Language contest's got talent

Updated: 2013-03-19 10:59

By Liu Yuhan (China Daily)

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Two East Coast universities qualified for the finals of the most famous Chinese-language contest to be held in Beijing this summer.

At a time when proficiency in Chinese among American students is rising, Dale Shepherd from Princeton University and Kyle Reeser from Binghamton University won the Chinese Bridge East USA Proficiency Competition for Foreign College Students.

About 30 American college students from the East Coast impressed judges and audiences with their knowledge of the world's most spoken language on Sunday.

As part of the 12th annual Chinese Bridge Chinese Proficiency Competition, an international contest sponsored by the Beijing headquarters of the Confucius Institute, more commonly known as Hanban, it is the fourth collaboration between the Confucius Institute at Pace University and the New York Service Center for Chinese Study Fellows.

Lingkai Kong, vice-president of the New York Service Center for Chinese Study Fellows, said the contest's popularity is rising.

"In the past years, we tried to contact more schools in the hope of searching for talents who speak Mandarin as a second language, but this year, we received so many phone calls from different schools from the East Coast hoping to recommend their students to the contest," he said.

Sunday's competition drew contestants from major universities on the East Coast, such as Columbia University, New York University, SUNY Binghamton, Princeton, and the University of Pennsylvania.

Leslie Martin, a participant from the University of Rochester, believes that her proficiency in Chinese will give her an edge in the job market.

"More and more students continue to take advantages and opportunities to learn Chinese in the hope that they might become a part of the development of the powerful country," Martin said in her speech at the contest.

Marcus Willock, another contestant and a second-year graduate student at Rutgers University, said although he took his first Chinese class on a whim, his love for Chinese has lasted for more than four years.

"Currently I'm serving the US army, but I'm planning to go to China in two years when my contract is over because I know there will be full of opportunities."

Since 2002, more than 150,000 foreign students from some 70 countries have participated in the Chinese Bridge contest. In the past years, Hanban has been promoting Chinese culture and the language by establishing Confucius institutes and Confucius classes worldwide.

In the United States, more than 80 Confucius Institutes have been established since the first school opened in Maryland in 2005. Hanban has dispatched more than 2,100 teachers to the US.

Pen-Pen Chen runs her own Chinese-teaching firm Penguistics Solutions and is now teaching Chinese at the New York Times and China Institute.

"My clients are all professionals and they are usually having Chinese classes in school here while seeking business opportunities in China," Chen said.

Lindsay Bennett, program manager at the Confucius Institute of Pace University, said as the world becomes more globalized, Chinese has great potential to become more popular.