x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Mandarin and tai chi classes for students

A Confucius Institute is coming to UAE, with Zayed University hosting language and cultural courses at its new campus in Khalifa City.

Jenny Tang teaches Mandarin to Zainab Majid, 13, and Ramzi Sharif, 17, at her flat in Abu Dhabi. Mrs Tang also teaches Mandarin at Zayed University, which will be home to the Confucius Institute.
Jenny Tang teaches Mandarin to Zainab Majid, 13, and Ramzi Sharif, 17, at her flat in Abu Dhabi. Mrs Tang also teaches Mandarin at Zayed University, which will be home to the Confucius Institute.

ABU DHABI // Chinese global influence is growing almost as fast as its economy. So when the emerging superpower offered an academic package of Chinese-language and cultural programmes, Zayed University readily accepted. The UAE's first Confucius Institute is expected to open in 2011 at the new Zayed Campus in Khalifa City.

The institute, which carries the name of the Chinese philosopher, is a non-profit educational organisation that aims to promote the Mandarin language and Chinese culture abroad. Operating costs for a dedicated reception area, library, multimedia classrooms and staff offices in the new campus would be around US$150,000 (Dh550,000) per year, to be matched dollar-for-dollar by Hanban, Beijing's Chinese-language council.

Hanban runs more than 100 institutes at universities in more than 50 countries, including the US, Egypt, Lebanon, Israel and Britain. Aside from language courses, special-interest classes might include anything from tai chi to Chinese calligraphy and cooking. Bob Cryan, the associate provost for academic and international affairs at Zayed University, has pursued the Confucius Institute project for four years.

"Chinese, English and Arabic are going to be the dominant languages," said Dr Cryan, who has travelled extensively in China since 1994. "I believe China needs to be understood politically and socially, and the language needs to be taught. Being here in the Middle East changes nothing." More than 200,000 Chinese nationals live in the UAE. The plans come as local interest in travelling to China for work was exploding, said Jenny Tang, an Abu Dhabi-based Mandarin teacher who helped to spearhead the Confucius Institute project.

Mrs Tang teaches more than 40 students at her home and at Zayed University's Chinese Academy, established late last year as a show of good faith for Hanban and to gauge regional demand for Chinese-language lessons. "Just two weeks ago, I got four new students, and it's international - locals, Americans, Canadians, Egyptians, Indians," said Mrs Tang, the only full-time Mandarin teacher at the Chinese Academy.

"Business people want to get to know basic cultural things. What to do, what not to do." Noura Dalle, 15, was among several teenagers to sign up on their own. She reasoned that Mandarin skills would give her an edge on college and job applications. She is interested in pursuing a career in foreign relations or working for her father's business in Beijing. "I'm Lebanese and already speak English, Arabic and French, so if I spoke Mandarin that would be great because I know it'll be a huge language later," she said.

Varun Dhaon, 15, has been studying with Mrs Tang for three years. He said he could probably "survive" in China with conversational Mandarin. He will travel to Beijing later this year for the Model United Nations student gathering. Varun, an American of Indian descent, can already speak English and Hindi, and "with Chinese I can talk to more than half the world". If the Confucius Institute project went well, Zayed University could pursue another branch for its Dubai campus, Dr Cryan said.

"It turns out that Sheikh Zayed went to Beijing... we think in 1990, and negotiated a centre for Islamic and Arabic studies," he said. Sheikh Zayed's original $650,000 donation helped to establish a five-storey UAE centre, dedicated to teaching Arabic and researching Islamic culture, at the Beijing Foreign Studies University (BFSU), said Xue Qing-Guo, the vice dean of Arabic studies at BFSU. Another $1 million was donated to the BFSU Islamic centre by the Government in 2007.

Mr Xue, who helped to translate into Chinese My Vision, by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, said the Abu Dhabi institute must still be approved by the National Bureau of the Confucius Institutes in China. Dr Cryan expected approval to be granted this year. mkwong@thenational.ae