Confucius Institute in Britain promotes better understanding about China

Source:Xinhua Published: 2012-6-12 13:59:03

The boy likes talking with his teacher in Chinese and can write ancient poems with a Chinese brush, although his hair is brown and his name a typical Irish one: Cahan O'Driscoll.

"I have been learning Mandarin for a year and a half," said the 10-year-old boy, who was attending a class at the Confucius Institute of the University of Liverpool. "We have a lot of things from China here, and I hope that I can go to China one day."

He developed his interest in China several years ago, when he watched television and got fascinated by a program about China. Now the boy goes to the class every weekend, three hours each time.

Cahan's mom Alexandra is an Italian British, and the boy learned Spanish and French as well at school. "But he always complained that those languages were boring," the mom said. "Maybe Chinese is quite different."

They found the school at the Internet. Now under the influence of her son, Alexandra found herself could speak a little bit of Chinese as well.


Cahan is just one of the 1,000 students at the Confucius Institute of the University of Liverpool, which has 16 staff members.

When the school just started in October 2009, there was just one teacher, Chao Qiuling.

Chao, in her 40s, appears younger than her age, always smiling and speaking in a soft voice.

Luckily she managed to gain help from local Chinese students. Together they organized some activities such as dancing in public to promote Chinese culture, so as to attract students. At the New Year, they demonstrated the Chinese way of celebration. They also offered free lectures of Chinese culture.

Her persistence paid off the next January, when the first eight students entered her classroom. One of them was an old lady, who had been to China before and lived alone in Liverpool. She went to the institute then just to kill time. Two others had Chinese girlfriends and wanted to learn Chinese so as to communicate with them.

The students brought their friends, and the school kept expanding.

Another piece of good news was that some schools decided to have the lesson for their students. At present, 24 of the 132 primary schools and 10 of the 169 secondary schools joined in their program.

Bigger demand required more teachers. China's Xi'an Jiaotong University, which has partnership with University of Liverpool, sent another Mandarin teacher, and the Confucius Institute Headquarters sent 12 volunteers. Meanwhile, Chao recruited two local teachers.


The institute taught not only the language, but Chinese culture such as Taiji, Beijing Opera, paper-cutting, calligraphy, Chinese dancing, etc., so as to make the learning of Mandarin less daunting.

However, students get more.

To Jing Jing, the institute gave her self-esteem.

The 11-year-old girl was adopted by a British couple from east China's Jiangxi Province when she was just 11 months old. For a very long time, she felt abandoned and didn't like to see a Chinese face, not even her own in the mirror.

"I sent her to learn Mandarin because I want her to have positive feelings about China," said her mom Karen Curry. Pointing at the girl who was happily learning martial arts in the classroom, Curry said proudly that Jing Jing is even teaching some of her friends to say Chinese words.

"I hope in the future, she can go back and study in China," she added.

To Anna Homa, the institute gave her opportunity.

The young lady was a business major in the University of Liverpool, who started learning Mandarin last summer.

Noting that China's economy is growing, Homa's motivation was practical. "I hope learning Chinese can help me do business in the future," she said.

She had lessons twice a week. Recognizing her rapid improvement, the school recommended her to a "study China" program and she went to the city of Zhuhai in the booming southern Guangdong Province in April.

Like Homa, a total of 112 college students are learning Mandarin in the institute.


China opened its first Confucius Institute in 2004. Many mushroomed since then. By the end of last year, China has set up 358 Confucius Institutes and 500 Confucius Classrooms in 105 countries and regions. In Europe, there are 129 and 104 Confucius Institutes and Classrooms respectively, scattered in 34 countries and regions.

"We are living in a shrinking globe and China is becoming a major trading partner," said Professor Michael Hoey, Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the University of Liverpool. He noted that lessons such as Chinese history, culture and social life are more accessible than language itself, and helped student to understand better the remote country.

Traditionally, the foreign languages taught in Liverpool were French and Spanish. Students must choose one of them, and could take a second, usually German, as optional. In recent years, Chinese has become an increasingly popular choice as well.

Li Xin, a Mandarin teacher in Liverpool, noted the growing need for children to know more about China. "Many of my students told me that their parents did or are doing business in China," she said.

"They are curious and like to ask questions," she said.

An unnamed official from the Confucius Institute Headquarters believed teaching Mandarin can help improve international relations in the future.

"The young people we taught will grow up, doing all kinds of jobs," she said. "With the language bond, they won't have blind hostility against China," she said.

She also thought the experience of teaching abroad would be helpful for Chinese teachers after they return to China. "They could learn from their counterparts from other countries, and broaden their horizon," she said.

A Chinese teacher is normally supposed to teach for a two-year term. Chao Qiuling has finished her term, but decided to stay for two more years.

"The job is very rewarding," she said. "I was always moved when receiving presents like cards and chochlates at Chinese festivals. The students are lovely. The work here has just get started and I have more things to do."

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