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Speaking in one language

Source: Updated:2018-05-02

Zeynep Kucuk from Turkey was giving a Mandarin class to six international students and teaching them how to use the Chinese phrase "yibian ..., yibian ...", which literally means "doing one thing while doing another".

Kucuk began her class with a solo dance performance while she sang Jasmine Flower, a famous Chinese folk song, as she explained to the students that it was "yibian singing, yibian dancing".

The 23-year-old, a graduate student majoring in teaching Chinese to speakers of other languages at Fudan University, then asked the students to make a sentence with the phrase, and one student replied with "yibian driving, yibian making a phone call".

"But this is obviously forbidden and against the law," said Kucuk, as the class of students burst into laughter.

This took place on April 21, when 18 international students at universities in Shanghai and neighboring Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces showcased their talent for teaching Mandarin in simulated classes during a contest. They each had 10 minutes to give a simulated class to teach foreign students how to use a specific Chinese phrase.

Apart from giving simulated classes, the contestants also had to answer questions about Chinese culture, such as what are "the Four Great Classic Novels", "the Four Great Inventions of Ancient China", the customs of traditional Chinese festivals, and the 12 Chinese signs of the zodiac.

The contest was part of a national competition organized by the Hanban, the Confucius Institute headquarters in Beijing, to further elevate the standard of education to help colleges teaching the major to carry out more exchanges.

Five of the contestants, including Tsomejio Atsah from Cameroon, who came first in the competition, will head to Beijing to participate in a national final in June.

Kucuk, who majored in Mandarin for her bachelor's degree in Turkey and spent her junior year at Xiamen University in Fujian province, won third prize.

She describes Turkey as a combination of Europe and Asia culturally, but she had been more interested in Asian culture, especially that of China, since childhood. "The Chinese are generally reserved, and they are polite," she says.

Kucuk says she was looking to work in China because it offered lots of opportunities because of its rapid development, but was not sure about which type of job or industry to choose as the country is evolving so quickly, and new industries are emerging every year.

Another contestant Ben Elmakias, 26, from the United States says his career plan was to teach expats Mandarin in Chinese cities such as Chengdu. "I love Chengdu for its laid-back but modern style. There will be rising demand from expats wanting to learn Chinese in cities like these as they become increasingly international."

As part of a US-China friendship project, he worked as a volunteer English teacher in a college on the outskirts of Tianshui in Gansu province for two years, before being admitted to East China Normal University in Shanghai.

"That experience also made me decide that I wanted to be a language teacher, since I have a special affection for Mandarin," says Elmakias, who majored in Mandarin for his undergraduate studies at the University of Wisconsin.

Lu Qinning, deputy dean of the School of Chinese Studies and Exchange of Shanghai International Studies University, says there are more than 60 million foreigners around the world who are learning Mandarin.

"The enthusiasm for learning Mandarin also raises the standards of Mandarin teaching. And the level of foreign students' language proficiency in Chinese is rising," he says.

Lu says Mandarin graduates will take up occupations closely related to China and will become involved in promoting exchanges between China and other countries.

He says that one of the students returned to her home country of Thailand after graduating from SISU last year and joined Rangsit University, one of the largest private universities in the country.

"And she is already dean of Chinese at the university," says Lu.