Teaching Mandarin as a foreign language in Higher Education institutions in South Africa

  • Y (Wang) Qi
  • EM Lemmer


Foreign language learning is a hallmark of the internationalisation of university education and a key to enabling graduates to participate in a globalising world. Currently, China is both a global political player and a key market and trading partner for the West and for Africa. Linked to these economic and political factors, non-Chinese speakers in higher education systems worldwide are showing a rapidly expanding interest in learning Mandarin Chinese as a foreign language. Notwithstanding the complexity of learning Chinese, the expansion of Mandarin tuition on all levels of education has exhibited a striking linguistic pattern. In line with international trends, the demand for learning Mandarin as a foreign language in higher education in South Africa is mainly driven by China’s political importance and the burgeoning trade partnership between China and South Africa. This article provides an exploratory overview of the teaching of Mandarin as a foreign language and the related study of Chinese culture in four higher education institutions in South Africa: The University of South Africa (Unisa), The University of Stellenbosch (US), Rhodes University (RU) and The University of Cape Town (UCT). The article concludes with an appraisal of the small but growing interest in Mandarin study in the higher education system of this country. An argument is presented that this promotes the internationalisation of South Africa's higher education, that the inclusion of cultural studies in language courses offers a deeper engagement than language studies alone, and that a current weakness in provision is the lack of articulation with postgraduate degrees in Chinese language study and research. Finally, the role of the Confucius Institutes in the provision of Mandarin tuition is highlighted.

Author Biographies

Y (Wang) Qi
Y (Wang) Qi is a doctoral student at the College of Education, University of South Africa. Email address: yhqwang@gmail.com
EM Lemmer
EM Lemmer is a lecturer at the College of Education, University of South Africa,Email address:  lemmeem@unisa.ac.za