TAIPEI (The China Post) — What do former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg, and Arabella Trump have in common? It’s hard to imagine, but across all ages and nationalities, everyone is learning Chinese! In fact, the number of native Chinese speakers have reached 950 million, even more than native English speakers. Given the rise of China, growing business opportunities and Chinese language film and television works gaining momentum in popularity, more and more people have been curious about this 3000-year-old language.
According to the U.S. Foreign Service Institute, native English speakers interested in learning Chinese spend 2,200 hours to reach proficiency, which speaks to the difficulty of the language. Having said that, the trend of learning Chinese is still sweeping to the globe.
In 2015, The Ministry of Education of Taiwan reported the number of students studying Chinese in Taiwanese colleges and universities had reached 18,645, which accounts for 16.92 percent of all students from overseas. Back in 2010, 750,00 people signed up to take the Chinese Proficiency Test hosted by the Confucius Institute Headquarters in China.
Due to the continuous interest, Taiwan and China have become hotspots for studying Chinese. But why do foreign students choose to come to Taiwan specifically? Is learning Chinese truly as terrifying as it is alleged to be? We interviewed students who are currently studying abroad at various Taiwanese universities. What type of obstacles have they faced? What choices have they had to make to take their Chinese to a higher level?
One of the initial choices students must make before studying abroad is choosing where they would like to go. For those who have come to learn Chinese, the answer is easy: most believe Taiwan is a relatively safe country. They are interested in the culture and want to further their understanding of the history and slang, or even move on to learn Taiwanese or classical Chinese.
Often times, their college or university will partner with study abroad programs that introduce Taiwan to students. Going to study abroad fairs or searching online for suitable programs are other ways to sign up. Students already studying the language at their home university often have teachers and advisors who know Taiwan well and recommend them to come.
The best way to learn is chatting with locals. What learning Chinese in other countries, such as in the U.S., lacks is the opportunity to communicate with people who are native speakers. Language exchange partners are popular among foreign students. They attest that the best language exchange partners are the ones who are patient, comfortable and will not constantly correct them.
The process of learning a new language takes time. Students discover the fastest path to fluency requires fully immersing themselves into the language. While they have not yet achieved proficiency, practicing every day is an important factor for succeeding.
Using the correct tones while speaking is also a challenge, but it is essential to the Chinese language. It is recommended that those interested in studying the language pay special attention to their tones. Students in Taiwan start to learn traditional characters. Although more difficult, it is extremely satisfying.
A student from National Taiwan University explains: “It is easier to learn traditional first, then simplified.” Yet, most students who learn traditional characters will still go on to read simplified, believing in the benefits of knowing both.
Chinese, being such a widely spoken language, can be used in different fields of work. Students from many different majors all have congregated to Taiwan to study, but will eventually move on to be doctors, lawyers, teachers, and politicians and in their home country. Whether it is business, translation, or simply day-to-day conversations, all foreign students know they are investing in their future. ●
By Lillian Lu and Amelia Chea