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Demand for multilingual skills grows
Author:By LI LEI  China Daily Global  Date:2023-10-18

A decade of the BRI has seen universities, colleges adapt curriculums accordingly

Chinese universities and vocational colleges are revamping their curriculum to meet the soaring demand for talent with multilingual skills and cross-cultural awareness as the Belt and Road Initiative expands its global reach.

China has signed BRI-related documents with more than 150 countries and over 30 international organizations, according to official figures.

The expansion has reversed the trend of declining popularity of English majors and other language programs from the early 2010s as workers with multilingual skills have become increasingly in demand by employers wishing to expand their global footprint under the framework of the BRI, said Chen Fachun, president of Tianjin Foreign Studies University.

"The rollout of the BRI greatly bolstered the confidence of our college and its language education-focused peers," he said at a roundtable discussion at the 2023 Belt and Road Forum for Language and Culture Collaboration. The theme for the discussion was "Experience and Inspiration on Improving Linguistic Connectivity along the Belt and Road".

The forum serves as the inaugural meeting of the Belt and Road Languages and Cultures Network, which was created to help reduce language barriers and ease cultural misunderstandings among BRI participants.

Zhejiang Normal University, a teacher training institute in the coastal province of Zhejiang, is among a growing cohort of higher learning institutions that have revved up research into the African continent — where there is a stronghold of BRI projects — as part of a broader attempt to train a new generation of graduates with greater cultural awareness.

Zhang Jianzhen, the university's vice-president, said its focus on African studies dates back to the 1990s, when it sent teachers to the continent to teach Chinese. Now the college aims to train Chinese students to be experts on African issues, and vice versa.

"Language education is the priority in the endeavor," she said, adding that her college has rolled out courses that help students acquire an African language as well as an academic specialty.

Zhang said the rollout of the BRI has helped enlarge friend circles and created more channels for colleges like hers to conduct exchange programs.

Ye Xianghong, vice-president of Beijing Youth Politics College, a vocational college, said the institution has worked to facilitate the BRI by launching training programs with counterparts in countries such as Kazakhstan, and recruiting overseas students from countries involved in the BRI.

The college has launched programs that combine language training with specialties such as ecommerce and cross-border trade.

"Such exchanges are increasingly active," she said, adding that it provides a valuable opportunity to reform vocational education.

Hu Kaibao, assistant president of Shanghai International Studies University, said his university has 48 language degree programs and can largely meet the needs of the BRI.

But he said language alone is not enough to bridge cross-cultural barriers. "The university is stepping up exploration into education about a certain target country or region," he said.

"We're now building two large teaching buildings to that end."

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