AUKE, Tartu Ülikool
Right before Christmas of 2015 the textbook “Hiina keel” (“Chinese language”) was released. This was a remarkable event as never before have Estonians had the possibility to use material in their own native tongue to learn Chinese. Before the release of this textbook students and teachers alike had to rely on a third language or put a great deal of effort into generating their own translated notes.
The textbook was written by the University of Tartu academics Märt Läänemets and Gao Jingyi. Although Chinese has been taught in the university for more than 80 years, there have not been any successful attempts in producing a textbook before now. As the textbook is based on Estonian it takes into account the peculiarities of the language and makes teaching and learning Chinese much easier. The languages also have surprisingly many similarities.
Gao Jingyi explains: “Usually the word order in sentences is similar in Chinese and Estonian. As a rule the subject comes before the verb and the adjunct before he main word. Also both languages are gender-neutral. Furthermore, there are also important similarities in the etymology of words. For example the word “he/she” is the same in both languages – „ta“ and „tā.“” Therefore, some aspects of Chinese become much clearer and easier to grasp by omitting the third language in between.
However, it is not just fun and games for the Estonian students as there is still the inevitable struggle with tones and graphic characters which are nonexistent in the Estonian language. Nonetheless, the book will greatly benefit all those interested in one of the most widely spoken languages in the world.
To know more, check the full-length interview with the authors of the textbook in Estonian.