Learning Chinese Language Lets Us Understand China Better

Learning Chinese language has become a trend in Tanzania in recent years. The picture shows a Tanzanian Chinese language teacher giving guidance to students on learning Chinese language at the Confucius Institute at the University of Dar es Salaam

Core Reading

The Confucius Institute at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania recently held the Chinese Proficiency Test (HSK) at four test centers including the University of Dar es Salaam and Mbeya University of Science and Technology with a total of 303 candidates taking tests of the first to fifth levels. According to statistics, in the first half of 2018, the number of candidates taking the HSK in Tanzania reached 976, which is close to the total number of HSK takers for the whole last year. Recent years have witnessed a trend of learning Chinese language in Tanzania. More and more local people are enrolled in Confucius Classrooms out of their enthusiasm for learning Chinese language and their yearning for Chinese culture.

Understanding Chinese Culture Become a New Trend among Local People

“The level and oblique tones as well as the rise and fall in cadence of Chinese language turn Chinese sentences into melodies. How beautiful is Chinese language? I would like to answer this question in this way — at the sight of Kilimanjaro, we will say the snow is as white and shiny as silver; at the sight of Serengeti, we will say it is full of vitality; at the sight of Zanzibar, we will say the sea is green and the sky blue. As for Chinese language, it is as beautiful as a song or a painting.” 24-year-old Joseph Guti, a sophomore majoring in physical chemistry at the University of Dar es Salaam, was able to recite “The Beauty of Chinese” in Chinese fluently at “Chinese Bridge” – Chinese Proficiency Competition even though he had learned Chinese for just 6 months. He won second place in the competition which secured him the opportunity to attend the finals in China this July.

“Chinese characters are very beautiful, and its pronunciation and tone are very pleasant”, said Guti as he recalled the period when he first studied Chinese language. Originally, his family and friends felt it would be a waste of time to learn Chinese language. “My winning in the ‘Chinese Bridge’ – Chinese Proficiency Competition changed their ideas. Learning Chinese lets us better understand China.” Guti’s Chinese name “Gu Qiao” meaning “Old Bridge” in Chinese was given by his Chinese teacher. He said that the pronunciation of Chinese character “Gu” is similar to that of his name Guti, and “Qiao” (meaning bridge) symbolizes the long-standing friendship between the Tanzanian people and the Chinese people. He wants to become a messenger who spreads Chinese culture and enhances the friendship between the two peoples.

“Chinese language classes are really interesting!” Ennosi Nachan, a junior at Dar es Salaam University, said with great interest, “I have been studying Chinese language for one year and a half. My interest in Chinese language started from my experience of watching Chinese movies before. Ever since then, I have been obsessed with Chinese culture and I cannot stop learning Chinese language.” Now Nachan has his own Chinese name Sun Tianming. He hopes that he will go further down the road of learning and take his parents to visit China some day.

“Learning Chinese and understanding its culture have become a new trend among local people,” Liu Yan, Director of the Confucius Institute at Dar es Salaam University, told the journalist as he elaborated on how the number of students who took the HSK at the Confucius Institute increased from the handful to a dozen originally, to nearly 500 in 2016 and more than 1,100 in 2017. The number of HSK takers in that Confucius Institute has already reached 976 in the first half of 2018.

“Chinese language has made its way into the national education system in Tanzania.” Liu Yan said, “The Tanzanian education system includes a 4-year middle school and a 2-year high school. Now Chinese language major has entered Tanzanian colleges and the Chinese language national unified examination is also available to students in the second and fourth grades of middle school. Chinese language has been listed as one of the examination subjects. Established in October 2013, the Confucius Institute at the University of Dar es Salaam currently has 22 teaching sites in universities, middle schools and primary schools, of which 12 sites are in universities and 8 sites in middle schools offer Chinese language courses.”

Training Local Teachers to Help Address Lack of Chinese Language Teachers

“My Chinese name is Zhang Feng. I am very fortunate to be a local Chinese language teacher at the Confucius Institute at the University of Dar es Salaam. I am used to learning Chinese language with my students who enjoy learning this language very much.” Immanuel is the first local Chinese language teacher at the Confucius Institute at the University of Dar es Salaam. He studied for his master degree in International Chinese Language Education at Harbin Normal University in China. After three years of study, Immanuel returned to Tanzania and became one of the first three local Chinese language teachers in Tanzania.

“When I went to college, I saw many Chinese companies operating in Tanzania. For local workers who could only speak Swahili, it was very inconvenient to communicate with Chinese people in those companies.” Immanuel had originally studied management at the University of Dodoma in Tanzania. The reason why he changed his profession and started teaching Chinese lies in the huge demand for talents with Chinese language proficiency brought about by the ever closer economic and trade exchanges between Tanzania and China.

“Chinese language has opened a door to success for us. I want to spread the knowledge of Chinese language and culture I have learned in China in Tanzania.” Up to now, more than 20 students under his guidance have graduated. He said with pride, “My students have learned Chinese language so well that all of them have successfully passed the HSK.” He will have more than 60 students in the next semester. When asked about the difference between himself and Chinese teachers in terms of teaching Chinese language, he said that Chinese teachers usually teach in English, which would make it a little bit difficult for students to communicate with them because the local language of the local students is Swahili. “I teach Chinese language in Swahili, so I can explain to students more clearly, and they can learn more easily.”

As the saying goes, it is always better to teach people how to fish than to directly give them a fish. Liu Yan said that a major bottleneck in Chinese language teaching in Tanzania is the shortage of teachers. Training local teachers can help address the great mobility and shortage of teachers. At the same time, local characteristics can be integrated to achieve better teaching results.

In the second half of this year, the Confucius Institute at the University of Dar es Salaam will have four more local Chinese language teachers like Immanuel. “With the help of the Confucius Institute, the University of Dar es Salaam will soon start Chinese language major for colleges and technical secondary schools. In two or three years, there will be a large number of talents with Chinese language proficiency, and by that time the shortage of teachers will be relieved naturally,” Liu Yan said.

Enhancing Chinese Culture Promotion and China-Tanzania Cultural Exchanges

“The Confucius Institute at the University of Dar es Salaam actively enhances Chinese culture promotion and China-Tanzania cultural exchanges, thus playing an important role in promoting mutual understanding and friendship between the Chinese and Tanzanian people and becoming an essential bond between China and Tanzania,” Liu Yan said. In 2017, the Confucius Institute held more than 100 cultural events with over 70,000 participants in total. The Confucius Institute also organized a number of activities with local characteristics. For example, it twice hosted the “China-Tanzania Job Fair” where more than 100 local and Chinese companies recruited students of the Confucius Institute, thereby serving local society, helping students find jobs as well as helping companies recruit talents.

The Confucius Institute at the University of Dar es Salaam has also strengthened its cooperation with local media. For example, it often introduces Chinese culture in special pages of the local newspaper The Daily News. Now, the Confucius Institute at the University of Dar es Salaam and China Translation & Publishing House (CTPH) and Mkuki Na Nyota Publishers Ltd have set up a joint editing studio to translate Chinese books into Swahili so that local people can read original Chinese stories. The book New Chinese Story is currently being translated in the studio.

At the same time, they also encourage local Chinese people to learn the local language in the newly opened Swahili language classes. Liu Yan said that there is a huge space for cooperation in Chinese language teaching and cultural exchanges between China and Africa. There is still a lot of work to be done. It’s believed that the cultural exchanges between China and Africa will be deeper and deeper.