China is stepping up efforts to train more Chinese language teachers and plans to set up 60 more Confucius Institutes to meet the demand for Mandarin across the world, according to Chinese Language Council International.
"Each year, there are 10,000 positions of teaching Chinese as a foreign language in the world by conservative estimate, but only 2,000 teachers are available from China," said Xu Lin, director of the office. "The greatest challenge we are facing now is to meet the surging demand for Chinese teachers."
This year, a large number of college graduates, regardless of their major, will be recruited to attend a one-year training course to teach Chinese as a foreign language, according to Xu.
China currently has a pool of over 5,000 certified teachers of Chinese as a foreign language. Some of them will be selected to learn Spanish, Portuguese and Arabic for a year and then sent to teach in Latin American and Arab countries.
Last year, China sent 1,004 Chinese teachers to 80 countries and 1,050 volunteers to 34 countries.
In addition to recruiting more Chinese teachers, the office also plans to set up another 60 Confucius Institutes and launch Confucius Institute online and broadcast services.
In the Middle East and north Africa, the Chinese language has become increasingly popular as bilateral trade and cultural exchanges have expanded.
The first Confucius Institute in an Arab country was set up on February 27 in Saint Joseph's University of Lebanon.
Egypt will likely to have its first Confucius Institute soon, said Chinese ambassador Wu Sike to Egypt, who, on behalf of Xu, has signed an agreement with the University of Cairo on setting up a Confucius Institute.
"Along with the University of Cairo, three universities have Chinese language and culture departments. The number of students majoring in Chinese language has been on a steady rise in recent years," said Wu.
"Almost every term of the Chinese language training course is fully booked," he added.
The latest Confucius Institute was established on March 16 in the University of Zimbabwe, which enrolled over 50 students on the opening day, including scholars, government officials and entrepreneurs, said Yuan Nansheng, Chinese ambassador to Zimbabwe.
The Chinese government donated 100,000 U.S. dollars to the institute and installed two well-trained volunteers as instructors.
"The teachers are expected to introduce China's cultural, economic and social development as well as giving students linguistic instruction, in the hope of cementing the two countries' friendship and promoting bilateral trades," said Yuan.
According to an agreement signed by China's Hunan Normal university and Russia's Kazanian State University, the third Confucius Institute in Russia will be set up to receive an ever-growing number of Russian students who want to learn Chinese.
A total of 10,000 people in Russia are attending Chinese-language training programs.
The Confucius Institute, headquartered in Beijing, is a non-profit organization aimed at promoting the Chinese language and culture. By 2010, 500 Confucius Institutes and classrooms are expected to be set up around the world.
Some Confucius Institutes, however, have encountered difficulties.
The first Confucius Institute in southeastern Asia has struggled since it was launched on February 14, 2006 in Bengal. Now only 10 students remain and teachers have nothing but a desk in the office.
"The teaching method is mainly to blame because most of the teachers are linguistics major graduates and not knowledgeable enough in other spheres. As a result, the institute has little influence on the upper class," said an insider.
"A way out may be to follow a successful model, like the 'Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme.' At the same time, we can train some local Chinese teachers in the hope of influencing more people of higher education or from a higher class," said Xu Guangyuan, headmaster of the Confucius Institute of Bengal.
Confucius, born in 551 B.C., was a great Chinese thinker, philosopher, statesman and educator. He was also the founder of Confucianism. Advocating the building of a harmonious society through individuals' self-refinement in manners and taste, Confucianism dominated the Chinese society for centuries and was spread to Europe in the late 16th century.
In an effort to promote the Chinese language and Chinese culture abroad, the Chinese government has set up 140 Confucius Institutes, schools or classrooms in 52 countries and regions worldwide.