The growing demand for learning Chinese reflects positive ties between China and Qatar
The Belt and Road Initiative proposed by China has strengthened its ties with Qatar, leading to a growing number of people wanting to learn more about China, its language, and its culture.
Dr. Jian Zhao, a language teacher from the Translation and Interpreting Institute (TII) at Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU), a member of Qatar Foundation [Photo: Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU) in Qatar]
With China expanding its foreign investments via the initiative, the growing demand for learning Chinese is a reflection of the positive and growing relationship between China and Qatar. The proposed initiative involves infrastructure development and investments in 152 countries and international organizations.
“Chinese is a rising language here in the Middle East and the rapid development of the ‘Belt and Road’ project means the Gulf region will soon require more people who can speak Chinese and know China well, " said Dr. Jian Zhao, a language teacher from the Translation and Interpreting Institute (TII) at Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU), a member of Qatar Foundation.
“Many international secondary schools in Doha are offering a Chinese program to their students and I expect that Chinese may soon become an elective course here for both local and international schools. TII has the best facilities and faculties for its Chinese program in Qatar and, as its program planner and operator, I would like to lay a solid foundation for this.”
Jian Zhao is eager to promote the Chinese language and culture. Born in China, he later worked in Japan and Canada before moving to Doha to set up TII’s Chinese program. He believes there is a growing demand for the language among both locals and expats working in Qatar, and is keen to help others communicate with Chinese people and learn more about the culture.
Trade between the two countries has risen rapidly in recent years while several agreements and Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) have been signed in a wide range of fields including economic, trade, investment, health, culture, education, transport, oil and gas imports, military co-operation, banking, and sport.
Qatar’s decision to exempt Chinese citizens from requiring entry visas has had a positive impact and led to a 38% increase in the number of Chinese tourists to the country. That trend is expected to continue due to the good relations between the two countries, and the role of Qatar’s National Tourism Council (NTC) in establishing strong ties with its Chinese counterparts. The NTC has signed a MoU with the China National Tourism Administration (CNTA) and set up offices in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou.
Dr. Zhao is becoming increasingly aware of the cultural exchange between Qatar and his home country and is keen to see visitors enjoy a holistic experience in Qatar. As TII makes continuous efforts to promote diversity and embrace other cultures in Qatar, Dr. Zhao is proud of the role the institute is playing.
He added: “It is extremely important that Qatar is ready for this influx of visitors and, with its great teaching resources and facilities, TII is well-equipped to provide Chinese language training and help people learn more about the Chinese culture.”
For Dr. Zhao, working at TII is not just a job, it is a passion, and he delights in helping people learn more about his beloved China. He adds: “I find this work so rewarding. When students begin to speak in Chinese to express themselves, and they are motivated to learn the language, I feel proud, happy, and rewarded."
“Writing and memorizing Chinese characters is difficult compared to other alphabetical languages. Knowing and recognizing enough characters is virtually the only way of mastering Chinese writing. I developed a technique I call ‘Writing Chinese Characters in the air’, which I put together and practiced for many years."
“Based upon the pictographic nature of Chinese characters, this is a way of learning from the structural features of characters by using fingers to deconstruct and then reconstruct characters with strokes in the air. This writing method has proved to be a very useful way to teach both kids and adults Chinese characters in a relatively short time period,” he explains.
As well as teaching Chinese, Dr. Zhao has also organized many outreach events to promote the Chinese language and culture. He adds: “Our work in organizing outreach, such as the Chinese Costume Show and the Chinese Spring Festival celebration, has connected us with various communities in Qatar.”
In 2015, TII signed a MoU with the Chinese Embassy in Qatar to cooperate and celebrate the Qatar-China Year of Culture 2016. A Chinese Spring Festival celebration was jointly hosted by TII, the Chinese Embassy, and Sinohydro, a Chinese state-run company in Qatar, in the ballroom at the Education City Student Center.
The Chinese Spring Festival is believed to have a history of about 4,000 years and is the most important holiday season and the longest celebration for the majority of Chinese people, lasting more than 15 days.
Dr. Zhao adds: “We also held a show as part of the Qatar-China Year of Culture, to help our students learn more about the traditional female dress in the Gulf area. The show exhibited abayas alongside qipao, also called cheongsam, which is a one-piece dress for Chinese women."
“More than 350 people attended including the Chinese and Sudanese ambassadors, as well as officials from the Egyptian and Yemenis embassies.”
In his spare time, Dr. Zhao enjoys writing poems and essays. He has been a regular contributor for popular newspapers in Hong Kong and another one in Shanghai, and has penned more than 500 poems.
“Poetry writing is a positive way to relax after a hard and tiring day of work, and helps me find tranquility,” explains Dr. Zhao.
Dr. Zhao is confident that his and TII’s efforts will contribute to Qatar’s new arrivals from China to feel equally relaxed during their time in the country. To learn more about how TII can help locals, expats, students, or working professionals meet their individual linguistic goals, visit www.tii.qa
(Story includes material sourced from Sylvana Georgy, who is leading the media relations at Hamad Bin Khalifa University in Qatar.)