央视国际 2003年05月13日 10:00
The history of the Chinese Language dates back at least 6，000 years. Today， the official language of China is Mandarin Chinese or Putonghua meaning common speech. Historically， Putonghua was the dialect spoken by the majority ethnic group within China， the Han， who make up about 80％ of the population. Indeed， the term most commonly used by the Chinese themselves to refer to their language is Hanyu meaning the "Han－language".
Lea Anne Finlayson came from the University of Washington. She has been learning the Chinese language in the Central University for Nationalities since last August. Actually， she had already studied Chinese for about three years before she came to China， and she will continue her studies here till the end of this May.
Nowadays， overseas students coming to China to study the Chinese language are on the increase. Most foreigners studying the Chinese language are in fact learning Putonghua. But Putonghua is not the only Chinese dialect －apart from ethnic minority languages Chinese can be divided into at least eight major dialects.
The better－known and most distinct minority dialects include those spoken around China's coastal fringes， such as Shanghainese （shanghai hua）， Fujianese （minnan hua） and Cantonese （guangdong hua）， though even within the areas covered by these dialects you'll find huge local divergences. Where the spoken word is concerned these dialects are completely different －having no more in common than for example English and German.
Chinese people from different parts of the country therefore communicate with each other through the common language of Putonghua. Putonghua has been systematically promoted over the past hundred years as the unifying language of the Chinese people， much as modern French， for example， is based on the original Parisian dialect.
At present， some 350 Chinese universities have enrolled overseas students， the majority of them come to learn about China’s language and culture. In 1999 more than 250，000 foreigners came to China to learn Chinese that’s four and a half times the number that came in the 1980s.
According to a recent report in the Hong Kong－based South China Morning Post， the British government has allocated 1 million pounds （US$1.4 million） to promote the study of Chinese in the UK over the next 5 years.
The increasing popularity of Chinese language courses here and overseas is a recent development and is thought to be caused by the resurgence of the economy in China and the gradual opening up of the Chinese market. Students come to immerse themselves in the country’s language and culture but at the same time look forward to taking advantage of the greatly improved job prospects， which will be available to them in China when their studies are complete.
The National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language estimates that worldwide there are now about 20 million students learning the Chinese language. More than 80 universities in the United States offer degree programs in Chinese， and more than 700 American universities offer Chinese courses. 27 French universities now also offer Chinese language courses， compared with only 11 in 1991. In addition， Chinese courses have also been opened in many of France's primary and middle schools.
The most rapid development in teaching Chinese as a foreign language has occurred since the 1990s and has been accompanied by a marked increase in the number of cultural exchanges being undertaken， the level of economic cooperation with the outside world， and a boom in tourism.
Several universities in China offer flexible language programs to attract foreign students. The length of the study period can range form one semester to a full four－year course， or even longer. Many of the students undertaking these courses are on scholarships， some sponsored by the Chinese government and others by their home country. Courses have expanded from linguistics to different aspects of Chinese studies in which bachelor， master and doctorate programs are available. These courses are designed to meet the specific needs of various sectors such as businesspeople， government employees and those involved in foreign trade and tourism.
In the early 1980s， China had 66 universities with facilities for teaching foreign students. This figure has now increased to over 400. In recent years， numerous foreigners have stepped into this ancient， yet vigorous land， and the splendid civilization of China with a history of 5，000 years greatly inspires their enthusiasm for learning the Chinese language.
Apart from university courses there are other channels of access to Chinese language education， such as radio， TV and the Internet.
China Today （formerly China Reconstructs） was the first magazine to print a regular column which aimed to help foreigners to learn Chinese. In the January issue of 1955， the magazine launched its "Language Corner，" which is still a regular feature today. The bilingual teaching materials marked with phonetic symbols－pin yin enables those who knows nothing about the Chinese language to learn some simple sentences in Chinese.
The HSK exam was developed over 10 years ago to test the proficiency of non－native Chinese speakers including foreigners， overseas Chinese， and students from Chinese ethnic minorities groups. It has become the Chinese equivalent of TOEFL.
There are 11 HSK levels. The top three， from 9 to 11， are advanced levels， equivalent to the language skills of a native speaker with a bachelor's degree. The levels from 6 to 8 are intermediary －good enough for an ordinary job. The levels from 1 to 5 are elementary. Those seeking to study a master degree must pass HSK at Level 8.
The HSK test is held regularly at test centers in China and overseas. Those who pass are issued a certificate by the State Commission of Chinese Proficiency Test. In 2001， three HSK tests were arranged in China.
Today there are 47 HSK test centers in 27 cities in China， and 55 centers overseas. Since HSK was launched in 1990， 400，000 people from more than 100 countries have taken the test， with a pass rate of 75 percent. The number of HSK participants has been increasing at an annual rate of 35 percent since 1997.
It is arranged that the next HSK will be held in the coming April.
The Chinese market is opening to the outside world creating a new demand for Chinese language courses here and overseas. With China's accession to the WTO and successful bid to host the 2008 Olympics that demand is only set to keep on growing.