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Life's Language Lessons
Ghanaian students look toward learning Chinese as a way to find opportunities in life
By Emefa Abla Adjei | VOL.10 April 2018 ·2018-04-11
Chinese language is becoming increasingly popular among African students
While some struggle to find their path in life, for others, nature aligns things for them. This is what happened to Edward Joseph Yawson, a 26-year-old teaching assistant at the Chinese Section of the Department of Modern Languages, University of Ghana, Legon, who trusted his intuition when a Chinese language course was offered to him.

Yawson told ChinAfrica that Chinese was added to one of his university courses and he fell in love with the language during his first lesson at the University of Ghana in 2012.

"The conduct of the lecturer and something inside me just drew me to the language," he said.

Now fluent in Chinese, and awarded many "Chinese ambassadors" prizes for excellence during his studies, he is overjoyed at the numerous opportunities his proficiency has afforded him.

After school, he is contracted to serve as a translator for many recognized Chinese companies. "[Because of learning the language], I have had the opportunity to wine and dine with high ranking Chinese personalities, which is [something] I had never thought of," he said.

Foreign language benefits

Yawson said that he feels the down time in between Chinese classes affected his progress as he is a big proponent of constant practice.

"I think even a moment of rest can rob a person of the work they have already done," he said.

He overcame the challenges of the well-known difficulty of learning the Chinese language by being confident that his perseverance would bring him opportunities which would benefit every facet of his life.

There are different schools of thought on the benefits derived from studying various languages. As cited by the U.S.-based National Education Association in its research paper the Benefits of Second Language Study, foreign languages study is an area where children who are not accustomed to achievement in school are able to excel. The resulting benefits of a positive self-image, self-esteem and satisfaction with school experiences are enormous.

According to the paper, evidence from several studies shows that language students have a significantly higher positive self-concept than non-language students.

The paper added that beyond the intellectual benefits, knowledge of a foreign language facilitates travel opportunities, enhances career opportunities, and enables students to learn more about different people and cultures. It was also found the benefits of foreign language studies lasted throughout people's lifetime.

Demand slowly rising

In Ghana, based on geographical positioning in Africa's Francophone zone, the study of French has over the years been a compulsory subject in primary and junior high schools. However at senior high school level, French is an elective course.

In most tertiary institutions in the country, French is an optional course. That notwithstanding, some students opt for it as a main course in those institutions where structures exist for effective teaching and learning.

Recent figures from the Department of Modern Languages at the University of Ghana show that from the elementary to advanced course, figures for Chinese study have seen an increase in the past two academic years, from 2015/16, when 58 students enrolled on the course to 2017/18, when 460 enrolled.

Winnand Kofi Azanku, the first Coordinator, now retired, of the Chinese Section under the Department of Modern Languages, University of Ghana, told ChinAfrica that the Chinese Language and Culture course has been part of the curriculum since 2009.

Azanku said the pilot project for the course, which took place in 2008, stemmed from China's increasingly closer relations with Ghana, both politically and economically, as well as finding a way to support Ghana-China bilateral cooperation.

The pilot project was supported by the Chinese Embassy in Ghana, Xinhua News Agency and Confucius Institute Headquarters, following which the Bachelor of Arts in Chinese Language and Culture was launched.

"More than 100 students have graduated from the Department of Modern Languages [majoring in Chinese Language and Culture] so far and are [now working] in various [related] fields - while some are pursuing master's [degree] in various areas of academia in China. Some others are gainfully employed by notable Chinese companies," he said.

Azanku said the department often receives calls from various Chinese establishments seeking to employ students.

"To fully man the department and ensure that teaching and learning meet the appropriate standards, some volunteers from the pilot project were asked to stay on since there were no indigenous Ghanaian lecturers proficient in Chinese," said Azanku.

Full cultural experience

To make the course sustainable, a memorandum of understanding (MoU) was recently signed between the Confucius Institute Headquarters and the University of Ghana to support the Chinese Section of the Department of Modern Languages by regularly providing Chinese teachers.

According to Azanku, to give students an opportunity to experience Chinese culture and language first hand, the department also runs a Year Abroad Program.

"The Year Abroad Program allows students to spend one year in China to fully immerse themselves in the language and the culture," he said.

He noted that the government's inability to fully support the Year Abroad Program due to the growing number of enthusiastic students prompted the University of Ghana to sign MoUs with some universities in China such as Zhejiang University of Science and Technology, Taiyuan University and Liaocheng University, who host and support students financially.

Through rigorous assessment the Confucius Institute in the University of Ghana, the quality of Chinese major students from the department is assured.

Enumerating the role of the Confucius Institute in enhancing the teaching and learning of Chinese, he detailed that the institute has constantly been awarding scholarships directly or indirectly to students who show the desire to further their studies in Chinese language and culture. It also teaches Chinese language and culture to members of the public who is interested, whereas the University of Ghana offers the language as an academic course.

Azanku said he is buoyed by the fact that feedback from partner universities in China indicates that the students from Ghana are among the best in learning Chinese language and culture. This augers well for these students whose Chinese language proficiency serves as a bridge between Ghana and China, he said, adding that these students have branched into quasi-professional areas that are of immense benefits to Ghana's economy.

"I am proud to say, one of my former students is in France, doing an international trade program that is taught in Chinese, French and English. Her proficiency in all these languages and her knowledge of international trade will make her an outstanding asset to Ghana [in the future]," he said.

There is no doubting the benefits of learning Chinese and for a growing number of young Ghanaians like Edward Yawson, foreign language proficiency is certainly a key to success going forward.

(Reporting from Ghana)

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