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Common tongue breaks barriers



“Feilubin,” “Zongtongfu” and “Xinwenbu” were the first three words learned by an initial 15 students of a Mandarin class held at the Palace and taught by a teacher from the University of the Philippines (UP) Confucius Institute.

The three Chinese words meant the Philippines, the Presidential Palace and the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO), respectively.

The students erupted into laughter when they were told about the meaning of the Mandarin words on flash cards that they repeatedly read aloud.

For the first time, on 12 April, PCOO staff read aloud with zest the three sheets of paper that Meng Guangjie flashed in front of a “special class” at the Presidential Palace in Manila.

Glenn Albert Ocampo, head executive assistant of PCOO Secretary Martin Andanar, told news agency Xinhua how eager he is to learn basic Mandarin. He said he had been with PCOO for three years and was quite delighted to learn about the meaning of PCOO in Mandarin.

“Language is the first part in establishing relations with people in other countries and understanding their culture. It’s very important for us to learn at least the basic Mandarin for us to fully understand our counterparts in China,” Ocampo said.

Around 30 PCOO staff have signed up to attend the formal Mandarin language course at Malacañang, Ocampo said.

Meng, a teacher from the UP Confucius Institute, will teach the staff more conversational Mandarin words and phrases, including the four main tones and more about modern Chinese culture and society in the coming weeks.

After the 90-hour Mandarin course, “you would be able to introduce yourself, your family and your job,” Meng told her students.

DFA, BI schooled too

Lourdes Nepomuceno, the director of the UP Confucius Institute, said the institute has been conducting Mandarin classes in government offices like the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Bureau of Immigration (BI).

She said the institute decided to expand its coverage to the PCOO to provide more opportunities to different sectors.

“We want to cover PCOO because we realize that it is an important avenue to learn more about China and understand China through language and culture,” Nepomuceno told the Chinese media.

The curriculum is 80 hours of Chinese language and 10 hours of Chinese culture. “That has been our model for the past three years when we conduct classes at the Foreign Service Institute of the DFA and the BI.

“We already graduated the first batch at the DFA and we now have the second batch. Same is true with BI. We graduated the first batch and we started the second batch already,” Nepomuceno said.

The institute customizes the program to cater to the needs of the government sector or staff, she added.

In conducting classes for the immigration staff, she said the institute teaches the basic Chinese words or phrases needed in dealing with Chinese tourists.

“What they do is they give us a list of frequently asked questions when tourists enter the airport and they will try to memorize and study words and greetings and they concentrate on the tones of the words,” Nepomuceno said.

“The first batch did a good job and they are now on the second level,” she added.

As a window of showing the Chinese language and a platform for cultural exchanges, the Confucius Institutes are becoming more and more popular in the Philippines.

Aside from the UP, there are three other Confucius Institutes in the Ateneo de Manila University, Angeles University and Bulacan State University. Thousands of local people are learning Mandarin through the courses of Confucius Institutes.

Interest grows

Nepomuceno, who has been working for Confucius Institute for 11 years, said more Filipinos have shown interest in studying Mandarin.

She said the institute has signed an agreement with the league of cities of the Philippines to cater to the 145 city colleges and universities around the Philippines. Moreover, the institute also holds language courses for UP alumni and students for free to help more Filipinos to learn Mandarin. “We create a special class for them,” she said.

It is the mission of the institute “to serve and help Filipinos learn Mandarin and to provide more opportunities for them,” Nepomuceno explained.

“If they have a second language, specifically Chinese, they will go to other places, they will earn more and they will create more opportunities for them, not only in the Philippines but around the world,” Nepomuceno said.

Meng said she is looking forward to the PCOO classes to start. Meng has been teaching Mandarin in the Philippines for nearly two years. Before her stint in the Philippines, Meng taught Mandarin for 15 years in China.