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Cablegate: Chinese Language Study Rising in Northern Thailand, but Not

VZCZCXRO1648
PP RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHGH RUEHHM RUEHVC
DE RUEHCHI #0073/01 1331031
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 121031Z MAY 08
FM AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0757
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS
RUEHOO/CHINA POSTS COLLECTIVE
RUEHIN/AIT TAIPEI PRIORITY 0018
RUEHCHI/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI 0813

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 CHIANG MAI 000073

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: SCUL ETRD PREL TH CH
SUBJECT: CHINESE LANGUAGE STUDY RISING IN NORTHERN THAILAND, BUT NOT
SUPPLANTING ENGLISH

REF: 2006 CHIANG MAI 74; 2006 CHIANG MAI 18; 2004 CHIANG MAI 278; 2004 CHIANG MAI 34

CHIANG MAI 00000073 001.2 OF 002


-------
Summary
-------

1. Though not at the cost of English language students, Chinese
language learning is growing more popular across northern
Thailand, from high school students to Royal Thai Government
(RTG) officials. Despite this trend, English study continues to
be the students' preference as it comes with the highest
pay-offs in the job market. The growing popularity of Chinese
language study here reflects the trend of northern Thailand
growing more accommodating to Chinese visitors and,
consequently, Chinese commercial activity. End Summary.

---------------------------
More Chinese = More English
---------------------------

2. More Thai students studying Chinese does not mean fewer
students studying English, according to high-level officials at
Chiang Mai University (CMU). "If you want to work in Asia,
you'll need both English and Chinese," one Vice President told
us. Although he described the PRC as "aggressive" in its
promotion of Mandarin Chinese study in Thailand, the preference
to study English is still strong and certain barriers to
expanding Chinese language learning exist.

3. On the preference to study English, he said that although
Chinese language learning at CMU is increasingly popular,
English is still the top choice for students who wish to pursue
graduate studies overseas. Because English is a required
subject in the Thai secondary education system, Chinese is
typically selected as a third foreign language at the university
level. Thus, students usually graduate from university with
stronger English skills and, therefore, a preference to pursue
graduate studies in Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, the UK,
or the U.S.

4. The combination of English as the main second language and
Chinese as a third foreign language is increasingly popular for
students who are seeking business careers in Asia. A CMU
student majoring in English with a minor in Chinese said that
knowledge of English and Chinese language skills opens more
career opportunities in the Asian business world. This student
is a common example of one who has advanced English skills
because of more years of study and time spent practicing
overseas, in his case in the United States, combined with
intermediate Chinese skills acquired while at CMU. He said that
although Chinese language is more important in regional
commercial affairs, students continue to perceive English as the
primary means of communication within the region.

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Not Your Average Students
-------------------------

5. Chinese language students in Thailand typically fall into
three categories: those who elect to study Chinese at the
university, those whose parents selected Chinese as a second
language, and those already in the labor force whose jobs now
require Chinese language skills. The first group is growing
rapidly at CMU as students start to observe more job
opportunities for English and Chinese language speakers in Asia.
For some of these students, study abroad in China and Taiwan is
becoming more popular; however, these programs tend to last for
a single semester or summer and only cover Chinese language
study. Most students are not at a proficiency level sufficient
to take other coursework taught in Chinese, according to a CMU
official in the International Affairs Department.

6. The second group is those whose parents decided that Chinese
languages skills are important for their children and had them
taught at an earlier age. These students are in the minority,
but popularity is also growing as parents begin to foresee the
benefits of Chinese skills for their children. In Chiang Mai,
students in this category are typically graduates of the Xin
Sheng High School, which requires Chinese language study of all
students. Many of these students continue their Chinese studies
at the university level and pursue careers where Chinese
language is a basic requirement, such as working for the Chinese
Consulate in Chiang Mai, a Chinese airline, or teaching Chinese
to Thai students.

7. The third group, which is also growing rapidly, are those
already in the labor force and whose employers have decided that
Chinese language is relevant or necessary for job functions.
One example is RTG customs and immigration officials who work
along the northern Thai-Lao and Thai-Burma borders. As trade
across the border increases, more Chinese are entering Thailand

CHIANG MAI 00000073 002.2 OF 002


either to transport goods, to conduct other business
transactions, or for tourism; and, consequently, the demand for
Chinese-speaking border officials is increasing. The Confucius
Institutes at CMU and Mae Fah Luang University in Chiang Rai are
the main venues for RTG officials to study Chinese in northern
Thailand. Operating as a non-profit organization with support
from the Chinese government, the Confucius Institute at CMU
currently only offers courses to "government officials who need
Chinese language skills for their jobs," according to the
Institute's director. The Confucius Institute plans to expand
operations to provide instruction to CMU teachers and students;
but with a staff of only three instructors, the director says
that they are teaching at full capacity already. He hopes to
expand to six teachers in the near future to meet the growing
demand for Chinese language study in northern Thailand.

----------------------------------
Fewer Chinese Students in Thailand
----------------------------------

8. Whereas Thai students' interest in Chinese language learning
is growing, interest is not strong in the reverse direction.
Our CMU Vice President contact said that although Chinese
students would like to pursue higher education overseas,
language barriers have limited the success of exchange programs
in the region. He cited a three-year-old exchange program
between CMU's Faculty of Social Sciences and Chinese
universities. In the program's short history, enrollment
dropped from 30 students per year to three. Those three current
Chinese students must enroll in courses taught in English; and,
although they know conversational Thai, they do not have
advanced Thai skills to take topical courses in the host
language.

-------
Comment
-------

9. The growing popularity of Chinese language learning among
Thais reflects the trend of northern Thailand becoming a more
culturally accommodating space for Chinese traders, business
people, and tourists as well as for Chinese commercial activity
more broadly. As the region grows more integrated through
programs such as the Greater Mekong Subregion infrastructure
project, this trend should contribute positively to the north's
goal of becoming a logistics hub for regional trade.

10. While more students learn Chinese, however, the popularity
of English as their first "second language" has not faltered.
Thai students continue to perceive strong English skills as
having the greatest pay-off by facilitating communication across
the region, not only with China. With many students seeing the
greatest benefits in knowing both languages, English language
learning will continue to flourish in northern Thailand, even as
Chinese becomes more and more popular.
MORROW

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