignright]This is of intense interest to the writer who spends much time pondering ways in which the Chinese language can be learned. Now, Chinese President Hu Jintao, three years after the opening of the first Confucius Institute in Uzbekistan, Premier Wen Jiabao and Portugal Premier Jose Socrates have agreed to open a Confucius Institute in University of Lisbon.
That makes 128 Confucius Institutes that exist around the world — 46 in Asia, 46 in Europe, 26 in North America, 6 in Africa and 4 in Oceania. In 2004, 20,000 students were learning Chinese in 200 public primary and middle schools. Two years later the figure is 50,000 and rising.
In the UK, since 2001, the Department for Education, the British Council and HSBC have begun a scholarship program to encourage the learning of Chinese. The program also aims to sponsor 200 Chinese teachers to come and teach in the UK.
Germany has 150 schools and 50 universities offering Chinese electives and majors.
France has Chinese departments in 110 of its top universities.
South American countries like Brazil, Argentina, Peru and Chile are also seeing marked rises in the popularity in Chinese language learning there.
Chinese teaching is a pillar of Sino-African cooperation. Ain Shams University, Al-Azhar University and Cairo University, Egypt’s three main universities, have all set up Chinese majors.
Over 2,500 universities in over 100 countries have set up Chinese courses reaching out to over 40 million Chinese learners abroad.
The Confucius Institute follows in the tracks — and the great success — of the Alliance Francaise and Germany’s Goethe Institutes.
- In 2006, a new Confucius Institute was opened every four days on average.
- When the first Confucius Institute Conference was held in July 2006, it attracted approximately 400 delegates from 38 countries and regions.
Will it work?
Learning Chinese is not a trivial skill. For Europeans and Americans the tones are one obstacle. The totally different way of writing another.
The writer learned French with relative ease. And went to Chinese lessons for nearly five years and was defeated by the tones through a total lack of musical ability. He is Welsh which explains much.
What is needed is a very serious effort by universities to come up with a method of teaching and learning the language which can be scientifically tested in properly connected tests. Michael Guttenberg did that with European languages and the system that resulted is now widely used.
A similar effort is needed in Chinese. The Confucius Institute is an excellent first step. But it is still only a first step.