Passionate about the Chinese language for decades, Professor Si Chung-mou, Head of Chinese Language Studies at The Education University of Hong Kong (EdUHK), has been dedicated to training Chinese teachers for primary and secondary schools. In recent years, Professor Si’s vision has widened to reach overseas, where he has initiated dialogues with scholars about experience in international Chinese teaching. He sees Chinese as a second language as an emerging trend, as foreigners are keen to understand the political and socioeconomic situation in contemporary China, as well as ancient Chinese philosophy, sages, and culture, through learning Chinese.
The ever-rising “Chinese mania”
There has been a continuing rise in the number of people learning Chinese, in pace with the rapid economic development of China, which has assumed a significant role on the world stage. Professor Si said he noticed a mania for learning Chinese among foreigners in the past 20-plus years. Back in the 1980s, a lot of foreigners travelled to Hong Kong to study to equip themselves for the huge, fast-growing Chinese market and associated business opportunities. To date, hundreds of universities around the world have launched international Chinese learning programmes, and there are over 500 Confucius Institutes and more than 1,000 Confucius classrooms in primary and secondary schools.
This April, Professor Si formed a team with 12 of his colleagues from the Department of Chinese Language Studies. They went on an exchange tour to Princeton University and Columbia University in the United States (US), where they conducted class visits, joined seminars to discuss Chinese language teaching, and explored opportunities for collaboration.
Professor Si delivered a speech at a seminar on the ideology of the International Baccalaureate (IB) and international Chinese teaching. He pointed out the lack of IB scholars engaged in East Asian Studies in the US, as most of the research topics revolve around undergraduates learning Chinese and how overseas born Chinese students learn Chinese. Traditionally, studies on teaching adults Chinese focus on the typical methods of audio-lingual practice. But the IB ideology, which includes 10 Learning Profiles, focuses on exploration and the daily application of theory during the learning process, which is a useful point of reference for adults learning Chinese.
The exchange with overseas scholars has fostered the internationalisation of EdUHK and connected the University with the teaching systems in advanced countries like the US and the UK. Professor Si laughed: “The Department is engaged in a very traditional subject, but the research it does is forward looking and very international.”
Training international Chinese teachers
EdUHK’s Department of Chinese Language Studies emphasises the training of local Chinese teachers. In recent years, it has put a lot of effort into promoting international Chinese teaching. Professor Si said that the Department’s “core business” is still the five-year local training programme, but that the simultaneous development of international Chinese teaching is necessary because of the smaller student population resulting from Hong Kong’s falling birth rate. There are more than 60 international schools in Hong Kong, he pointed out, and over 100 on the mainland with Chinese teachers who need professional training.
As the economy of China progresses, Chinese will be used as “a second language” by more and more countries, and the need for Chinese learning will be on the rise. Professor Si said the scenario of international Chinese teaching has been changing: “In the past, foreign students came to China to learn Chinese. Now we as teachers go out to many places around the world to teach Chinese. We are reaching out!”
Apart from the undergraduate programme, the Master of Arts in Teaching Chinese as an International Language (MATCIL) is one of EdUHK’s flagship programmes, which attracts a lot of mainland Chinese students. The programme is qualified for the IB Certificate in Teaching and Learning, enabling graduates to become internationally recognised IB teachers. This year, the Department of Chinese Language Studies secured more internship opportunities for students. In addition to internships in local international schools, they might be offered six-week internships in schools in places such as Beijing, Shanghai, Vietnam and Singapore, including the United World Colleges (UWC) China campus.
Deterred by the difficult Chinese characters, most foreign students start learning Chinese by listening and speaking, using Hanyu Pinyin, an official romanisation system of standard Chinese. Professor Si points out that most foreigners start learning Chinese for functional purposes to make their work and travel to China easier. Learning Chinese also helps them understand the politics and economy of contemporary China, the thinking patterns of Chinese people, and Chinese culture. As they proceed to higher levels, they can even explore in more depth Chinese literature, art, calligraphy and Confucianism.