Ni hao? Zimbabweans get hooked on Chinese language

The popularity of learning the Chinese language among Zimbabwean students continues to grow as the world marked UN Chinese Language Day on April 20.

HARARE, April 21 (Xinhua) — China and Zimbabwe might be oceans and time zones apart, but through language, the distance is slowly being bridged.

After realizing the importance of Chinese, a language spoken by over a billion people and one of the United Nations’ official languages, Lorraine Nganga decided to learn the language.

“Zimbabwe and China enjoy excellent relations. Many Chinese people come to Zimbabwe to buy things, to invest, and for tourism. Many Zimbabweans also go to China for shopping, to study, and for sightseeing,” Nganga, a Chinese language learner at the Zimgro Language Consultancy in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, told Xinhua in near-perfect Chinese.

The UN Chinese Language Day is observed every year on the day when the contribution of Chinese literature, poetry, and language is highlighted. As the world marks the day on April 20, learning Chinese is becoming a common trend in Zimbabwe, a largely multilingual country with 16 official languages.

A student attends a Chinese language class at a school in Harare, Zimbabwe on April 19, 2023. (Xinhua/Tafara Mugwara)

While learning Chinese might seem to be a formidable task, according to Minia Rukucha, another learner, all it takes to master the language is dedication, time, and a suitable learning environment.

“Learning Chinese is very difficult, but I enjoy learning the language, so I will never give up. Although Chinese is very difficult, our instructor’s teaching style makes learning interesting,” said Rukucha in Chinese.

To her, practice makes perfect. “Every day, I read Chinese books, listen to Chinese audio, and watch Chinese movies; (in) that way I can improve my Chinese abilities.”

As China’s global economic footprint expands, demand for Chinese language interpretation services has expanded spectacularly, said Tawanda Zimhindo, a Chinese instructor and Zimgro founder.

Students attend a Chinese language class at a school in Harare, Zimbabwe on April 19, 2023. (Xinhua/Tafara Mugwara)

“More and more individuals are signing up for lessons most probably because of the fact of the good relationship that exists between Zimbabwe and China right now, and also the fact that banking on that good relationship, more and more Chinese people are coming to do business in Zimbabwe and more and more Zimbabweans are going to China for various reasons,” said Zimhindo.

“So in such interactions, there is a need for language. As long as one has high command of the Chinese language, as long as one has an understanding of the language, there will be more opportunities both in Zimbabwe and outside,” Zimhindo said.

To promote the learning of Chinese in Zimbabwe, the University of Zimbabwe became one of the first institutions of higher learning in Africa to host a Confucius Institute in 2006, and to date, over 16,000 students have attended Chinese language classes. Each year several students are awarded scholarships to further study the language in China.

The government has also taken various measures to promote the study of the language, including the introduction of Chinese classes in elementary schools, high schools, and colleges.

In an effort to promote studying the Chinese language in Zimbabwe, the Confucius Institute has made various strides in developing learning materials in local languages, including the publication in 2015 of a Shona-Chinese dictionary.

China remains the biggest foreign investor in Zimbabwe, with investments from the Asian country ranging from agriculture, mining, communications, and the energy sector, among others. In addition, China has become a competitive study destination, compared to traditional English-speaking destinations such as Britain, the United States, and Australia.

With the increased economic engagement between Zimbabwe and China, which has seen more young people choosing China as the preferred study destination, the popularity of learning the Chinese language among Zimbabwean students continues to grow.  ■

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