Dubai: The University of Dubai (UD) is the first GCC institution to host China's Confucius Institute (CI), bringing the simplified learning of Mandarin to the region and marking accelerated efforts of cultural exchange.
From September 12, CI will offer five levels of Chinese language courses to the UAE's public at UD at a cost of Dh3,150 per level. People will also get chances to learn more about China's culture through workshops and cooking classes, alternative medicine like acupuncture and martial arts like Kung-fu.
"The opening of the institute is not just about an attempt to teach the Chinese language," said Dr Mohayeedin Maxuezhong, Director of CI.
"It's about building a bridge of cultural exchange between China and the Gulf," he added.
With almost 500 CI centres around the world, including Egypt and Jordan, the one at UD is the first in the Gulf region and is set to offer scholarships for students to study in China.
"Dubai is an international city and the UAE is a cosmopolitan place. Although the main culture is Islamic, it is easy for people here to accept the emergence of new cultures; which is positive for the support of the socio-economic development of the country," said Maxuezhong.
"China has been playing an important role in international trade with the UAE and the world," said Dr Omar Hefni, President of UD. "It is important that when trade is established with a foreign country an understanding of its people, culture and language is also formed, which is why we felt this to be a prime time to open the institute," he added.
The centre is open for course registrations from Saturday, August 28 and is projected to have an initial intake of 100 students. Open to all members of the public, weekly three hour classes will be held during late afternoons and evenings, to cater to working professionals.
However, interested parties should move quickly because interest is growing.
"Since we made the announcement a few weeks ago we've been receiving calls everyday about the courses," said Hefni.
This may be due to the fact that teaching methods adopted on the courses ensure that by completion of the first level, learners will have learnt up to 260 Chinese characters, said Maxuezhong. This allows them to form basic ideas and sentences in Chinese spoken and written form.
However, upon completion of all five levels, Maxuezhong said learners should be fluent in written and spoken Chinese.
"The Chinese language is one of the hardest languages in the world to learn, but the trickiest part is learning how to read and write using drawn characters," said Maxeuzhong.
He added that learning the fundamentals of Chinese character drawing takes — on average, five years for native speakers.
However, with computer software developed by CI, students can now use technology for Chinese writing, which substantially simplifies the learning process.
"Students input the alphabet into the computer and it automatically transforms it to Chinese characters, which has solved the hardest part of learning the language through a technology we call smart learning," said Maxeuzhong.
He added that although students will learn the basics of drawing Chinese characters, literacy learning will mainly be done on computers.
Named after China's greatest master, Confucius — whose teachings urge his disciples to think for themselves and study the outside world, CI opened its first institute in Seoul, Korea in 2004.
However, it was predated by the UAE's opening of the UAE Centre for the Study of Islamic Culture and the Teaching of Arabic Language at Beijing Foreign Study University in 1994.
Soon to be renamed, the Shaikh Zayed Centre for Islamic and Arabic Studies, the centre was an initiative of Shaikh Zayed to continue on from centuries of Arabian exchange with China.
"The UAE was the first Arab and Islamic country to endorse a centre for Islamic studies in China," said Maxeuzhong.
Quoting a Hadith by Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), Maxeuzhong said: "Prophet Mohammad's [PBUH] saying, seek knowledge even if it's in China, is very famous in China and saw Arabs from over 1,000 years ago travel to China to learn our language, culture and technology also bringing with them the spread of Islam."
Millennia later, the trade and exchange once conducted along the Silk Road continues.
"The exchange through this institute will give people the chance to learn the Chinese language and culture. It also gives the Chinese a chance to learn the Arabic language and culture too," he said.
- Where: The Confucius Institute in the University of Dubai
- When: Starting September 12 - registration from August 28
- Cost: Dh3,150 per level (total of five levels)
- For more information: Visit www.ud.ac.ae or call Mohammad Yaseen on 04 2072606/632