Wednesday, August 16, 2006

New CMU Complex Targets Foreign Languages

(Topic: Language News/Thailand) By Peter McKenzie-Brown “It’s all about globalisation.” Ask Dr. Tanun Anumanrajadhon about Chiang Mai University’s construction of the largest language centre outside Bangkok, and that’s what he’ll tell you. Political and commercial forces are increasing the importance of knowing key languages, he contends. To compete in a globalised world, people need to use them. Tanun, who is CMU’s vice president of international affairs, describes Chiang Mai as a crossroads for business, education, culture, government, politics, tourism and retirement. “We are the second capital of Thailand,” he says, “and the city is becoming more cosmopolitan. Of course we must study many languages. Of course!” Tanun asks rhetorically, “How else can we deal with people from other language backgrounds who come here? We (in Chiang Mai) must be able to speak at least one other language.” The associate professor received post-graduate degrees in France and the United States. He is a commanding advocate for foreign language learning. Close to Suthep Road, the university’s ultra-modern, 40-million baht complex will open in the middle of September. It will be quite a grand addition to campus life. In addition to 35 air-conditioned classrooms, it has a 200-seat theatre, two 100-seat lecture halls and two other large lecture halls with 60 seats each. When fully furnished, it will also have a specialized language library, two language labs and a self-access learning centre. The facility will provide office space for Language Institute staff and for those of the Confucius Institute, which arrived in Chiang Mai a few months ago. Confucius Institutes are China’s answer to the British Council, Alliance Française and Germany’s Goethe Institutes. Their purpose is to spread the study of Mandarin. The main sponsor of Chiang Mai’s Confucius Institute is the government of China. Other participants include Yunnan Normal University and China’s National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language. The chairman of the Language Institute’s board, Dr. Tanun believes the city badly needs access to more languages. “We have ties with business and tourism interests throughout the world, and we have special links in the Greater Mekong sub-region,” he says. “People in Chiang Mai have commercial ties with Kunming in (China’s) Yunnan province, with (Lao’s) Luang Prabang, also with Mandalay and Hanoi and many others. To do business with them, you have to speak common languages. We are doing important work.” The university’s Language Institute is only two years old. However, it has already taught non-degree courses in English, Mandarin, Japanese, Korean, Spanish and Thai (for foreigners) to nearly 6000 students. The opening of the new facility means it now feels the pressure to become Chiang Mai’s language school of choice. Institute director Sansanee Wannangkoon says her goal is to fill the new classrooms by the end of next year. She wants to add French, German, Italian, Burmese and Vietnamese to the institute’s existing offerings. “CMU students, staff and faculty are an obvious market. So is the wider Chiang Mai community. We also have our eyes on bigger markets,” she says. “We have already served 30 organizations from government and from private companies,” but she wants to do more. “We are aiming at language markets throughout the upper north of Thailand and even beyond. Our vision is to become this region’s centre of excellence for language learning.”
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