China worries too few foreigners learning Chinese

Thu Mar 12, 2009 8:42am EDT
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By Ben Blanchard

BEIJING (Reuters) - There has been a big rise in the number of foreigners learning Chinese, but still too few are studying the language, officials said on Thursday, worried this may affect efforts to soften China's global image.

China began setting up Confucius Institutes in 2004 to teach Chinese and they are now in 81 countries, but efforts to expand them are being hampered by too few teachers and poor teaching materials.

"At present, the basis for the studying or teaching of Chinese is very weak, unlike for English, French or Spanish, which have been popularized for hundreds of years," said Xu Lin, director of the Confucius Institute Headquarters.

Xu, speaking to reporters on the sidelines of China's annual meeting of parliament, said that in the United States more students studied Latin at middle school than Chinese.

"Though the desire to learn Chinese is very high, there is a lack of teachers and teaching materials," she added, referring specifically to the Confucius Institute.

"Our teachers and teaching materials are not really appropriate for what's demanded of them overseas."

Still, the number of foreigners learning Chinese around the world now stood at about 40 million, Xu said.

China originally planned to have more than 100 Confucius Institutes worldwide by 2008, but by the end of last year already had more than 250, such is the demand.   Continued...

<p>Students study Chinese characters at Qunxing international school in Yiwu, Zhejiang province March 7, 2008. REUTERS/Aly Song</p>