"It is ten minutes to seven. What is the time now?" Listening to the standard Chinese mezzo-soprano female voice, a whole room of French examinees concentrated on their test. This was a scene of the Paris examination room of the 2004 France HSK (Chinese Proficiency Test) test. The test, which has existed for ten years in France, was held on May 15 in seven places in France.
Examinees increased by 20 percent
"I was worried that the number of registered examinees would decrease only to see so many people coming" said Joel Bellassen, inspector of Chinese language teaching at the French Ministry of Education
. Joel Bellassen has been studying Chinese since 1973 and can speak fluent Chinese.
It could be seen that the whole room was filled with examinees. Among them were young middle school girls, tall twenty-plus boys as well as retirees with white hair.
Joel Bellassen said there are altogether 600 French taking the elementary, medium, high and juvenile level tests. Juvenile level is a pilot program. The number of examinees increases 20 percent over the previous year and examination spots increased to 7 from last year's 6 covering whole France. France has by now become the largest HSK examination country in Europe. "Since some European countries don't have high level Chinese test, examinees from countries such as Italy and Switzerland came to France to take the test.
As learned HSK test is the only international Chinese language level test organized by China's Ministry of Education. The Chinese Level Certificate thus gained can not only be used as proof of one's Chinese language proficiency when entering a Chinese higher education institute, but can also be used as proof of qualification when an organization recruits Chinese language personnel.
Employment trump card for French youth
The increase of examinees is in direct proportion to the number of French studying Chinese.
Joel Bellassen said the number of people studying Chinese in France grows at a rapid speed and covers a large area. As for now there are 149 French primary schools, which offer Chinese courses have 7,631 students. French account for 90 percent of them and only 10 percent are Chinese offsprings. Thirteen French universities now offer Chinese Specialty curriculum around the year. Among them Paris Oriental Languages College (INALCO) enlarged its recruitment to 2,000, which is 400 more than last year. Its Chinese Department for the first time surpassed the Japanese Department and became the largest department of the school.
"More and more French are learning Chinese because as globalization is picking up speed some minor types of language are disappearing whilst the extent of internationalization and use value of Chinese is growing increasingly. Needless to say the all-round opening up of China makes Chinese language acquire a kind of fascination beyond the scope of language and culture. From now on, it represents the economic strength of the Chinese-speaking world and makes Chinese skill an employment trump card for the French youth as well as a "symbol of alienism" in the eyes of French people, said Joel Bellassen. A counselor with the Chinese Embassy to France, who stood beside Joel Bellassen, said the heat of studying Chinese in France is inseparable from the good term of Sino-French relationship and the holding of China-France Culture Year in France.
A 21-year Paris student said after the examination that his goal is to work in China some day in the future.
Teachers of Chinese in great demand
Since more and more people are learning Chinese many schools offer Chinese as required or elective course. The Paris school arrondissement each year see a large gap of teachers of Chinese. Qualified teachers of Chinese are of course in great demand, which provides good employment opportunities for many Chinese living in France.
Teacher Lin, an invigilate in this year's examination is from Beijing Xicheng Foreign Language School. Since she came to France she has been teaching Chinese at a middle school in the No.9 district of Paris for 7 years. There are 109 students this year, who are studying from Chinese spelling to high-school-level Chinese. She said during the Spring Festival French TV-1, which has a high audience rating, shot a program of their students learning Chinese and performing drama.
Teacher Zhou, who came to take the test with her daughter on Saturday, is now teaching Chinese in the No.78 province of France. She said she teaches five classes with more than a hundred students. All of them are teenagers who keep her extremely busy. The school has now made Chinese the second foreign language in junior high school education and the third foreign language in senior high school education. As for next year the junior high education plans to make Chinese the first foreign language.
By People's Daily Online