Zimbabwean students chase their dreams by learning Chinese
Doorway to opportunity
Published: Mar 02, 2022 05:47 PM
A teacher conducts a lesson to students who showed up for the first day of school on March 15, 2021, after a long break due to a COVID-19 imposed lockdown in Harare, Zimbabwe. Photo: VCG

A teacher conducts a lesson to students who showed up for the first day of school on March 15, 2021, after a long break due to a COVID-19 imposed lockdown in Harare, Zimbabwe. Photo: VCG

For 18-year-old Nyasha Silver Kusedyo, a Chinese language learner, to master the language, dedication is not just enough, a certain level of "craziness" is also needed.

"When my teacher found out that I was struggling in learning Chinese, she actually advised that to learn Chinese, to understand Chinese, you actually have to be a bit crazy, to understand the tones, the culture, whatever, you have to change your thinking," he told the Xinhua News Agency.

Kusedyo, an intermediate Chinese language learner at the Zimgro Language Consultancy in Harare, is one of many young Zimbabweans chasing their dreams by learning Chinese.

But for many students, the learning process can be daunting. Unlike local Zimbabwean languages, which use the phonetic Latin alphabet, Chinese characters are composed of pictograms or semi-phonetic ideograms.

Prosper Marindiko, another Chinese language learner at Zimgro, believes that motivation is an important factor in determining one's success in the long and often tedious process of learning a second language as an adult.

"Sometimes it gets so frustrating trying to learn the language because you think I have mastered this word, then when you meet a Chinese out there you try to say the word, they totally don't understand you," he said.

Kusedyo, who recently finished high school, said his dream of becoming an entrepreneur keeps him soldiering on.

"I am learning Chinese so that I can actually gain a competitive advantage in the entrepreneurship pool, basically in any kind of business, mainly bridging China and Zimbabwe," he said.

Della Makina, a translation and interpretation graduate, also believes that learning Chinese is a pathway to achieving her dreams.

"By learning Chinese, I dream that one day I will be one of the UN interpreters because Chinese is one of the UN languages, so I want to be one of the interpreters from Zimbabwe," she said.

Tawanda Zimhindo, founder of Zimgro Language Consultancy and a Chinese lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe Confucius Institute, is helping Chinese language learners achieve their dreams.

"I have a great passion for teaching the Chinese language. I always assist my students out of my personal will, and when I do it, I do it out of my heart, and I feel it's my obligation as a teacher to assist them," he said.

In 2021, Zimhindo was recognized as one of the best 20 Chinese language teachers worldwide by the Center for Language Education and Cooperation (CLEC), a nonprofit educational institution for international Chinese language education affiliated with the Chinese Ministry of Education.

As a passionate teacher, Zimhindo knows best how to motivate his students.

"The trick is on making the classes interesting. As a teacher, you have to understand your students. You have to know them well. Above all, you have to create a relationship with the students. It has to be a family," he remarked.

Zimhindo said learning Chinese has become popular among youngsters in Zimbabwe as they seek to be more competitive in the job market.

Chinese investments have seen a large number of Chinese nationals moving to the country, thereby increasing interaction between Zimbabweans and the Chinese.

"The reason why I am learning Chinese is because at work we interact a lot with the Chinese, and usually we have some misunderstandings just because of the language barrier," said Mandiriko.

In Zimbabwe, China has become a competitive study destination, surpassing some traditional English-speaking destinations. Given China's status as a manufacturing giant, the Asian country is also the most preferred destination for traders and business people.

"Initially what motivated me to learn Chinese was the good economic relationship between Zimbabwe and China," said Rebokile Setoboli, an economics graduate from the University of Zimbabwe.

Due to the lack of people who can speak both Chinese and local languages, there is a huge demand for those with Chinese language skills.

Chinese translators with a good command of the language can earn more than $500 a month, a huge amount considering that public servants such as teachers are currently earning less than $250 a month.

Setoboli, who is now a Chinese teacher at Zimgro, said knowing Chinese opens doors to vast job opportunities.

"Studying Chinese has a lot of opportunities here in Zimbabwe. And for me one of the opportunities it has given me is that I am teaching Chinese right now," she said.

While learning Chinese is arguably a formidable task, technology and the internet are making it less difficult, even for those with no opportunities to interact with native speakers of the language.