Language is Mother of Culture

Language is a bridge of communication, a carrier that nurtures civilization, and a bond that connects all civilizations. In order to promote the Chinese culture, to share teaching and learning Chinese as a foreign language, and to promote the development of Chinese learning in the UK, the PHBS-UK Campus held its inaugural Hongmen Dialogue on the 4th of December, 2021. The theme of the dialogue is: "Theory and Practice of Global Chinese Teaching – a comparative perspective". While the UK is in the early stages of winter and the weather was cold and damp, but all the participants were so full of energy and enthusiasm! A total of more than 160 academics and industry stakeholders from China and the UK participated in this Dialogue both online and offline.

At the beginning of the forum, Professor Guy Liu, the Head of PHBS-UK Campus, delivered a rousing welcome speech, expressing his warm welcome and heartfelt thanks to all the guests who took the time to participate in our inaugural "Hongmen Dialogue". We also had the honour of having Mr Gary Miller, Head of Asian Desk at Mischon de Reya LLP, deliver a welcome address in perfect Chinese, to all our guests and participants. It was certainly an inspiration for all Chinese language teachers and learners in the audience.
This Dialogue consists of three dialogues and a keynote cultural lecture. The first session was an "Professors Dialogue" consisting of a panel of experts in Chinese language teaching and learning. These distinguished professors are Professor Katharine Carruthers, Assistant Vice President of East Asian Affairs at University College London (UCL) and Dean of the Confucius Institute at the University College of Education at the University of London, Professor Zhang Xinsheng, Director of the Language Center, Professor Zhao Yang, Dean of the School of Chinese as a Foreign Language of Peking University and Professor Yang Defeng, School of Chinese as a Foreign Language of Peking University, and Professor Yu Yijiao, Associate Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Central China Normal University. This expert session was presided over by Professor Zhang Xinsheng, Professor of Chinese and Director of the Centre for Modern Languages at Richmond, the American International University in London. These five experts discussed a variety of topics, like improving foreign language acquisition through increasing learners’ motivation and attention, the theory of feature reorganization in second language acquisition, the grammar teaching model in contemporary Chinese textbooks, and the cultivation of a master’s degree in international Chinese teaching. The Professors Dialogue also included discussions on how to engage the teaching community to reform of the pedagogy and the relationship between teachers' teaching concepts and international Chinese education.

This Dialogue also has a special session - "Teacher Dialogue" where four UK teachers of the Chinese Language were invited to participate. They are Mr. Yanbing Sun from Magdalen College School, a top private school in the UK, Mr. Chris Webster, Director of Oxford Swire Chinese Centre, Ms. Lucy Wicks, Director of the Chinese Department at Didcot Girls' School, and Mr Zhou Zhaojin, Chinese Director of Dartford Grammar School. Based on their own teaching practices, these four teachers shared with the audience their pedagogical methods and experiences on a variety of topics such as, how to apply theoretical research results to the classroom, how to integrate Chinese lessons into the UK curricula, and how to use the sentence pattern practice as a teaching method. The discussion was very interactive and engaging and we hope that in the future that future Hongmen Dialogues would be the platform for more of such exchanges for local and international Chinese teachers to discuss their research and share their unique practices.


The third feature of the Hongmen Dialogue is the "Learner Dialogue". This segment aims to explore the experiences of Chinese language learning from a learner’s perspective. Participating in this learner segment is Mr Michele Maggi from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), Mr William Bowen from the HSBC Business School of Peking University, and Mr Adrian Bullock from the Confucius Institute at Oxford Brookes University. All three learners shared very different and very personal Chinese language learning stories. Michele is Italian and he only started learning the Chinese language in November last year, during the height of the pandemic. He was deeply attracted by the charm of the Chinese language. In just one year, his command of the Chinese language was very impressive, and this was aptly demonstrated in his narration, delivered in fluent Chinese. Needless to say, the audience was captivated and impressed.


William hails from Oxford, United Kingdom and he shared his journey of how he learned fluent Chinese through evening drinks with his Chinese host family. His story exemplified the Latin adage In Vino Veritas (in wine there is truth) and with this truth, he made the audience laugh in agreement.
Finally, we have the 76-year-old learner Adrian, who graduated from Oxford University in his early years. From his first visit to China in 1987, he since has been to China 25 times. Adrian has always maintained an interest in Chinese, and he described his language learning history in a humorous way. As the first batch of learners who started to learn Chinese since the founding of the Republic of China, Adrian's Chinese language learning process showcases the entire historical development of Chinese teaching as a foreign language in China and beyond.
The keynote cultural speech of the Hongmen Dialogue is entitled, "Ancient and Modern Dialogue: Chinese Philosophy from a Contrastive Perspective" by Dr. Zhao Jingyi, ISF and Needham Research Fellow, Needham Research Institute, Clare Hall, University of Cambridge. In her speech, she provided a broad as well as deep philosophical perspective on language and culture. In particular, she established a background towards a better understanding of the conflict and struggles between culture and language.
The three dialogues and the keynote speech were very interactive and engaging, and both online and offline audiences participated in a myriad of ways, through asking questions, sharing insights and engaging in discussions. The inaugural Hongmen Dialogue came to a successful close after the speeches by Dr Catherine Xiang Hua, Director of the East Asia Department of the London School of Economics, and Dr Mamtimyn Sunuodula, Director of the East Asia Department of the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford.
The very first PHBS-UK "Hongmen Dialogue" is a successful example of how we can bridge theory with practice; where a lot of profound academic theories were discussed and practically implemented. This Dialogue also saw discussions on various aspects of international Chinese teaching from different perspectives, which deepened the participants' understanding of the subject. This event attracted the attention of both the Chinese and international participants who are interested in the Chinese language and the Chinese culture.
The UK Campus hopes to deepen the exchanges and cooperation between China and the UK in various aspects of Chinese language teaching theory and research as well as teacher training through future "Hongmen Dialogues", and provide a platform for all scholars, teachers, and learners to communicate and share their experiences.
We look forward to jointly promoting the development and research of Chinese international teaching and learning with all of you in the future!

(Editor: Dr Guy Liu)