Wed, Nov 01, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Conference puts spotlight on Mandarin study craze

TUITION FOR THE FEW There are more than 30 million people studying Chinese around the world and Taiwan should tap the top end of the market, participants said

By Max Hirsch  /  STAFF REPORTER

For Angela Macdonald, a British graduate student in the Chinese Language Department at National Taiwan University (NTU), Taiwan represents a freer, more sophisticated Chinese learning environment than China.

Chinese language pedagogy tended to be "superficial" in China, where cultural aspects of the language are often skipped over by teachers, she said.

"I studied Chinese for a time in China, and then came to Taiwan to study it. Right away, I was taken with the prevalence of traditional Chinese culture here," Macdonald told the Taipei Times.

At a conference on Monday, the dean of the College of Liberal Arts at NTU, Yeh Kuo-liang (葉國良), agreed with Macdonald's view that Taiwan offers a more in-depth learning environment for Chinese language students.

China's Cultural Revolution wiped out much of the traditional Chinese culture that enhances foreign students' understanding of the Chinese language, said Yeh.

"Our political freedoms, especially the freedom of speech, also make Taiwan an ideal learning environment for Chinese language students from abroad," he said.

The conference, entitled "Opportunities for Taiwan Amid the Global Craze for Learning Chinese," brought together NTU professors and students in a discussion of how to capitalize on the sheer and growing number of Chinese language students worldwide.

NTU Chinese Literature Department Chair He Chi-peng (何寄澎) unveiled at the conference a Chinese language test designed by NTU professors that he said could replace China's official HSK (Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi, 漢語水平考試) evaluation as the world standard in determining Chinese language students' linguistic proficiency.

Although the test is still three years away, He said it represents Taiwan's eagerness to contribute to the setting of Chinese language learning standards.

Yeh, meanwhile, told conference participants that the university was also developing software to help international students master Chinese pronunciation, adding that Taiwan's voice-related technology was more advanced than China's.

"Currently, there are more than 30 million people learning Chinese [as a foreign language], and this represents an opportunity for Taiwan," said Shen Tung (沈冬), Director of International Academic Exchanges at NTU.

Shen took a more business-like approach to promoting Taiwanese standards of Chinese pedagogy, saying that with its traditional cultural advantage over China, as well as its history of being an ideal learning environment for foreigners, Taiwan could occupy the "higher end" of the Chinese language market, which many participants admitted was already mostly cornered by China.

"If Chinese language pedagogy is a commodity, then our approach to teaching the language could be considered the top-quality product -- we could provide Chinese language pedagogical services for the elite," Shen said, citing the International Chinese Language Program (ICLP) at NTU.

Formerly the "Stanford Center," ICLP is an elite school with a forty-year history of providing foreigners with high-quality Chinese language training. Cheng Yu-yu (鄭毓瑜), an NTU professor of Chinese literature, said that ICLP carefully screened prospective students, accepting only outstanding students from top schools overseas.

Cheng called on Taiwan's Mandarin Chinese training centers to emulate ICLP's top-of-the-market pedagogical methods to attract more elite students in a bid to fill the "higher-end niche" of the market -- a niche not yet filled by China, participants said.

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