Confucius Institutes diversify as language program grows
When Canadian pianist Roger Lord was performing at the Chinese New Year TV gala in 2013, one of the hosts was Mark Rowswell — better known by his Chinese name, Dashan, and for his mastery of Chinese cross-talk.
“We are both from Canada and have the same birthday, but I have always been envious of Dashan’s ability to speak fluent Mandarin,” says Lord.
That prompted Lord to register as a student at the Confucius Institute in his hometown of New Brunswick, which was formed in partnership with a university in Qufu, Shandong province — the hometown of Confucius — to offer Chineselanguage courses and activities to the locals.
Although Lord still cannot speak Chinese as fluently as Rowswell, he introduced himself in Chinese last week when he was giving a speech at the 11th Confucius Institute Conference held in Kunming, Yunnan province.
“My Mandarin perhaps is not so good, but I think I can speak through music. My contact with the Confucius Institute deepened my understanding of Chinese cul- ture,” says Lord, who has recorded a CD of Chinese music played on the piano, entitled Chinese Treasures.
Launched 12 years ago, the Confucius Institute is a nonprofit educational organization that works largely through cooperation between a Chinese university and a foreign counterpart. It has had 511 branches in 140 countries, teaching Chinese to more than 2.1 million students.
“In numbers, the Confucius Institute has become the biggest educational and cultural community in the world,” says Hao Ping, China’s vice-minister of education.
With rapid expansion in recent years, the Confucius Institute has also started to diversify by setting up institutes that highlight traditional Chinese medicine, business and fashion design.
Zhang Haiyan has been studying multinational cooperation and teaching at universities in Europe for more than 30 years, and he is now the director of the Confucius Institute at Neoma Business School in France.
That branch was founded in 2014 and is the first topical Confucius Institute that features a business program in France.
“There are now eight business Confucius Institutes around the world,” says Zhang. “We formed a union to share resources and host international seminars.”
Besides language-related courses and activities for around 700 students per year, Zhang’s institute offers training for companies who want to do business with China
“We teach them the business norms in China, such as the seating order at a Chinese banquet, and give them an orientation of the city they are going to and an analysis of the local market they want to enter,” says Zhang.
According to Hanban, an affiliate agency of the Ministry of Education that oversees all the Confucius Institutes, there are now 67 topical Confucius Institutes around the world.
Localization has been another trend for the Confucius Institute: More local textbooks are being published and local teachers hired.
By the end of next year, there will be textbooks and reference books in 80 languages, covering all countries that have a Confucius Institute.
“We had textbooks only in nine languages when we start- ed,” says Zhang Tonghui, director of the department of teaching material at Confucius Institute headquarters. “Before, students in many countries had to learn Chinese through English materials.”
Guruuchin Tsogzolmaa is the director of the Confucius Institute at the Mongolian National University of Education, where 600 students are learning Chinese.
Tsogzolmaa has written two Chinese books about Mongolian culture, so that her students can learn how to use Chinese to talk about Mongolian arts, music and folklore.
Cynthia Ning, director of Confucius Institute at the University of Hawaii, says: “Localization is a wonderful initiative. When we have a summer camp, I often develop special information. I put a lot of Hawaii into the material.”
Ning has authored Encounters, a textbook series tailored for US students that uses a task-oriented approach. It was published by Yale University Press in 2012.
To develop a global evaluation system for both Chinese learners and teachers is another goal of the Confucius Institute.
Similar to the Test of English as a Foreign Language, the HSK — the abbreviation for the Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi — is the Chinese proficiency test used by Chinese universities to evaluate international applicants.
More than 550,000 people have taken the HSK this year, according to Chinese Testing International, a Beijing-based company which works closely with Confucius Institute and organizes the test monthly in more than 600 overseas centers.
The history of the test goes back to early 1990s, but it was not until the past few years that the number of people taking it started to soar.
“In 2009, only around 100,000 people took the test,” says Zhang Yuan, the marketing director of the company. “But there has been a 30 percent increase each year since 2013.”
In 2014, the company introduced the CTCSOL test, a certificate for teachers of Chinese to speakers of other languages.
“The Confucius Institute hopes that all its teachers will pass this test by 2020,” says Zhang Yuan.
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Left: A calligraphy class helps locals to learn the age-old art genre in the Confucius Institute in Yekaterinburg, Russia. Right: Publications on Chinese-language learning are displayed at the Confucius Institute Conference in Kunming early this month.