More Canadians saying ni hao

08:36, June 17, 2010      

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Chinese voices are increasingly being heard in Coquitlam, British Columbia, through the Confucius Classroom program where 450 local residents, young and old, are currently studying conversational Mandarin.

On a recent Tuesday in the Vancouver suburb city, the program, which is funded by the Chinese government through the China National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language (Hanban) unveiled a major acquisition sure to benefit thousands of Canadians for years to come.

At a presentation held at the Coquitlam Public Library's Poirier branch, staff displayed just a small selection of the 1 million Canadian dollars ($840,000) worth of Chinese books, DVDs and dictionaries that have been donated by China to be placed in local high schools and libraries.

In addition, four multimedia 50-inch touch-screen display units have been donated through Hanban to help promote the Chinese language through a fun and interactive approach. Three of the 10,000-Canadian-dollar displays will be used in the Confucius Classroom program, the other by the Coquitlam Public Library.

With the Mandarin classes currently taking place on Fridays and Saturdays, the students are divided into three groups aged 4 to 10, 11 to 16 and 17 and up. In addition to having fun, the main focus of the program is to "experience, learn and grow with the language and to explore the traditional history and dynamic culture of China."

Patricia Gartland, director of international education for Coquitlam School District, said the program was the only one of its kind in British Columbia. Launched in February 2009, the Confucius Classroom came about through a connection with Guangzhou's South China Normal University who applied to Hanban on their behalf.

About 80 countries currently offer the program.

"As soon as we heard about the program, we wanted to offer it right away," says Gartland who also acts as the Confucius Classroom chairman of the board and principal. "The reception (to offering the program) is tremendous."

"We know that in this global reality everyone needs to know additional languages, as many languages as possible. Mandarin is one of the important world languages for business and any kind of social activity in our world," she says.

With the success of the initial classes, starting in September the Coquitlam School Board will begin a grassroots program where two elementary schools will offer Chinese classes, one to a kindergarten class, and the other to a grade one class. The students will study Mandarin and English for a half day each.

"In terms of any additional language acquisition it is always better to commence studies at a younger age. This is in terms of speed of acquisition and ultimate language fluency and pronunciation. So the younger a person is when they learn a language the more fluent they will be in that language. Their brain will also be more flexible in terms of acquiring that language and other languages," Gartland says.

Shirley Chan, a Hong Kong migrant who works as the Coquitlam Library's multicultural services librarian, has been given the task of going through and chronicling the thousands of new books and DVDs that have been recently delivered.

They included such well-known titles as The Red Detachment of Women and Story of Mulan, among others, but also books on Chinese cooking, calligraphy, culture, World Heritage sites, history, as well as dictionaries and idioms and set phrases.

"It's a very good cross-section of China past and present," Chan says. "There's stuff here not only for Chinese people, but also for people who want to learn Chinese."

Richard Stewart, the mayor of Coquitlam, a city of 125,000 about 10 km east of Vancouver city center, and a sister city to Laizhou in Yantai, Shandong province, added the donation would go a long way to spreading knowledge and understanding of China in the community.

Coquitlam's Chinese community numbers about 15,000. "Our community is one of the most multicultural in the world. We celebrate the fact that people have come from all corners of the world to live here," says Stewart.

"It (the Confucius Classroom program) reflects the fact that our connections with China are enormous. Not only do the people who live here have Chinese backgrounds, but we are also Canada's Pacific Rim community. This fosters an understanding of China and this century will be centered in the Pacific rather than the Atlantic. I look forward to improving the understanding of cultures across the Pacific and this is one excellent opportunity. We are certainly appreciative of it," he says.

Source: Xinhua
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