TAIPEI (CNA) – Taiwan’s democracy and its open and diverse environments are the main draws for foreign nationals who want to master their Chinese language skills, despite keen competition from China, according to local scholars.
“Taiwan still has a niche in this field over the long term, despite the fierce competition from China in vying for the top position in teaching Chinese to foreigners,” Shen Yung-cheng (沈永正), chief of the Mandarin Training Center under National Taiwan Normal University, told CNA.
Foreigners who learn Chinese for business and communication purposes tend to choose China, where simplified Chinese characters are used, he said. But those interested in exploring cultural heritage or studying classical Chinese literature will come to Taiwan, where traditional Chinese characters are used, he said.
Shen said he was optimistic about Taiwan’s long-term advantages as the top destination for foreigners wanting to learn Chinese.
Compared with the mainland, which is a one-party system ruled by the Communist Party of China, Shen said he believes that “Taiwan’s democratic society and free and open environments are what draw foreign nationals wanting to master Chinese.”
Since 2000, the number of Chinese learners has grown rapidly worldwide thanks to a fast-growing Chinese economy.
It is estimated that more than 100 million people (excluding those in China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan) speak Chinese in the world — 60 million of whom are ethnic Chinese and expatriates, while the other 40 million are non-ethnic Chinese learners and users.
South Korea has the highest number of Chinese learners in the world — 10.6 million — out of a population of 50 million, it has been reported.
Chen Po-hsi (陳柏熹), chief executive officer of the state-run Steering Committee for the Test of Proficiency, said the politically motivated U.S.-China trade war will have only a limited impact on private-sector exchanges between the two countries, as most foreign Chinese learners are business people.
Over the past 15 years, China has been using government funds to establish hundreds of Confucius Institutes on campuses at universities in other countries to promote Chinese language and culture, Chen said.
In contrast to China’s aggressive approach in dispatching teachers and selecting materials for its Confucius Institute’s overseas branches, Taiwan plays an “auxiliary” role in terms of promoting the learning of Chinese in other countries, he said.
But it has also benefited from the rising interest worldwide in learning Chinese.
In recent years, the number of foreign nationals taking part in the national-level Chinese aptitude test in Taiwan has exceeded 50,000 annually, Chen noted.
Taiwan now has become a popular destination for Chinese learners across the world, according to Bi Tzu-an (畢祖安), director-general of the Department of International and Cross-strait Education Affairs under the Ministry of Education.
The quality of Chinese teaching is better in Taiwan than China, thanks to its well-trained teachers, good teaching materials and methods, Bi contended. The number of foreign students who come to Taiwan to learn Chinese has been rising at an annul rate of between 7 percent and 10 percent per year, he said.
Education Ministry statistics show that in 2017, 23,539 foreign nationals came to learn Chinese in Taiwan, up from 19,977 in 2016, 15,526 in 2014 and 13,898 in 2012. Japan, South Korea and the U.S.
were the top three sources of students.
Most of the foreign students studying Chinese at his center are from Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and Indonesia, according to Shen.
It has been reported that 500,000 foreign nationals are now studying Chinese in China, double the 2015 level.
More than 60 countries have mandated through legislation that the learning of Chinese be incorporated into their national education systems, while the U.S., Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Indonesia, Mongolia, Australia and New Zealand have listed Chinese among the ranks of second foreign languages, from its past status as a third foreign language, it was reported.
By Chen Chih-chung and Flor Wang