As China opens up to the world, Putonghua is becoming more popular among foreign students and businesspeople Two facts point to the increasing popularity of Putonghua worldwide: registration of Chinese-character domain names on the internet, and the Chinese government's new law protecting and promoting the use of Chinese language inside the country and around the world. The law is intended to guarantee the use and popularisation of the standard Chinese language and characters. Ella Luk, founder and principal of the Luk Chan Chinese Language School and the Luk Chan Chinese Language Teaching and Study Centre in Hong Kong, says an increasing number of non-Chinese people are showing an interest in learning Putonghua as China increases its business, cultural and tourism exchanges with the rest of the world. 'Chinese language has become increasingly important as an international means of communication and teaching,' says Dr Luk. Dr Luk's teaching and study centre offers several courses ranging from intense eight-week business language programmes to four-year programmes based on the Beijing University language syllabus. Teachers are either graduates from top Chinese-language universities holding masters degrees, or have wide experience teaching the language. Teachers work closely with each student to define a clear learning structure based on individual needs. Programmes can be tailored to suit their learning abilities and available time. Programmes on offer cover reading, writing, listening and understanding the language. 'To fully understand the language, students must study all the components. However, some people only have [enough] time to learn how to speak it.' Dr Luk says Hong Kong professionals and business people are increasingly learning or upgrading their Chinese-language skills to improve their career prospects or develop closer business ties with companies in the mainland. In the past, most Hong Kong Chinese learnt Putonghua because they were interested in the language and culture. Today, most are learning to speak and use it in order to conduct business or improve their chances of getting a higher paying job, says Dr Luk. 'Facing the global trend of information technology and the new economy, we are continually looking for ways to improve teaching methods and education quality of the Chinese language, which is used by nearly a quarter [of the] world's population,' says Dr Luk. A member of the Chinese Language Learning Association, which at present has about 20 association members in Hong Kong, Dr Luk says that as the country's Chinese-language education is moving toward the global trend of 'quality education', it is necessary for Chinese educators to exchange their experiences and ideas with their colleagues from around the world - especially in the Asia-Pacific region where Chinese-language education has a long tradition. Statistics show that about 400 Chinese universities have foreign students, most of whom come to learn Chinese language and culture. More than 300,000 foreigners are currently studying Putonghua in the mainland - more than three times the number in the mid-1990s. Britain plans to allocate #1 million (HK$14.1 million) over the next five years to promote the learning of Putonghua among its citizens, since it is expected to become a new global language. And Chinese-language education is now being offered in Luxembourg.