More than 70 countries have officially incorporated Chinese language teaching into their national education systems, including the UK, Russia, South Africa, Japan, South Korea, and Australia, according to Tian Xuejun, China’s vice minister of education.
Speaking at last month’s opening ceremony of the International Chinese Language Education Week 2020, Tian said that over 4,000 colleges across the globe have added Chinese language courses to their curriculums and estimated that 25 million people were currently learning Chinese as a second language and that over 200 million people outside China had learned Chinese.
Most overseas Chinese-language learners are from Southeast Asia, according to Wu Yinghui, a professor at Beijing Language and Culture University, who explained that more than 30 million people of Chinese heritage live in Southeast Asia, accounting for about 6% of the region’s population, which provides a solid basis for Chinese language education in the region. Chinese-speaking talent is now in great demand in countries that have joined the Belt and Road Initiative, especially in Southeast Asian and African countries where Confucius Institutes have attracted many young people by integrating Chinese learning with e-commerce, agricultural, and IT technologies. A 2017 survey by American Councils for International Education (ACIE) found that 227,086 students were enrolled in Chinese language courses and that Chinese ranked as the fourth most widely taught foreign language in the K–12 system. Dr. Dan Davidson, president of ACIE, told the Xinhua news agency that the soaring popularity of Chinese language learning across the U.S. was “remarkable.”
However, in the U.S., despite growth in the number of Chinese language programs for younger learners, enrollments in Chinese language programs at universities have been falling since their peak of 60,000 in 2013. Chinese programs in the UK and Australia have also seen decreases in enrollment at the higher education level.