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Sudanese students flock to learn Chinese

By Lewis Machipisa
BBC News, Khartoum

Products, companies and restaurants from China have flooded into Sudan in recent years and now the Chinese language has become the latest import.

The Chinese speech competition was well-attended
During a recent language competition, Khartoum University resembled a province in China. Everything became Chinese. The students even laughed in Chinese.

The relaxed mood with which the 100 or so students spoke and joked in Chinese at the Chinese Bridge Speech competition suggests that learning Chinese could be the next big thing in Sudan.

First the students had to compete to see who had become the most proficient in the language. In this category the competition was tough.

Then the students had to prove they could even sing in Chinese - most sounded atrocious.

Foreign draw

More than one billion people around the world speak Chinese as their native tongue.

China estimates that 100 million foreigners will soon speak Chinese
With China's economy rising fast, the country's government believes that 100 million foreigners will soon be speaking their language.

Among those will be Ayat, a student in Khartoum.

"China is now a big country economically. There are lots of Chinese companies in Sudan so there is a big choice for us to work for the Chinese as translators,'' she says, describing Chinese as a "beautiful language''.

Tong Xiaofeng, a Chinese professor at Khartoum University, says most of the Sudanese students in his class are motivated by money.

"Chinese is mostly welcome because nearly 100% of students who graduate from the department get jobs with Chinese companies," he says, specifically in the oil industry, telecommunications and as travel agents.

China's oil interests in Sudan, already substantial, continue to grow.

Sudan sells about 60% of its oil to China, while Sudanese imports currently make up 5% of China's oil and the China National Petroleum Corp owns 40% of the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company - the main player in Sudan.

In addition, another Chinese company is constructing a 1,500km (932 mile) pipeline to Port Sudan on the Red Sea, where they are also building a tanker terminal.

Proven reserves

Sudanese production and export of light, sweet crude oil - the most easily refined, and therefore most desirable, oil - have risen rapidly in the last few years.

When I graduate, I want to go to China and do my masters there
Halid Sulema

China concerns over Darfur
Sudan's energy ministry reports production of some 500,000 barrels per day. Sudan has proven reserves of at least 563 million barrels of oil, with the potential for far more in regions of the country made inaccessible by conflict.

It is this projected oil boom, led by Chinese firms, that has caught the eye of many Sudanese students, and there is also a booming telecommunications sector.

The Chinese government is all for using language as a way of spreading its influence around the world.

By 2008, an estimated 120,000 students will travel from abroad to go to college at a Chinese university, up from 8,000 less than a decade before.

It will provide scholarships for good students to go to its universities.

Halid Sulema is one of the students eyeing that chance.

"When I graduate, I want to go to China and do my masters there. I hope to get a good job with a Chinese company in the end."

80 Posts
read it before somewhere else.......although i doubt that chinese will replace english anytime soon but chinese investments are everywhere in sudan, so i guess this is a positive step.

2,906 Posts
I think its a good thing. It provides allthe more opportunity for young Africans to get a good education. If learning chinese helps to further that goal, then I'm all for it.

4,402 Posts
try learning japanese now thats hard it also doesn't say which type of chinese there learning

61 Posts
Looks like Kenyans are doing the same.

Kenyans flock to Chinese classes
Written by Beatrice Gachenge
28-June-2007: Chinese products have taken over the international market and there is a new export too: language. As nations watch the Chinese economic growth and its penetration into Africa and other continents, a side-story is developing.

Kenya is already eyeing the Chinese market and has a tourism website in Mandarin language. At the Language Solution Centre in Nairobi, Chinese language is taking centre stage—competing with others for space and time.

Established three years ago, the centre’s director, Ms Jacqueline Machaka, says this was the first language taught at the institution. Reason? “I knew China’s economic growth would translate to business relations with Kenya as well as the world,” said Ms. Machaka. “This meant that more translators would be needed to facilitate communication, so I capitalised on this opportunity.”

And true to her words, a Chinese news agency quoted Foreign Affairs minister Raphael Tuju as saying that translators would be required as Chinese tourists and investors start coming into Kenya.

The charges for a Chinese translator range from Sh28,000 to Sh42,000 for an eight hour session. Although Machaka did not know the language, looking for Chinese language teachers was not as hard as getting students to learn the language. “All I did was market the language,” said Ms Machaka. “ But a majority of the people did not see the sense in learning Chinese.”

Unperturbed, Ms Machaka managed to convince four students who started the language at the centre, which now has 80 students pursuing the language.

Already one of the first four is pursuing an undergraduate course in the language in China. Statistics show that nearly 25 million foreigners are learning Chinese abroad and over 2,100 universities in 85 countries have Chinese language courses. Apart from the cultural centre, some Egyptian universities have set up Chinese-language departments such as Cairo University, Al-Azhar University and Ain Shams University.

The three universities currently have more than 700 students learning Chinese.

By the end of 2006, two universities and 20 schools in South Africa were offering Mandarin, the official spoken language of China, which is based on the principal dialect spoken in and around Beijing. Besides universities, more overseas middle and primary schools have opened Chinese language courses. China is actively developing Chinese language education on the Internet, with many foreigners from 114 countries registering.

At a minimum of Sh 18,000, beginners at the Language Solution Centre take two and half months and a similar duration for the intermediary level. An advanced language course costs Sh 27,000. “China is more versatile in terms of job prospects , said Ms Machaka. Another institution teaching the language is ACK Language & Orientation School, which introduced Chinese late last year.

“A group of people going to China wanted refresher courses on Chinese,” said Rev Samuel Njoroge, Director ACK Language & Orientation School, “but the hardest thing was looking for a Chinese instructor.”

At the moment the school has one trainer as well as one student, but the director is least worried by the low numbers. He believes that the language is in demand, and it may be just a matter of time before it explodes in the country. “And we are ready for it. China is an emerging market and one cannot ignore that,” said Rev Njoroge.

Last year, State-run China Radio International launched its FM station in the country. The move is seen as a way for the Asian country to have a greater influence in Africa.

The station is transmitting 19 hours of programming in English, Kiswahili and standard Chinese.

In the same year, the government-sponsored the first World Chinese Conference held in Beijing with the aim of promoting Chinese language teaching. But not everyone thinks there is urgency to learn the language.

The director of Hekima Language Centre, Ndalegwa Amisi, said he did not think it was necessary for his school to invest in the language before they are able to fully conceptualise the Asian language. But to accommodate this new trend, domestic Chinese language teaching has quickly shifted its focus from home to overseas.

In addition to further to meet the needs of students learning Chinese around the world, the Office of the International Chinese Language Council has established 111 Confucius Institutes across the world, with seven of them in Africa. A Confucius Institute is a non-profit public institute with a mission of promoting Chinese language and culture as well as support local Chinese teaching.

But Kenya was the first African country to host a Confucius Institution. The Confucius Institute at the University of Nairobi was formally launched in 2005 and saw its first set of students graduate last year.

But as Prof Sa Dequan, deputy Dean at the institute says, the initial target capacity of the Chinese language department was 30. “Students kept coming and we could not turn them away,” said Prof Dequan. At the moment, level one has about 80 students, while two has 15 and three has 20. The Institute has four Chinese instructors and tuition is free.

But students joining next semester may have to pay. In all, the professor had a candid confession to reveal: it’s not an easy language to master. “The Chinese language is hard to learn,” he said. Whereas the English language has only 26 characters, Chinese has over 60,000 characters. But that is half the story. Each character quite often has many meanings in isolation.

Prof Dequan said each character tells a story and has its history. “Even I don’t know all the characters. I can only learn so much,” he said. Secondly, the tonal system is hard for foreigners.

While the meaning of English words does not change with tone, the same is not true for Mandarin.

Four-and-a-half tones are used, meaning a single word can have many meanings. Ma, for example, can mean mother, horse, hemp, or be a reproach depending on tone.

How tones are used also varies extensively from province to province. How then can one appreciate so many characters? “Pinyin is a system of transliterating Chinese characters into the Roman alphabet, commonly used by foreigners to learn basic Mandarin,” said Ms Machaka.

Things get tougher when students start learning characters, but language experts say a person only needs roughly 5,000 words to be literate. But the unique language has its own distinct beauty.

One thing that is easier in Mandarin is the grammar.

“The grammar is not nearly as complicated as many European languages,” said Dr Frances Weightman, a lecturer in Chinese Studies at the University of Leeds. “For example there are no verb tenses, no relative clauses, no singular or plural.” On the other hand, since the Confucius Institute is non-degree education, UON plans to introduce a Chinese degree programme next semeter commencing September.

United States International University is also offering Chinese. As a requirement to graduate, a student must learn at least one foreign language. And the language expansion in not unique to Kenya.Beyond the African borders, an independent school in Britain, Brighton College, became the first to make Mandarin Chinese compulsory for pupils last year, reflecting the growing importance of China on the world stage.

An estimated 100 schools in the UK are now teaching Mandarin, according to the British Council, the UK’s international organisation for educational and cultural relations. In America in 1998, just 6,000 student enrolled in Mandarin programmes. But in 2006, the figure rose to 50,000.

But what is fuelling this expansion, and will it change the status of English as a global language? Impetus to the unprecedented upsurge of learning the Chinese language among Kenyans as well as other foreigners can be linked to China’s economic growth . China used to be called a sleeping giant.

Now, as the world’s fastest growing major economy, it is well and truly awake.

Asian Development Outlook 2007” predicted a 10.0 percent growth as to China’s economy in 2007, and a 9.8 percent expansion in 2008. China achieved a 10.7 percent increase in gross domestic product (GDP) last year. On the other hand, recent statistics show China’s economy has grown by an annual rate of 11.1per cent in the first three months of 2007.

China’s National Bureau of Statistics spokesman Zheng Jingping said China economy is capable of maintaining an annual growth rate of 8 to 9 per cent over the next 10 years. The rapid growth of fixed asset investment, backed by the high savings rate and a major inflow of foreign direct are some of the key pillar expected to push the economy.

In addition, political and social stability, notwithstanding accelerated industrialisation are also said to fuel the economic development of the Asian country.

Her overall Gross Domestic Product ranks sixth in the world after decades of rapid economic development, with the nation’s per capita GDP exceeding $1,200.Further spurred on by China’s accession to the World Trade Organization in 2001, this far-reaching trade liberalization agreement, China agreed to lower tariffs and abolish market impediments.

Chinese and foreign businessmen, for example, gained the right to import and export on their own, and to sell their products without going through a government middleman. By 2005, average tariff rates on key US agricultural exports dropped from 31 per cent to 14 per cent and on industrial products from 25 per cent to 9 per cent

While accession does not guarantee smaller trade deficits, full implementation of all WTO commitments would further open China’s markets to the world. And these forms the major urge for business men to learn Chinese.

That notwithstanding, China’s successful bidding for 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, is something to go by.

With the continuous improvement of the investment climate, China has also become one of the most attractive investment destinations. In order to foster a good relation, one must break communication barriers,” said the Language Solution centre.
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