With China poised to become the world's economic leader within the next few decades, the mainland's expanding influence in the international business community is helping to boost the popularity of learning the national language.
According to Hanban, a public institution that is affiliated with China's Ministry of Education and responsible for promoting the language worldwide, more than 40 million people are currently learning Putonghua.
Interest in the language continues to be robust in Hong Kong - particularly among visiting foreign students - and has helped spur a wealth of job opportunities for those able to teach it.
'We are seeing a rise in demand for Putonghua programmes, especially from international students,' says Wu Weiping, director of the Yale-China Chinese Language Centre at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). He says demand from international students has grown by about 30 per cent over the past year.
Full-time and part-time programmes offered to the general public, he adds, share a similar curriculum with the university's Chinese-language courses offered to students enrolled in degree programmes. The syllabus focuses on the four functions of Hanyu, which include listening, reading, writing and speaking.
'Programmes are delivered by qualified teachers via lectures, supplemented by class activities, including discussion, role play, oral presentation, and debate,' Wu says.
When the new curriculum is launched this September, Wu expects it to include e-learning capabilities which, he says, will help provide students with additional listening and speaking opportunities via the CUHK multimedia language laboratory. To boost the language proficiency of intermediate and advanced learners, the centre also offers Chinese language and culture immersion in selected mainland cities.
When hiring teachers, Wu says he looks for candidates who are native or near-native Putonghua speakers. They should also hold a relevant master's degree in disciplines related to language education, and be familiar with current trends and practices in teaching Chinese as a second language.
Aspiring teachers should additionally be familiar with cross-cultural education. 'We expect Putonghua teachers to hold at least a Level 1 Grade B in the state-level Putonghua Shuiping Ceshi (PSC) exam,' says Wu.
Color Tsang, managing director at the Hong Kong Language Learning Centre (HKLLC), has also noticed a rise in demand for Putonghua classes. 'We see demand coming from several different areas,' says Tsang.
Many students, she notes, want to develop their Putonghua skills to improve their employment options, while others are encouraged by their companies or by a desire to build up their existing Putonghua capabilities.
For Putonghua language programmes to be relevant, Tsang feels that teachers must be able to engage and to motivate students.
'All of our material is written by the centre's staff on the basis of their long experience,' she says, adding that the HKLLC primarily employs native speakers who have passed China's exam for teaching Putonghua.