DJEDDAH: While a fifth of the world’s population speaks Chinese, Saudi Arabia has joined a global community integrating the Chinese language into its education systems.
It is believed that companies prefer to hire people who speak more than one language. The University of Jeddah has therefore made it compulsory for the students of the preparatory year, hoping that the students will benefit from the additional education.
The Kingdom and China have enjoyed a stable and deep relationship since the countries established diplomatic ties in 1990. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman paid a historic visit to China in February 2019 and was received by Chinese President Xi Jinping .
The latter underlined his country’s commitment to joint efforts with Saudi Arabia to support the strategic relations between the two countries.
After 31 years of solid relations, the integration of the Chinese language in Saudi universities and schools will build on the ties shared between the two giants of the G20. It will also contribute to the education goals of the ambitious Saudi Vision 2030.
Other Saudi universities, such as King Abdul Aziz University, have also introduced Chinese language programs for their students.
In an interview, Ibrahim Saadi, dean of the language institute at the University of Jeddah, said his school started teaching Chinese after the crown prince issued guidelines to include the language in Saudi education programs. .
“Since the decision was taken, the University of Jeddah has started its procedural steps to implement the plan to introduce Chinese as a second language at the university along with English,” he said. “The university council has approved the Chinese language as the language of teaching and scientific research at the university.”
In another media interview, Saadi told Al-Arabiya TV channel that all students wishing to join the university must take a course in the principle of Chinese language skills, as it has become compulsory for students of the preparatory year program.
As one of the six official languages of the United Nations, the demand for learning Chinese language is higher.
In the United States, more than 10 million students in Kindergarten to Grade 12 study a global language. This represents about 20% of American schoolchildren, according to a 2017 survey conducted and published by the United States Councils for International Education.
Spanish was the second most taught language in the 50 US states with 7.4 million students, followed by French (1.3 million) and German (331,000).
Back in the Kingdom, getting Chinese instructors to teach at the university has become a challenge over the past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic as the project has been delayed.
Distance learning, a byproduct of the pandemic, has provided another alternative.
The University of Jeddah made a deal with Jinan-based Shandong Normal University as it provided the Saudi university with videotaped lessons. In Jeddah, a team from the Center for Online and Distance Education reproduced and edited the courses while adding commentary in Arabic and English to help students understand the content. The university also attracted local instructors who spoke Chinese to join the university’s new program.
According to Talal Al-Asmari, director of the center, the new Chinese concept was chosen as the reference manual for the course.
“After consulting with professionals who specialize in teaching Chinese, we introduced the program to students who enrolled in the course in September 2020,” he said.
Douglas Steedman, an English professor at the University of Jeddah, who also speaks Chinese, said the first semester of teaching Chinese at the school was inspiring.
“The first semester was made up of online courses and distance learning and that adds another challenge for students early on,” he said in a video produced by UJ.
“So with my classes what I try to do is bring energy and enthusiasm and share my passion for this subject. I try to be encouraging, supportive and patient as we go through the documents at a very reasonable pace. We rehearse a lot and try to make the students feel comfortable and curious about the language so that they enjoy studying it.
Since this was the first time UJ students spoke Chinese, many of them were afraid to use the language spoken by one-fifth of the world’s population. Al-Asmari said distance learning gave them a valuable chance to overcome their shyness and reluctance to speak Chinese.
Commenting on the introduction of Chinese into the Saudi education curriculum, Chinese Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Chen Weiqing said, “With the gradual popularization of the Chinese language in Saudi education, it will further promote mutual understanding and deepen friendship between the two peoples. “