Some say language is doorway to culture

PART of the introductory course for the 50 Chinese language teachers was to visit various institutions in the country. (File photos)


THROUGHOUT this week a group of 50 Chinese language teachers, at the Confucius Institute (CI) in Dar es Salaam, have been going to their various stations within the country.

For the first time, since its establishment in 2013, there will be one local teacher, who just graduated from his degree programme in China, amongst them. These 50 teachers will be going to over the 20 centres in the country, of which the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM) is just one, of the higher learning institutions, in a list that includes secondary and high schools.

It should be stated here that the CI here has the mandate to teach the Chinese language and culture to locals, at all levels. According to one of the two co-directors, Dr Yan Liu such responsibilities cannot be done by the Chinese Cultural Centre here.

The reason for this is that the CI, which has its headquarters in Beijing is directly connected to two universities, one here and the other in China. That is Zhejiang Normal University in Jinhua City, Zhejiang Province and the UDSM.

This coming Monday they will be celebrating four years since their establishment here in Dar es Salaam. It is for the smooth running of the Institution why they were established with two codirectors, Dr Yan Liu on behalf of Zhejiang Normal University and Prof Aldin Mutembei, for the UDSM.

Both of the codirectors assured the ‘Daily News’ that this “special arrangement” has been chosen so that all issues can be dealt with fairly to the advantages of all. “All over 500 CI’s in the world have two directors, one of the partners is from a university in China and the other from the partner university, as is this case here at the UDSM. We work together,” Dr Liu said.

When the ‘Daily News’ caught-up with Prof Mutembei, who teaches African Liter ature and Swahili in particular in the Institute of Swahili Studies, he agreed although it may seem strange, having these two directors jointly heading the Institute, looks can be deceiving.

His work is within the administration sector, to enhance both local and Chinese culture. “We all have the same goal, which is to have our societies believing in themselves and what they are. That is there language and all other cultural aspects,” he said.


From his travels he has noticed the Chinese people are everywhere and from working closer to them, he has noticed they move aggressively and strategically where their culture is concerned. Further, wherever they are they teach their language.

Now, unlike other foreign locally-based cultural centres in Tanzania, such as their Cultural Centres, Alliance Française and the Goethe Institute, the CI teaches and operates from educational institutions.

He maintains that it is in this way they can be sure their language and culture is taught through those institutions. It is in this systematic way that they’re going all over the world spreading the Chinese culture.

Prof Mutembei also admitted that as an individual he saw it contradictory for him to persuade others to study Chinese when he himself was not. Therefore, he took it upon himself to get familiar with the language and culture first.

According to him, there’s something to be learnt from seeing the Chinese pushing their culture, while learning various aspects of Tanzanian culture. This is why when the CI started back in 2013, the visiting Chinese teachers didn’t study Kiswahili.

However, two years later, in 2015, when he became the local director for the Institute, he introduced Kiswahili course for Chinese teachers. “I thought then, why shouldn’t we use their way of encouraging other people to learn their culture, to encourage them to study Kiswahili. First of all, that would be for their own benefit also. So, I told my co-director, who agreed and became one of the students,” he explained.

Therefore from then they have been operating that after the newly arrived teachers and volunteers have had one month of an intensive course in Kiswahili, they are sent all over the country. The idea is not only they will be teaching Chinese, but also benefit from having some understanding of Kiswahili.

Added to this, when a group of teachers have finished their yearly stint and they return home to China, according to the Don, they become Tanzania’s ambassadors over there. “We send them as our ambassadors of good will.

So, they talk about Tanzania, market Tanzania and know about Kiswahili and other aspects of life here. Remember through learning Kiswahili they’re also learning local culture. Now besides the language they also learn about the long history on the relationship between the two countries ,” he said.

Apart from those people who are studying at the university, they have also evening classes, at six different levels. In the course of this learning a chance is given to visit China in what they call “Chinese Summer Camp”.

Students of the language from all over the country get a chance to compete, then about 20 are chosen for the visit. That way they get the chance to learn more about the Chinese language and culture.

Prof Mutembei was also very proud of the fact that currently there are three universities in China teaching Kiswahili. Given recent trend at the CI, he predicts that in the future there will be many more, who will be inviting experts from here to start Kiswahili courses there.

In view of what he has learnt, Prof Mutembei suggested that Tanzanian embassies should make it their practice to set-up a unit in the embassy where they would be teaching Tanzanian culture together with the language.

This, he maintains would also be economically beneficial to the embassies. They, at the CI are working on a way by which they could use their network to teach Kiswahili and local culture worldwide.

He also made the point of reminding the ‘Daily News’ that Kiswahili is not just a Tanzanian thing but has gone beyond these borders. Now he claims “people will know about Africa through Kiswahili”.

Amongst the 50 teachers who went to their stations this week is Xue Xiaobin (Mwasi). She came here, as a Chinese language teacher back in September 2015, as an employee of the CI back in China.

She had majored in teaching Chinese to foreign students and after graduation went to Cameroon as a volunteer teacher. After the two-year stint there she returned to China for her examinations, and qualified as a teacher, before coming here.

“In my first year here, I was teaching at Mkwawa University in Iringa. I really liked it there,” Mwasi said. Taking the Kiswahili course, she says has put them in the position where they can learn more about local cultural aspects. It also helps them converse with a wider range of people from all levels of society, she maintains.

That’s why she is strongly advocating continuing with this intensive Kiswahili course. After this academic year she either returns home or is sent to another country to continue with the work. On-the-other-hand, Huang Jiajing (Anna) is a volunteer Chinese teacher, who has been here for two years.

At the end of this year she will be heading back to Chinese to sit for her exams, which she hopes to pass as a teacher. A knowledge of the local culture she maintains helps her understand actions and what is being said much better.

Last year Anna taught students in Bagamoyo but couldn’t communicate with the majority of locals, so she’s pleased for the Kiswahili classes she got last month.

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