Sunday, May 26, 2013

Building Bridges Between Cuba and China

Havana. May 24, 2013


Building bridges between Cuba and China

• Cuba taking part for the third time in the International Chinese Bridge Speech competition • Broadening horizons for Chinese language teaching

A mathematician who has been attracted to Chinese characters since childhood, a computer specialist with a great interest in discovering China, an industrial designer who listens to Chinese songs, a student of socio-cultural studies with dreams of becoming an interpreter... all sharing one fascination: being familiar with Chinese culture and language.

Diverse reasons have brought them to Havana University’s Confucius Institute and the results are already bearing fruit. Enrique Martín became interested in the language thanks to a television program. After six years of study, he won the national Chinese Bridge Speech competition and this summer will represent Cuba in the international event.

"I hope to improve on last year’s result or to equal it," he said, clear in his aspirations, while knowing that achieving 26th place out of all the participating countries —Cuba’s position in 2011, before the ranking was eliminated — will be a challenge.

Yanelis Durán achieved third place in the national competition. Although this result does not give her the opportunity to represent her country internationally, she is not disheartened. "The competition was difficult, but it was also an opportunity to learn, I learned more about the culture. I hope to take part again next year and need to begin preparing now," she affirmed.

In order to fulfill their aspirations, these young people need to dedicate many hours to study and work set by their professors, who include —as well as Cubans of Asian descent—Wang Fen and Li Xanan, both of them Masters in Education at the University of Language and Culture in Beijing.

Both professors recognize that students are very interested in the language, which, in conjunction with Cuba’s previous experience in the last three Chinese Bridge contests, means that their chances are positive.


The decision to establish an academic system for the teaching Chinese at the University of Havana dates back to 2007.

Prior to that, the language was taught at the Center for Chinese Studies attached to the Foreign Language Faculty, and the Confucius Institute finally opened its doors in 2009

Today the Institute is located in buildings in the university precinct, but its permanent headquarters is to be in the former Pacífico Restaurant building in Chinatown, a location that is currently under repair.

The promotion and dissemination of Chinese culture, combined with the quality of teaching, characterize the work of this center, which has ignited interest in the community.

Confucius Institute Director Arsenio Alemán Agusti states, "We have quite a diverse range of students at the center: from professionals who are studying given their sector’s links with China, such as the Immigration and Nationality Department, the Cuban Customs Office, and the Ministries of Transport, Agriculture and Public Health, to those who are studying because they simply like the culture and want to learn how to write Chinese characters."

The only enrollment requirement is to have completed 12th grade. However, in the selection process, the center gives priority to sectors which have a direct link with China.

One institution that has shown interest in approaching the Confucius Institute is the Cuban School of Wushu, which, since January this year, with a group of 30 students, has incorporated Chinese classes in its athletic development plan.

Cuba’s accumulated experience in the teaching of other languages ​​has facilitated the application of these methodologies to Chinese, with good results obtained by the Institute’s students when they have visited China.

Although the Confucius Institute does not have branches in other provinces and is not the only institution which teaches Chinese in Havana —it is also studied in the Chinese Arts and Traditions Center— it is the only center authorized to conduct international examinations to certify language levels and to have native teachers.

According to Alemán Agusti, among the Chinese teaching personnel, there is always one person responsible for academic management on behalf of the Language and Culture University in Beijing and who coordinates with the Cubans.


Through now, there are no immediate plans to create a degree in Chinese Language; however, work is ongoing to include it as a third language in degree programs at the Faculty of Foreign Languages.

The 2012-2013 academic year began with a total of 477 students enrolled in various courses run by the Confucius Institute, ranging from Basic Chinese for children through to Choral Singing and Translation and Interpreting.

Without abandoning its responsibility to enhance its teaching and methodological preparation, the Institute, as its Executive Director stresses, is setting its sights high.

"We want to have a presence in quarterly issues of the Confucius Institute international Journal and we are working toward ensuring that there is always an article on Cuba."

The institute also participates in academic activities such as the Latin American and international Confucius Institute Conference, organized every year.

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