By Zhao Jun, Jiang Limin
Located in downtown Da Nang, Vietnam, An Nhien Chinese Language Center is a reddish building that stands out against others on the street. The whole structure, if cramped by its surroundings, is well laid-out and carefully designed. The first floor of the four-story building is a reception hall, while the rest of the space is divided into classrooms of different sizes capable of accommodating about 100 learners at once. In small reading areas in the corners of the narrow staircase, Chinese books are available for everyone to read.
Vietnamese Girl’s Dream
The An Nhien Chinese Language Center regularly organizes small holiday gatherings themed around Chinese language and culture. Chinese figures are often invited to such activities, including Vice President of China International Publishing Group (CIPG) Lu Cairong. Lu and his team visited the language training facility and joined teachers and students in a cultural exchange event during their stay in Da Nang for the 9th Asia-Oceania Esperanto Congress at the end of April When the teachers and students learned that CIPG is China’s largest publishing house with a long history of international communication, they were excited for the opportunity to gain more knowledge about colorful Chinese culture.
Most of the staff and trainees at the center are energetic millennials. Alice Nguyen, founder and director of the language school, is a Vietnamese girl who has studied in Guangxi, China, and can speak fluent Chinese.
“Our goal is to provide local youth a platform for further training and enable them to have better career development through Chinese language education,” explained Nguyen. “Since implementation of China’s Belt and Road Initiative began, three teachers and students from our school have been selected for advanced study of Chinese in China,” Nguyen beamed. “I will work hard to inspire more and more local people to take Chinese language courses and develop the center into a well-known Chinese education brand in Vietnam.”
Charm of Chinese Handwriting
At the cultural exchange event, Lu, who is also a member of the Chinese Calligraphers Association, presented Nguyen’s school an inscription he penned that read “An Nhien Chinese Language Center in Da Nang is a school of excellence in language education and bridging peoples” in Chinese. The gift was intended to encourage teachers and students at the training facility. The meaningful content and elegant handwriting of Lu’s script won warm applause from the audience.
During the interactive session, three students volunteered to demonstrate their Chinese handwriting skills for the audience. Somewhat nervously, they wrote three Chinese characters: fu (happiness), lu (good fortune) and de (virtue), on a piece of xuan paper using a brush. After they finished, Lu critiqued their writing one-by-one on brushwork and character structure. Then he gave a demonstration showcasing fine Chinese penmanship and presented his calligraphy to the three students as a reward for their brave attempt.
Students also presented a slide show of their homework involving hand copied Chinese poetry and prose. Some managed to ink beautiful Chinese characters while others needed more practice, but every stroke was done in earnest. “We still have ample room to improve students’ handwriting,” Nguyen noted. “Our students spend most of their time speaking and listening after they finish elementary courses on the Chinese language. I believe that this event will help develop their interest in Chinese handwriting and enhance their understanding of the charm of Chinese characters.”
Enlightenment on Chinese Language
The event schedule unfolded one item after another. Students received awards from Lu and Nguyen for excellent performance on homework. Lu presented the school Chinese books published by the CIPG and a collection of his essays entitled Glimpses of China. Representing outstanding students, Brian Le shared his experience of learning Chinese with the audience. Stimulated by the lively atmosphere in the room, students attending the event posed a string of questions about Chinese language learning and practice in the digital age for the Chinese visitors.
“What do you think of the impact of widespread use of computers and mobile phones on Chinese handwriting?” asked one student.
“Typewriting Chinese with a computer or handheld device is very convenient, which is conducive to promoting the language,” opined Lu. “But from the perspective of a calligrapher like me, the practice of writing Chinese by hand involves much more than just information input. Using a brush to write Chinese characters is not only an art that aims to produce beautiful handwriting, but also a spiritually uplifting exercise. To improve your handwriting skills, you need to develop better concentration and patience, and it will also help to gain a better understanding of Eastern philosophy.”
“What is your advice on achieving high-level proficiency in Chinese?” came another question.
To answer this question, Lu stressed that understanding Chinese culture is as important as learning the language itself. “Chinese culture has a long history and has maintained active interaction with the cultures of neighboring countries,” expounded Lu. “To become well-versed in Chinese, one must study Chinese character writing, articulation and syntax. More importantly, one must be fully aware of the cultural connotations behind the text.”
Lu also emphasized the necessity of practice. “Gaining a good command of a certain language is not about high test scores,” he said. “You have to master the language in actual use of it. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes, because mistakes only improve your language skills.”
Lu encouraged students at the center to continue their persistent efforts to learn Chinese, adding that he believes they will make substantial progress. He illustrated that there are many ways to create a good language environment such as watching Chinese movies and TV dramas, reading Chinese books and making friends with Chinese people. It is important to comprehend the language in such environment, he concluded. Lu also suggested that the fastest way to develop language proficiency is to find a Chinese boyfriend or girlfriend, which inspired laughter and livened the atmosphere even more.
On a sweltering day in Da Nang, Vietnamese youngsters showed great enthusiasm for Chinese language and culture. As the event drew to a close, all participants began to sing a Chinese song titled “Friends Together” at the host’s suggestion, leaving beautiful melodies resounding through the hot night air.