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Chinese Social Science Today: Overseas Education in the Chinese Language

[Editor’s Note: In Chinese Social Science Today, a Chinese Academy of Social Sciences publication, a professor at People’s University of China published a report summarizing China’s overseas promotion of the Chinese language. The following is a translation of the article.] [1]

Today’s international education in the Chinese language falls under the leadership of the National Leading Group Office for the Overseas Promotion of the Chinese Language (hereafter referred to as “Hanban”). Hanban coordinates with local governments and with relevant authorities. The main platform for international education in the Chinese language is the Confucius Institute. In the following, we give an analysis and summary of the progress of international education in the Chinese language from the point of view of expanding the Confucius Institute, training teachers, developing resources, and reforming the Chinese language examination. The data comes from Hanban’s website, the Confucius Institute website, People’s Daily’s website, and Xinhua’s website. Part of the information is from the report, “A Survey of the Language Situation in China”.

The Rapid Expansion of the Confucius Institute

The Confucius Institute, a non-profit organization in China, teaches the Chinese language and disseminates the Chinese culture around the globe. It has developed rapidly since 2004. Four Confucius Institute Conferences have been held since 2006. By the end of 2006, 122 Confucius Institutes (include Confucius classrooms) had been launched around the world. The number increased to 226 (including 56 Confucius classrooms) by the end of 2007, 305 (including 56 Confucius classrooms) by 2008, and 554 (including 272 Confucius classrooms) by the end of 2009. Among them, 252 Confucius Institutes and 90 Confucius classrooms are in full operation. Hundreds of Confucius Institutes and Confucius classrooms were launched in the last five year span in 88 countries: 87 Confucius Institutes and 205 Confucius classrooms in the 12 American Countries; 70 Confucius Institutes and 27 Confucius classrooms in 28 Asian Countries, and 94 Confucius Institutes and 34 Confucius classrooms in 29 European countries. A quarter of the countries in the world have had Confucius Institutes set up, with the number multiplying every year.

Establishing Confucius Institutes promotes the development of international education in the Chinese language. In the meantime, it also attracts more people to study Chinese. As of December 2008, more than 40 million people outside of China were learning Chinese via different channels. Over 6,000 various Chinese classes or teaching sessions enrolled 130,000 students. More than 1.4 million participated in a number of cultural exchange events. The number of Chinese language students doubled in 2009, with 4,000 universities around the world offering Chinese language courses. Britain, France, Germany, Russia, South Korea, and other countries have included Chinese teaching in their own national education systems.

An Ever Perfecting Management System 

The Confucius Institute is based on the principle of “application from the foreign partner, voluntarism on both sides, cooperation on an equal basis, and mutual benefit with a win-win result.” The operation model is one in which the foreign side is primary, while the China side plays an assisting role. Local governments and the communities also support and are actively involved in the Confucius Institute. In April 2007, Hanban set up the headquarters of the Confucius Institute and its Council. After the headquarters formally started operating, it conducted serious studies, collected comments and suggestions from China and overseas, established a series of administrative mechanisms, and released its constitution and bylaws, teacher’s qualifications, information regarding fund administration, and standards for launching an institute. According to the constitution and bylaws, the institutes around the world must establish a Board of Directors that is composed of the representative from both Chinese and foreign sides, and must establish a regular meeting mechanism. In 2008, the Confucius Institute headquarters further enacted and revised a series of important administrative documents including the “Confucius Institute Headquarters Fund Administration.” In addition, the headquarters also set up five special committees comprised of Chinese and foreign university presidents, scholars, and celebrities, whose function is to provide advice and suggestions in areas such as development strategy. In January 2009, Hanban officially released the publication Confucius Institute. Its purpose was to strengthen the guidance for Confucius Institutes in different countries and provide better information and services for individual Confucius Institutes and students of the Chinese language.

Organizing Training for Teaching Chinese Internationally

With the development of international education in the Chinese language, the shortage of Chinese teachers is becoming a prominent problem. In March 2004, in order to meet the need to develop Chinese teaching, the Ministry of Education promulgated “A National Plan for Chinese Volunteers for Teaching the Chinese Language.”  In September 2006, Hanban issued “An International Plan for Overseas Volunteers for Teaching the Chinese Language (Trial Version).” The two plans are to recruit volunteers from China and foreign countries. In November 2007, the government officially promulgated “the Standard for International Chinese Language Teachers” in order to guarantee the quality of teaching. It is the world’s only standard for teaching Chinese as a foreign language. It provides the criteria for education, training, appraisal, and qualification authentication for international Chinese language teachers.

In 2007, the Ministry of Education initiated programs offering a Master’s degree in International Education in the Chinese Language in 24 universities in China. The purpose was to educate talented people in teaching the Chinese language in a non-Chinese environment. In 2009, 63 universities had such programs. In 2008, Hanban established ten bases in eight universities and two provinces for the international promotion of the Chinese language. In 2009, Wuhan University, Nankai University, Zhongshan University, Dalian Foreign Language University, and Hainan Normal University also got permission to set up such bases. Of these, Hainan Normal University planned to found a teachers training base for promoting the Chinese language in Southeast Asia. In 2009, in order to meet the demand for Chinese teachers, the government chose 1600 college graduates for training in 26 different languages. Among them, 800 people studied minor languages and went overseas to teach Chinese; the other 800 were to work in the universities where the Confucius Institutes were located, while studying the local language at the same time.

Various universities, along with the relevant authorities, have done a lot in recent years to accelerate the localization of Chinese teachers. For example, by inviting people to China and sending people abroad, they have trained 61,000 local Chinese teachers from about 80 countries. The “Confucius Institute scholarship” was initiated in 2009 to support 1,020 foreign students from 50 countries coming to China to pursue a Master’s degree in International Education in the Chinese Language. 2,200 students from 117 countries have enrolled to be trained in the Chinese language, providing a reserve for local Chinese teachers. They have also cooperated with foreign universities to train Chinese teachers locally.

Expanding the Development of Teaching and Study Resources

The types of teaching resources that fill the need to teach the Chinese language internationally have been quite scarce. For this reason, Hanban increased its efforts to develop teaching materials. It invited domestic experts to produce a series of linguistic and cultural teaching materials, some of which have been edited and translated into 45 languages and promoted in the marketplace. Confucius Institutes in local countries have also developed several hundred Chinese teaching materials which have been adapted for local usage. With the vigorous support of government policy, some domestic publishers are actively cooperating with foreign partners and collaborating in developing teaching materials. For example, in September 2009, Discover China, a series jointly developed by the Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press and the Macmillan Publishing Group, was formally released. It is a comprehensive visual/audio Chinese teaching material mainly for students in U.S. and European universities, Confucius Institutes, and other training schools. The series, which focuses on learning Chinese and discovering China, is an attempt to use the latest foreign language teaching concepts to achieve Chinese language teaching. It integrates various media including paper, audio, video, animation, and the Internet to assist students in understanding China’s geography, history, and cultural concepts while learning the Chinese language in a relaxed mode. The teaching series is composed of four levels, scheduled for distribution in Europe, North America, and Australia in the spring of 2010.

In order to expand the room for teaching and exchanges, Hanban developed some multilingual broadcast teaching materials and Internet study courses, by using modern information and communication technology to launch long-distance multimedia teaching. In November 2009, an upgraded version of the Confucius Institute was launched online. It consisted of more than 10,000 text, audio, and video files of Chinese courses and cultural introductions, reaching 10 million people in 149 countries.

Ongoing Reform of Chinese Language Examinations

In order to adapt to the new situation of international education in the Chinese language, Hanban organized experts to reform the Chinese language tests. In 2009, they accomplished the reform of the Chinese proficiency test (HSK) and the Young Chinese Test (YCT), while the Business Chinese Test (BCT) and other testing services are also constantly being improved. New HSK, while preserving its traditional merits, made adjustments in the structure of the exam, improved the types of questions, enhanced the efficiency, and transformed the HSK to an incentive oriented test. The new HSK has six levels and the new YCT has four levels. Now that the outlines of the exams and sample tests have been developed, 2010 will see all of the test outlines for each of the levels. In November and December of 2009, the new HSK and YCT had already started parallel testing, side by side with older versions. In 2010 Hanban’s Testing Division will vigorously introduce and promote the new tests, while starting BCT reform at the same time. In addition, relevant authorities have revised the “Administration of Overseas Chinese Proficiency Tests Centers” and the “Administration of Examination Fees of Overseas Chinese Proficiency Tests” so as to strengthen supervision.

The international education in the Chinese language is a great enterprise, which is driven by the urgent demand for international exchange and cooperation. We must mobilize all available social strength and diligently explore the path for the international promotion of the Chinese language that follows international practices and fits into China’s own situation. Taking advantage of the dissemination of the language and culture, we can enhance the world’s understanding of China, facilitate economic and trade cooperation between various countries, and develop friendly relations between China and the people of the world.

[1] Website of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, September 7, 2010