Mandarin the flavour of the moment

The teaching of foreign languages at South African universities is looking peachy, with Mandarin being the flavour of the moment as China flexes its economic muscle in the rest of the world.

British media reports indicate that in the past five years the number of non-Chinese people learning Mandarin Chinese has catapulted to 30-million.

Dr Nhlanhla Thwala, head of the Wits Language School, said Mandarin was introduced as a short course last year and another course is being offered at the Wits Business School this year, aside from the main campus. ‘We are looking for another teacher. We put an advertisement in the Chinese media published out of Cyrildene,” he said.

Mostly business people and middle managers are attending the course, which covers ‘basic conversation skills, the alphabet, the writing system and oral communication.
China is the fastest-growing economy and it is a good idea to learn the language,” he said.

While Wits also offers short courses in Spanish, French and Portuguese, it intends offering Hindi, in line with the south-south exchange.

Stellenbosch University will offer Mandarin as a short course next year. It offers short courses in German, French and Spanish, attended by business people, as well as those who want to teach English overseas. The university offers graduate courses in Mandarin, French and German. Next year the university’s business arm, USB Executive Development, will offer a programme — Leveraging China for Competitive Advantage — with the Centre for Chinese studies, which will ‘maximise the learning of business executives in terms of China with insights into [aspects including] Chinese management practices, language and culture,” said marketing consultant Heilet Bertrand. Trainers from China will be involved in the course.

This is the first year that the University of Cape Town is offering Mandarin as a short course. It also offers Spanish, French and German and a range of students including business people and housewives make up the classes, said a university representative.

But, ‘English is booming”, said Thwala. Mandarin speakers are learning English and the university is customising written English courses for companies on aspects such as report writing.

‘Languages are business opportunities. We’re only now waking up to this realisation. In the UK the teaching of English is a multibillion-rand industry,” said Thwala.

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