Study of Portuguese and Spanish explodes as China expands role in Latin America

Sep 4, 2018 by

Thousands more Chinese students are taking up Latin American languages with an eye to improved employability

When Zhang Fangming started learning Portuguese, it was with an eye to becoming a top Chinese diplomat in Brazil.

For Sun Jianglin, a Portuguese degree was about landing a job, but also a deeper knowledge of Brazilian music. “Bossa nova!” the 19-year-old undergraduate cooed. “I really like this kind-of-close-to-jazz music!”

The pair – who also go by the names Rodrigo and Antonia – are part of a new generation of Chinese students hoping a mastery of Latin America’s languages coupled with their country’s expanding role in the region will prove a recipe for success.

Twenty years ago – before a commodities boom made China Brazil’s top trading partner – ties between the two were negligible and few Chinese students studied Brazil’s official language, which has more than 220m native speakers worldwide. Today, record numbers are doing so, wagering it will guarantee them work as diplomats, interpreters or lawyers for Chinese ministries or firms in the Lusophone world.

“There’s a saying: ‘Learning Portuguese will help you find a good job, with good pay!’” said Sun, a second-year student at China’s leading language school, the Beijing Foreign Studies University (BFSU).

There has also been an explosion in the study of Spanish – spoken in many Latin American nations – with about 20,000 Chinese undergraduates in 2016 choosing the language, up from just 500 in 1999, according to official figures.

Margaret Myers, the head of the Inter-American Dialogue’s Asia and Latin America programme, said more and more Latin America departments were opening in China because of a Communist party push to foster regional experts.

Source: Study of Portuguese and Spanish explodes as China expands role in Latin America | World news | The Guardian

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