Wednesday

16th Jan 2019

Focus

Amid crisis, Europeans flock to learn Chinese

  • "The economic reason plays an important role" in deciding to start learning Chinese. (Photo: EUobserver)

Ever since Europe’s economy began spiralling downwards a growing number of people from Dublin to Athens is taking to learning the language of opportunity: Chinese.

Aggregate data are not available, but figures from local language centres across the continent suggest that the number of people in Europe enlisted in taking the official Chinese Proficiency Test - or HSK - over the last two years has grown by close to a factor five.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

“I think the economic reason plays a very important role,” says Lili Lei of the Confucius Institute in Munich, where the number of students rose by more than 100 percent in 2011 and is expected to grow even further this year. “Many people learn Chinese because they must or want to work in China. Many even think [it] can bring them a better future.”

Lu Zhu of the Confucius Institute in Dublin, where attendance this year rose from an average of less than 50 students per year to almost 100 so far, says that “apparently, the job opportunity is the main reason [for the increase].”

In Athens, where Europe’s woes are most acute, the number of test-takers went from 100 in 2010, to 400 in 2011, to 300 so far this year. Asked whether the increase could have anything to do with Greece’s dire state of affairs, Xiuqin Yang, co-director of the city’s Confucius Institute, responded with a simple “yes.”

Capitalising on strong economic performance and an increasingly prominent place in the world, China over the last couple of years has invested in building a physical presence across the globe.

Not unlike the UK’s British Council, France’s Alliance Française or Germany’s Goethe Institut, China now has the Confucius Institute, a centre for the promotion of Chinese culture and language. In Europe today, there are some 230 of such institutes.

And while the actual knowledge of Chinese - or Mandarin, the official language of China - in Europe remains relatively low (in 2007, according to the EU’s latest figures, it was around 0.2 percent), the current crisis, China’s gradual rise towards superpowerdom, and its promotional efforts are proving an effective cocktail of incentives.

Underlying that assumption is an EU survey published in June this year of “Europeans and their languages”, showing an increased interest in Chinese in every single member state.

On average, 6 percent of Europeans think of Chinese as the most useful foreign language (up from 2 percent in 2005), and 14 percent think it is an important language for their children to learn (also up from 2 percent). Inversely, there is a drop in the share of people who feel that way about either French or German.

EUobserver spoke to ten official Chinese language centres - in Athens, Dublin, Edinburgh, Ghent, Cracow, Lancashire, London, Munich, and two in Rome - and all reported a structural increase in the number of people enlisted in taking the Chinese Proficiency Test.

English most studied language in EU schools

English is the most studied language in EU schools, but over 35 percent of adults only speak their mother tongue, especially in Hungary, where three in four grown ups have no other language skills, fresh data released by Eurostat shows.

China urges Germany and France to solve euro-crisis

Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao on Thursday offered vague promises to buy bonds from troubled euro-countries, but said that it is ultimately up to Germany and France to solve the crisis.

News in Brief

  1. British PM scrapes through no confidence vote
  2. Spanish PM calls for EU gender equality strategy
  3. Farage says bigger Brexit majority if second referendum
  4. Macron starts 'grand debate' tour after yellow vests protests
  5. Barnier: up to London to take Brexit forward
  6. Stimulus still needed, ECB's Draghi says in final report
  7. May's Brexit deal defeated by 230 votes
  8. German economy hit by global economic turbulence

Opinion

On Morocco, will the EU ignore its own court?

If the European parliament votes in favour of the new Morocco agreement without knowing that it complies with the European Court of Justice judgement, how can it demand that other countries respect international law and their own courts?

Centre-right MEPs want transparency vote to be secret

A number of centre-right MEPs are pushing for a secret ballot on a plenary vote that would make EU lawmakers more transparent and accountable to the public - in a move described as "absurd" by Transparency International.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General

Latest News

  1. MEPs allow Draghi's membership of secretive bank group
  2. EU parliament backs Morocco deal despite row
  3. Barnier open to 'future relations' talks if UK red lines shift
  4. German spies to monitor far-right AfD party
  5. On Morocco, will the EU ignore its own court?
  6. UK parliament rejects May's Brexit deal in historic defeat
  7. EU suggests majority vote on digital tax by 2025
  8. MEPs redouble appeal on sexual harassment

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us