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Confucius Institute Bridges Friendship between China and Africa
    2009-02-17 18:59:57     CRIENGLISH.com

Strolling along the main streets of most large African cities simple Chinese words like "Nihao", "Xiexie" and "Zhongguo" can often be heard, bringing us closer to this strange continent. Currently an increasing number of Africans are enthusiastically learning the Chinese language and culture through the Confucius Institute, a Chinese language training organization dedicated to promoting friendship between people from China and the entire world.

As Chinese president Hu Jintao makes a trip to four African countries, our Nairobi correspondent Wei Tong paid a visit to the Confucius Institute in the University of Nairobi.

Students of the University of Nairobi are learning how to make dumplings at the Confucius Institute [photo: gezidiy.blog.sohu.com] 

"He is Ding Libo. His father is a Canadian and his mother is a Chinese. Right now he is learning Chinese."

What you hear are students at the Confucius Institute participating in a Chinese lesson. They are imitating a man who can speak fluent English. But you would be totally wrong if you thought the man was Chinese. He is a pure Kenyan named Kennedy who is a fourth-year student at the University of Nairobi. Not only can he speak idiomatic Chinese, but he is a perfect Chinese shadow-boxing performer. Kennedy says he chose Confucius Institute initially not because he liked Chinese culture.

"I started to study Chinese because that time, it is difficult to find a decent job in Kenya. But if I speak one or two foreign languages, like Chinese, it will be much easier. It is also my dream to continue my studies in China after graduation. So if I can speak Chinese, I would find more comfortable communicating with the Chinese people."

Later, with the cultivation of Chinese teachers at the Confucius Institute, Kennedy got more interest in Chinese culture. He participated in the "Chinese Bridge" competition and luckily obtained a chance to receive a short-term training in China.
There are quite a few Kenyans like Kennedy who are feverish about China. Ruth Nelson is one of them. She is pursuing her studies at Tianjin Normal University. She joined the training class as soon as the Confucius Institute was established in 2005. Later Ruth addressed her warm welcome over President Hu Jintao's state visit to Kenya in 2006 on behalf of all the students at the institute. As a result, she was admitted to study in China, which left a deep impression on her.

"Chinese people are very friendly and welcoming. They are ready to open the door for you and ready to teach you. Since I was little, I was very interested in the Chinese language and culture. So when the Confucius Institute opened in 2005, I joined it. Another thing was very few people in Kenya can speak Chinese language and very few Chinese can speak Kiswahili. So I hope I can be the bridge to connect the two peoples and to bring them together and exchange the culture."

So far, there are more than 20 Confucius Institutes scattered in 13 African countries. The one in the University of Nairobi is the first of its kind. It started with only 40 students, two classes in 2006. But within just two years, the number of students has spiked to over 260 students in 9 classes. Deputy Dean Prof. Sa Dequan says the Confucius Institute focuses more on introducing Chinese traditional culture and modern construction than the language itself. He plans to deeply root the institute into African soil, which will spread its influence.

"We want to root the Institute into African soil by means of integrating it into Kenyan educational system. Now we have established Bachelor's Degree in Chinese language and we're ready to recruit students from this school year. The degree lasts four years with 44 credits."

Sa Dequan adds the Confucius Institute will enlarge its recruitment to the whole society instead of just university students.

"We are going to launch a training class for Kenyan primary and secondary school teachers so as to make sure Kenyans can get to know about Chinese at a younger age. Meanwhile, we will strengthen cultural exchanges between China and Kenya. For example, we are planning to hold ten seminars concerning Chinese culture and development in the past thirty years. And also an idea of setting up a research center for Chinese studies is mapped out to diversify the function of the Institute."

Prof. Isaac Mbeche, Principal of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences supports the idea of integrating Confucius Institute into a comprehensive Chinese language teaching center.

"For now the Confucius Institute is housed within the Department of Linguistics and Languages. But within two or three years, it will get enlarged so it shall break away from the department. The Institute needs a separate building and facilities so as to gradually form up a research centre for Chinese studies."

For Beyond Beijing, this is Wei Tong from Nairobi, Kenya.



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