BANGKOK, April 12 -- Chinese language has become more and more popular in Thailand due to the increase of Chinese tourists and China's development, which drives a Confucius Institute in Bangkok to voluntarily help train local teachers to meet the growing demand for learning Mandarin here.
On a hot Saturday afternoon recently, Mandarin teachers around Bangkok came to the Confucius Institute at Bansomdejchaopraya Rajabhat University (BSRU) to take their weekly three-hour course of Mandarin and Chinese culture, taught by teachers of the institute.
"Our teachers voluntarily use their spare time to train local teachers here every week," said Wen Xiangyu, Chinese dean of the Confucius Institute, which was established in 2006.
In Chinese teacher Song Chunzhi's class, some 20 Thai teachers were learning Chinese expressions and making new sentences under Song's instruction.
"I have been taking the course for three years, it helped me a lot," said Nantawat Radsamee, a Mandarin teacher in a primary school called Wat Ladplakao after the class.
The Confucius Institute also went to Nantawat's school and held a cultural event there to celebrate the Chinese lunar Year of the Rooster in February, which attracted many pupils to join.
Prasat Seri, an fine arts teacher, has been attending the course for several years. He even drew pictures to teach Chinese characters and made a picture book, which was later promoted by Bangkok's Department of Education as a standard textbook to teach Mandarin in all primary schools of the city.
Prasat expressed gratitude to the teachers of the Confucius Institute in helping him check and edit the picture book.
"I love the course, especially the cultural part as there are always something new every week," he said.
Besides Song's class, there were other three classes ongoing every Saturday as the Confucius Institute has put local teachers in different classes according to a language test at the beginning of every semester.
According to Wen, the Chinese dean, the Confucius Institute at the BSRU has cooperated with Bangkok's Department of Education in this training course for at least five years.
Around 1 million Thais are learning Mandarin right now, which means a lot of Mandarin teachers are needed, said Wang Wei, a teacher at the Confucius Institute.
Teachers of the Confucius Institute, originally from Tianjin Normal University of China, used their expertise in education to start the training program with Bangkok's Department of Education.
"We have thought of many activities to attract local teachers to keep coming to the classes," said Wen, and every year, 20 outstanding teachers of some 100 teachers in total get the chance to study Mandarin in Tianjin Normal University for a month with full scholarships.
She said Bangkok's Department of Education and the BSRU have given much support to the training program.
Thanita Praewanich, deputy director of Bangkok's Department of Education, praised teachers of the Confucius Institute for their expertise and devotion during a ceremony to mark the end of the training course in this semester late March.
"In five-year time, the training course here has covered 438 schools around Bangkok, and some outstanding local teachers went to China for further study, and became mainstay of our educational system," Thanita said, adding that the training program should go on.
Sutipporn Chotratanasak, Thai dean of the Confucius Institute, said the Confucius Institute even helped the BSRU to become more popular due to the training program and a postgraduate program.
Besides the training program, the Confucius Institute is working with the BSRU and Tianjin Normal University to enroll Thai students for a postgraduate program.
Every year, some 25 Thai students would choose to be in the postgraduate program and they would go to learn in Tianjin Normal University with full scholarships and come back for work, mainly as Mandarin teachers in secondary and primary schools, according to Wen.
"We have enrolled students for the program for three years, and some 94 percent of the first batch of students have found schools and the second batch is doing internship here in our institute," said Wen.
Wang believes training local teachers are very important for the Chinese-language teaching in the long term. "Thais cannot always rely on Chinese to teach them, they have to have their own Mandarin teachers."
"Some schools told us they don't need teachers with master degrees, but I think they will gradually understand a teacher with a master degree can help them improve their Chinese-language teaching significantly," Wang said.