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Mandarin unites young speakers at competition

Updated: 2024-07-08 06:24 ( China Daily Global )
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Contestants wear Chinese traditional costumes to perform talent shows and showcase their various skills. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Standing on the stage of the 23rd Chinese Bridge Chinese Proficiency Competition for Foreign College Students in the United Kingdom, Daisy May Lord, one of the contestants, could not hold back her tears as her teacher said, "I am always proud of you", in front of hundreds of audience members.

While other participants patted her arms, trying to comfort the crying girl, waves of emotion swept over Lord. On stage, they are rivals, but off stage, they compliment each other's performances and outfits, giving the impression of close friends even though many of them are meeting for the first time in the competition.

Francesca Pala, a third-year Chinese studies student at the University of Leeds and this year's competition runner-up, said that a shared passion for China, Mandarin, and Chinese culture bonds everyone together.

"It was really obvious that we all love China, Chinese culture, and Mandarin. So, it was really nice to be in that environment where other people could feel the same way you feel," she said.

With the theme "One World, One Family", the 23rd edition of the event united around 120 candidates from different nationalities and ethnic backgrounds, who are studying at 15 UK universities, for the preliminary selection process that began on April 1.

On June 6, eight finalists convened in London to compete.

Zhang Qian, senior manager of the marketing department at the Center for Language Education and Cooperation UK, the organization that has hosted the contest since 2010, has witnessed significant growth in the number of participants. Fourteen years ago, only five or six universities sent fewer than 70 students, she recalled.

The scale of the event amazed some early adopters of Mandarin. "This (competition) didn't exist when I was learning Chinese," said Frances Wood, a British sinologist and former head of Chinese collections at the British Library.

Even in the 1960s when she enrolled at Cambridge University to study Chinese, Wood recalled that the number of British universities offering Chinese language-related programs was so few that they could be counted on one hand.

Over the years, Zhang noted that alongside students studying Chinese subjects at universities, a group of enthusiasts has also emerged among contestants who, despite not majoring in Chinese, are learning the language out of personal interest.

To encourage their enthusiasm and ensure fair play, the contest has been divided into professional and non-professional categories since 2018, with a certain number of final spots reserved specifically for contestants in the non-professional category.

Yet, no matter how the competition innovates its format, it is always for serving Mandarin learners, Zhang highlighted. "And once at the venue, you can be consistently moved by the students, their families and friends recording videos to cheer them on, and their Chinese teachers assisting with the final coaching. This is the fervent atmosphere you can truly feel firsthand."

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