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CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2023-12-29 08:12

French Sinologist Joel Bellassen talks with Oceane Rivoire, a French graduate student at the International School of Tongji University in Shanghai. [Photo provided to China Daily]

French Sinologist stresses the importance of Chinese language education to ensure bilateral ties

Interest in learning the Chinese language has been growing around the globe, and this is evidenced by the rising popularity of Mandarin classes all over the world, says renowned French Sinologist Joel Bellassen.

He made the comment during an education seminar in Fujian province on Dec 16. Two days later, the Frenchman conducted a class at Tongji University in Shanghai where he shared techniques for comprehending Chinese characters and other linguistic tips with more than 20 international students, before delivering a speech about his passion for the Chinese language to hundreds of young students from the university.

When it comes to the Chinese language, few nonnative Chinese are as well-versed as the 73-year-old, who can speak standard Mandarin with decent Beijing accent and likes wearing a traditional Chinese-style jacket in dark blue. He spent more than half a century learning the language and has made hundreds of trips to China.

Since his maiden trip in 1973, as an exchange student in Beijing, Bellassen has dedicated much of his life to not only mastering the Chinese language, but also building bridges that connect French and Chinese cultures.

Between 1973 and 1975, the Frenchman studied Chinese at the Beijing Language Institute, which is now the Beijing Language and Culture University, and Peking University. So enamored by the language, he went on to create methods to teach Chinese language in primary schools in France.

In 1984, he became a founding member of the Association Francaise des Professeurs de Chinois (Association of Chinese Language Teachers of France). In 1989, he coproduced A Key to Chinese Speech and Writing, a textbook that included a list of over 900 Chinese characters. They accounted for about 90 percent of frequently used characters in publications. Mastering these 900 Chinese characters means that foreign people can generally read newspapers or books.

The two-volume A Key to Chinese Speech and Writing has been widely adopted in schools across France and is among the most popular text books in schools.

Even former French president Valery Giscard d'Estaing lavished praise on the usefulness of his pedagogy.

According to Bellassen, Chinese was added to the French national baccalaureate in 1968. In 2013, Chinese language courses were made available in all school districts in mainland France, and this led to "a significant increase in the number of students studying Chinese".

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