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More overseas children learn Chinese since primary school or kindergarten

(People's Daily Online)    11:02, July 09, 2019

Students sing a song written based on Chinese classic The Three Character Classic in a school in Washington D.C. (Photo/CRI Online)

As Chinese language is gaining increasing popularity around the world, more and more overseas pupils are deciding to learn Chinese language starting as early as primary school or even kindergarten.

This June, a new bilingual Chinese and English kindergarten was established in London, which was expected to provide a bilingual environment for preschool children from Chinese communities and local families who are keen on Chinese culture and language as well as bringing Chinese language teaching in the local area to a higher level.

Last September, Germany’s first public bilingual Chinese and German kindergarten was opened in Dusseldorf, serving as a new channel of Chinese culture and language learning for German families.

According to an article by Li Yuming, director of Beijing Advanced Innovation Center for Language Resources, Beijing Language and Culture University, it’s estimated that young students may account for 50 percent of the overseas learners of Chinese language in the world, and as the younger-age trend has been growing rapidly, the proportion has reached or even exceeded 60 percent in some countries.

Many primary schools in Italian cities including Napoli, Bologna, Rome, and Florence are offering Chinese language courses to students, and the trend is in the ascendant, said Xu Haiming, Chinese director of Confucius Institute at Oriental University of Napoli.

“Nowadays more and more foreign people take the Chinese Proficiency Test (HSK) and Youth Chinese Test (YCT), and we are seeing a trend towards younger ages among the learners,” said Xu, adding that an 8-year-old student of the Confucius Institute at Oriental University of Napoli has passed the HSK level 3 test, which is the Chinese language requirement for Italian college students who apply for studying in China.

Joël Bellassen, a famous French sinologist who has witnessed the changes in Chinese language learning in France, said that more than half of the Chinese language learners in France are students in elementary and secondary schools, which indicates that Chinese language has been officially incorporated into France’s national education system, adding that this is a good trend.

According to a credible source, in 2016, more than 700 elementary and secondary schools in France offered Chinese courses, offering Chinese language education to nearly 52,000 students, far more than the number of pupils learning Chinese language in 2004.

“Many elementary schools hope to cooperate with the Confucius Institute to offer introductory Chinese courses to students, as Rwandese parents want their children to be able to speak with Chinese in the future,” said Zhang Xian, Chinese director of the Confucius Institute at University of Rwanda, expressing that more and more Rwandese are interested in Chinese culture and language.

As revealed by a survey, by the end of 2017, the number of elementary and secondary schools that have Chinese courses in the world was 8 times the amount of higher education institutions with Chinese courses.

In many countries including the U.S., UK, France, Thailand, and South Korea, Chinese language courses have been expanded from universities to primary schools quickly, with the period from kindergarten to high school becoming the most important phase of Chinese language teaching, according to the survey.

It was also reported in the survey that in 2010, there were only 10,000 primary school students learning Chinese in New Zealand, while the number grew to 40,000 in 2015, making Chinese the fastest growing foreign language in the country.

The younger-age trend of Chinese language learners is one of the outcomes of government efforts, as relevant data showed that so far more than 60 countries have incorporated Chinese into their national education systems by legislation or decrees.

In Li’s view, the trend results from multiple causes, the influence of Chinese overseas, efforts of Confucius Institutes, attention of various governments, and most importantly, the rapid development of China.  

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Web editor: Bianji, Hongyu)

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