NIE launches master's on teaching Chinese as an international language

SINGAPORE - When it comes to teaching Chinese to students who are more proficient in English, Singapore knows a thing or two.

Now the National Institute of Education (NIE) has crystallised the wisdom of teachers here and launched a master's course on teaching Chinese to students from countries where English is the dominant language.

Its new master's programme in Teaching Chinese as an International Language started in January with 48 students. Three in four are from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau, with the rest from Singapore.

"We can see the rapid rise of China as a global economic power. There is a worldwide trend of an increasing number of learners who are seeking to master the Chinese language," course coordinator Choong Kok Weng, a senior lecturer at NIE's asian languages and cultures department, said on Wednesday.

Students taking the new course will learn to use English to support the teaching of Chinese.

"When people directly translate sentences from English to Chinese, they often get their sentence structures," said Associate Professor Joyce Aw from NIE's asian languages and cultures department.

"But a teacher who is not proficient in English and Chinese will not be able to explain to a student why a sentence structure works in English but is incorrect in Chinese."

Professor Goh Yeng Seng, who headed NIE's asian languages and cultures department till last year, said Singapore has an advantage over other countries when designing such a course.

"In Singapore, English is used as the main language. But Chinese is also important here - we have Chinese language newspapers, radio and television stations," he said. "This environment provides us with the ideal conditions to start this course."

The new course could also put NIE and its pedagogies on the world stage, said Prof Goh.

To get into the course, students must show proficiency in English, and have either a degree where Chinese is the medium of instruction, or a postgraduate teacher education qualification specialising in teaching Chinese.

Ms Peng Xuan Hui, 25, a Singaporean, is in the pioneer cohort of the course, which can be done full-time in two years.

"I've always been interested in the teaching and learning of Chinese as a foreign language," said Ms Peng, who worked for nearly two years at a language centre after graduating in 2012 from a NIE teaching course, specialising in teaching Chinese.

"I hope to work in areas related to Chinese education, though it may not necessarily have to be teaching," she added.

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