by Xinhua writers Kong Xiaohan, Wang Qiwen.
UNITED NATIONS, April 18 (Xinhua) -- What is the first word that pops into your mind when you consider learning Chinese? " Difficult!" But according to Ho, an awarding-winning Chinese teacher at the United Nations, the key is "interest."
"We encourage our teachers to make friends with students," said Yong Ho, a Chinese Language Supervisor at the United Nations, on how to keep his students interested in the most difficult language in the world.
"Chinese is officially rated as the most difficult language in the world. Statistics show that to be proficient in French or Spanish, it takes only 600 hours, but the minimum learning hours for Chinese is 2,200," said Ho in an exclusive interview with Xinhua.
"So how to keep the students interested is of vital importance, " Ho said, "our teachers often invite students to try Chinese food at China Town or see some Chinese shows, to give them a taste of the Chinese culture."
The Chinese Language Program at the UN offers both regular Chinese courses, ranging from level 1 to level 9, and special Chinese courses with emphasis on speaking or reading, as well as calligraphy class, to UN staff for free. There are three semesters each year. About 200 students are registered at each semester.
"The interest for learning Chinese is growing. Since the year 2002 when I joined the program, the enrollment has more than doubled," Ho said.
Behind the increasing interest in Chinese lies in the fact that the visibility and influence of China are growing. What happens on the world arena is also affecting what people think about the Chinese language inside the UN, so UN staff is getting more interested in this language, according to Ho.
Kenneth from Norway, who works at the Statistics division in the United Nations, has been studying Chinese for a year in the Chinese language program.
"I really like studying Chinese. It is challenging but at the same time, it is rewarding. I am glad to see that I am able to speak Chinese more fluently day by day," said Kenneth, who also goes by his Chinese name "Kening" which resembles the sound of Kenneth.
"Here at the UN, we have a nice UN language program, especially the Chinese program, which is very good. We have very good teachers that help us improve our Chinese. At the same time, they introduce Chinese culture, Chinese history and Chinese news, so we can better understand China and everything that is going on in China," said Kenneth.
Besides language courses, the UN Chinese Language Program offers, for the 12th year in a row, a three-week summer study program at Nanjing University in China's east Jiangsu province in 2015, sponsored by the Chinese government. A feat so well received that earned Ho his second UN 21 Award in 2014.
The program not only provides opportunities for learning the language but also a chance to meet your better half.
"An American student has been learning Chinese with us for 15 years. He knows by heart each dynasty and each emperor in Chinese history. He loves Chinese so much that he even fell in love with his Chinese teacher. They got married later," said Ho, "I think it is really romantic."
As one of the official languages in the United Nations, the Chinese language is marked with a Chinese Language Day on April 20 this year.
The celebration is held around the same time in April each year on Guyu, or literally meaning "Rain of Millet", which is the sixth of the 24 solar terms created by ancient Chinese to carry out agricultural activities, to pay tribute to Cangjie -- an ancient Chinese mythical figure who is credited with having invented Chinese characters about 5,000 years ago.
This year's celebrations include speeches, art exhibition and a gala evening.
During the gala night, students will perform Xiao Ping Guo dance, or Little Apple, a popular hit composed by a Chinese songwriter, that has taken China by storm and gained a level of popularity comparable to Gangnam-style.
"Now they are busying practicing the dance," Ho said, "And I am really looking forward to it."
One of the oldest languages in the world, Chinese has archaeological records dating back at least 4,000 years and is now spoken by more than a billion people. The language has several thousand dialects, but Mandarin is spoken by the majority of the people of China and understood by an estimated 95 percent.
The United Nations Chinese Language Day was established by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2010 to celebrate multilingualism and cultural diversity, as well as to promote equal use of all six of its official working languages throughout the organization.
According to Kennth, Chinese is becoming increasingly important in many aspects, both within the UN and also outside it. "And it is really cool when I order food using Chinese in a Chinese restaurant. The waiters are very surprised. You should see their faces", said Kenneth proudly and smilingly.