Mainland's development opens language opportunities

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 November, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 November, 2009, 12:00am

The mainland's booming economy means there's now a great interest among foreigners to learn the Chinese language and culture.

This means there is growing demand for Chinese teachers. Polytechnic University's master of arts programme in teaching Chinese as a foreign language is an increasingly popular way for people to gain the skills necessary to fulfil this role.

'Three years ago, when the course was introduced, there were fewer than 20 students,' said programme leader Dr Jozsef Szakos. 'This year we had more than 300 applications and the number of intakes has been increased to 100.'

Many of those who take the course are originally from the mainland and have moved to Hong Kong to find jobs. Teaching foreigners their mother tongue is an obvious and popular choice for them.

The course also takes some local Chinese language teachers who want a master's degree to upgrade their qualifications. Although most of the course is delivered in Putonghua, students are also welcome to use English in assignments and are encouraged to make power points in English while speaking in Putonghua for presentations.

'Students, especially those from the mainland, do not have much chance to use English,' Szakos said.

'So it is beneficial for them to make use of opportunities to do some work in English. This will help them communicate better and have a deeper understanding of the foreign students that they are going to educate.'

Szakos said one of the aims of the programme was to promote students' intellectual and cultural awareness so that they were better able to relate to the people they would be teaching.

'A great portion of the programme is about developing teaching materials for students that study Chinese as a second language,' he said. 'Many Chinese teaching materials available on the market are based on the lives of people in Beijing, making it hard for foreign learners to understand them. We train our students to be aware of cultural differences and to be able to develop materials with local flavour.'

Szakos said that many students initially planned to go abroad to teach but the huge local demand led many to change their minds. Much of this local demand is teaching children and the course has adapted to equip teachers for this role.

'To cater for the shift from adult education to childhood education, the curriculum of the programme was adjusted. Courses such as child psychology were added,' Szakos said.

Students can choose to study full-time or part-time. Full-time students graduate in between 18 months and three years, while part-time students take between two-and-a-half years and five years to complete the course.

Molly Yangmin came from Yunnan province to take the course hoping it would give her new skills and more exposure.

'I was very lucky because my university was willing to pay half of the school fees for me to come to Hong Kong to study,' she said. 'They hope that I can bring back experiences from Hong Kong to help improve the quality of education.'

Shen Yingyue, a graduate from Shanghai, believes that teaching Chinese culture to foreigners is very meaningful.

'Before I came to Hong Kong to join the course, I taught foreigners Chinese part-time while pursuing a bachelor's degree in Chinese language and literature,' she said.

'I wanted to get a higher qualification to teach foreigners our language and culture.

'It has opened my mind to other cultures and enhanced my employment opportunities. Now, I have a number of career options to choose from. I can work as a Chinese teacher in Hong Kong or on the mainland, or I can apply for administration posts in commercial companies, bridging communication between Western and mainland corporations.'