The University of British Columbia expects enrolment in its Chinese language program will increase by 50 percent within five years.
On the 10th anniversary of the university’s Department of Asian Studies Chinese Lunar New Year celebration at the weekend, Professor Harjot Oberoi told Xinhua there were currently more than 3,000 students in the 4-year Mandarin program and the number would hopefully soar to 4,500 by 2018.
“We have a special bonding with all countries in the Pacific, especially China, so it’s a natural connection,” he said, adding the program, focused on Chinese history, literature and language, was renewed almost every year.
Among the new courses added this year is Chinese cinema, while Chinese script and grammar would be included next academic year. Nineteen students in the program are studying for their Masters or PhD qualifications.
The students, who come from a variety of backgrounds, are classified as ‘heritage’, who take Chinese as their “civilizational language”, and ‘non-heritage’, indicating those who don’t have a Chinese-speaking family tradition.
Dr. Wang Qian, the program co-ordinator, highlighted 10 first-year Mandarin courses, seven of which are taken by western students, as an indication of how popular the program is with non Asians.
Wang said the motivation behind this Sinomania for non-heritage speakers was “learning Chinese is a good way to help them know the country better, as China is becoming more and more important on the world stage”.
“And for native Chinese speakers, they want to continue the study of culture so that they can still feel connected,” Wang said.
At a talent show that was part of the New Year celebration, western students sang and recited such Chinese songs as Meteoric Shower, Our Spring Festival, the Butterfly Lovers and Song of Farewell, which impressed the largely Chinese audience.
Guitar player Cole Dickson said he had been studying Mandarin for years, mainly because he wanted to know what his Chinese friends said about him. Now pursuing a business degree with a minor in Chinese, he was confident his Chinese skills would help him in the future business endeavors.
“A lot of business in Vancouver is now with Chinese participation,” he said. “You need to communicate with China when it comes to outsourcing, manufacturing, software development, among others.”
Mandarin-studying Georgia Horstman has been devoted to the language since young and see proficiency as important to her goal of becoming a diplomat.
“China’s economy is growing rapidly and the country is becoming a world power,” she said. “I feel like I will have more business and job opportunities in the future if I continue to study Chinese.”
With UBC hoping to be the largest provider of Chinese programs in North America, Dr. Wang said the program was very versatile and the university wanted to help students learn Chinese in whatever way they wanted.