“Chinese Fan” Xiao Haisi—Champion of 11th “Chinese Bridge” Chinese Proficiency Competition for Foreign Secondary School Students in Portugal

[Source]    Confucius Institute at Universidade de Aveiro [Time]    2018-07-10 11:40:15 

There is a saying in Encouraging Learning: “Earthworms have no sharp claws or teeth, no strong muscles or bones, and yet above ground they feast on the mud, and below they drink at the yellow springs.” And it means that the earthworm can only absorb itself in eating the mud and drinking water to survive because it has no sharp teeth nor strong muscles and bones, which indicates the importance of concentration. As long as one pursues something obsessively, he/she can develop extraordinary abilities and eliminate the unimaginable difficulties. When you work hard and be concentrated, the achievements you make may surprise you. Learning Chinese is not easy. It is even more difficult to focus on learning Chinese and stick to it. Francisco Silva (Chinese name: Xiao Haisi), a student from Porto, Portugal, is a dedicated teenager. Only four months after he studied Chinese, he became the championship of the “Chinese Bridge” Chinese Proficiency Competition for Foreign Secondary School Students in Portugal.

At the Chinese bridge competition

Interest Is Best Teacher

In June, the 11th “Chinese Bridge” Chinese Proficiency Competition for Foreign Secondary School Students in Portugal was held in Aveiro, Portugal, City of Water. Francisco Silva, a middle school student in Porto who has only studied Chinese for four months, impressed everyone on the spot. He not only pronounced the Mandarin accurately and expressed clearly, but also answered the judges’ difficult problems calmly and fluently. His presence became the biggest surprise of this competition. In the end, he won the first place in the competition without any suspense. Xinhua News Agency, Puhua News and other media outlets have scrambled to report his story. Many people are very curious about how the 17-year-old boy learned Chinese in such a short period and his secret of making such great progress. “He talked with me in Chinese under the stage and our conversation was unexpectedly smooth and relaxing. I can’t imagine that a student who has studied Chinese for four months or so can reach such a high level.” A Chinese volunteer at the “Chinese Bridge” Competition excitedly talked about her impression about the child prodigy.

Francisco being reported in the front page of People's Daily Overseas Edition

To learn a language, interest is as important as talent. Francisco Silva's father is a teacher at an engineering university. Perhaps affected by his father, he also studied science at the secondary school. Interestingly, as a science student, in addition to learning math, physics and chemistry, Francisco also likes Chinese elements very much, such as Chinese calligraphy, music and ancient poetry.

“One day I read a history book about China and found it very interesting.” Speaking of the reasons for learning Chinese, Francisco was too excited to stop talking about it. “Later, I went to see the Peking Opera. Although I didn’t quite understand the lyrics, I was very happy to watch the whole performance and didn’t think about leaving early. My mood was better than when I listened to some concerts, because the actors expressed their emotion through expression and movement, which slowly got me into the plot. Besides, the costumes and makeup of the actors were very characteristic, which can also be understood without language. Since then, I have fallen in love with Chinese culture. I want to learn Chinese, because this is the best way to understand China’s five thousand years of culture."

Learning Chinese History by Himself

China is the only ancient civilization whose culture has never been interrupted. Why does China have the oldest and continuous civilization in the world? Europeans who are thousands of miles away from China are puzzled by this, and Francisco is no exception. He gradually became obsessed with Chinese history, which also became a powerful driving force for him to learn Chinese.

"Ancient China is particularly sophisticated and interesting. Everyone knows that China has beautiful palaces or emperors wearing yellow clothes. In my opinion, the most interesting dynasty in China is the Tang Dynasty, when Chinese culture reached its highest level, the golden times of China. My favorite ancient poems all belong to the Tang Dynasty. Nearly 49,000 ancient poems were made in the Tang Dynasty." Every time he talks about China with other people, Francisco always wants to talk about the Chinese history he knows.

“It is said that China began its connection with the western countries from the Silk Road. Since then, the distance between people has become very close.” In addition to the ancient Silk Road, the most impressive Chinese symbol for Francisco is the Great Wall, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. “The Great Wall is a unique achievement in the history of mankind. China is already a superpower in the world. I believe that Chinese will become a universal language. When I study Chinese, I like to write Chinese characters because I think a new Chinese character is like a new stone, which I use to build my own ‘Great Wall’.”

Approaching the Confucius Institute

Francisco, a senior at his high school, is preparing for the entrance exam in Portugal. Although his schedule is quite full every day, he still keeps on learning Chinese, reciting ancient Chinese poetry and reading books on Chinese history every day. When he took the Level 1 test of HSK in the Confucius Institute at the University of Aveiro, he got acquainted with Guo Zhiyan, Chinese Director of the Confucius Institute. As Guo Zhiyan found that Francisco not just is gifted at language learning but also very focused when learning Chinese. Guo warmly welcomed him to receive further study in the Confucius Institute to make preparations for the upcoming “Chinese Bridge” Competition. There are 12 Chinese teachers who are Chinese citizens in the Confucius Institute at the University of Aveiro, and 220 students of the university are studying Chinese in the Institute. Rich cultural activities held by the Confucius Institute including the celebration of China’s lunar new year, the garden party in the Lantern Festival and Chinese Culture Festival can help Francisco better experience Chinese culture.

Volunteers for the Dragon Boat Festival actives of the Confucius Institute

Participating in the Chinese lecture

Reading books in the library of the Confucius Institute

Francisco has learnt about the story about Confucius, China’s great educator, through his study in the Confucius Institute. “Recently my teacher is teaching me Confucius’s The Analects of Confucius, which is very interesting and reasonable. Although it is a bit hard for me and I can’t fully understand it, I have decided to do research on him in the future.” So Francisco is going further in the path of learning Chinese. He has fallen in love with Confucius’s The Analects of Confucius as well as being obsessed by Cao Xueqin’s A Dream in Red Mansions during the short period of over 100 days. “I am quite fascinated by the stories happened in China’s Qing Dynasty. As interest is the best teacher, it is not difficult for me to learn Chinese. I have already been deeply in love with Chinese and China.”

Making preparations for the “Chinese Bridge”

Since Francisco’s home is 77 kilometers away from the Confucius Institute at the University of Aveiro, he has to take buses and trains and then walk to the Confucius Institute, which takes him two hours and a half altogether. Although his travel to school is quite long, he always gets there on time and concentrates on the three-hour-and-a-half Chinese lecture. His spirit for learning has moved every teacher and some of the teachers also help him improve Chinese through WeChat.

When preparing for the final of the “Chinese Bridge”, Francisco recited his speech for countless times every day and became very familiar with all the questions for the knowledge Q & A session. In each day, he simulated many Chinese questions, and asked and answered them himself. Besides, he read books on Chinese history eagerly and watched videos of the finals of the “Chinese Bridge” over the years to encourage himself.

“It takes ten years of hard work to give a ten-minute performance on the stage.” One of Francisco’s Chinese friends told us that he has done a lot for learning Chinese. “He insists on reading Chinese books and reciting Chinese words every day. As long as he is not busy, he will learn Chinese. He even listens to Chinese and read Chinese sentences when walking. He is such a person with a strong desire for knowledge that he is always willing to learn new things when he is with his Chinese friends. We also recommend good Chinese films and music to him. He will learn the expressions in the films and music and can use them to communicate with us afterwards.”

His notebook

Taking a photo with his notebook

With the help of his Chinese teachers and friends, great progress has been made in Francisco’s Chinese learning. And the most exciting thing for him is that he has had his own Chinese name—Xiao Haisi. “Learning Chinese has changed my life and broadened my horizon. I have got acquainted with many new teachers and friends and have got a good opportunity to experience Chinese culture and know about China because of Chinese. In my opinion, China is the most beautiful country which is my dream place. I haven’t been to it yet, but I have already known that I will like it very much.”

Next Stop: China

The “Chinese Bridge”, the brand project of the Confucius Institute Headquarters (Hanban), has facilitated the cultural exchanges between Chinese people and Portuguese people. After winning the first prize in the Chinese Bridge Chinese Proficiency Competition for Foreign Secondary School Students, Francisco’s heart was filled with a sense of accomplishment which was hard to tell. Although his Chinese is getting better, he hasn’t got the chance to go to China, which is his biggest regret now. “I will win the first prize in the Chinese Bridge Chinese Proficiency Competition for Foreign College Students in the future and go to China. If I go to China, I want to go to many places including the Great Wall, the Imperial Palace, the Summer Palace as well as Shanghai, Xi’an and Chengdu. I also plan to taste Sichuan food and take a look at the grand scenery of Yunnan and the cultural heritage of Henan.”

Francisco said that he used to think that China was a strange country before he began to learn Chinese since Chinese people are different from European people in appearances, thoughts and cultures. But now, he has a brand new feeling. “There is nothing strange about China! There are many beautiful sceneries and cultures!”

The upcoming 2019 marks the 40th anniversary of the establishment of China-Portugal diplomatic relations. Francisco can fluently tell the historical exchanges between China and Portugal. “Macau was taken away from China for over 400 years and was not returned to China until 1999. My friend from Macau once sent me a photo of it and I felt familiar with it when I saw the photo. As the relations between the two countries are getting better and better now, more and more Portuguese like me want to know about China and Chinese culture.”

Before taking part in the “Chinese Bridge” Competition, Francisco did not know much about the building of the New Silk Road Economic Belt and the cooperative initial of the 21th-Century Maritime Silk Road put forward by China. But he has learnt a lot about the “Belt and Road” during the Competition. “Now I have known that it is a project for trade contacts and cultural exchanges between China and other countries and I think it is great.”

Francisco has always had great passion for learning Chinese. When he won the first prize in the secondary school group in his own right, he told the teachers in the Confucius Institute that he has got a bigger dream that he wants to study in China and has said that he will definitely learn Mandarin well and travel around the world. He also wants to work as an intern in the Confucius Institute in the upcoming vacation, so as to return to the Constitute for its help and make preparations for the competition in China in this October at the same time.

When talking about his plan for the future, Francisco said: “My interest in Chinese culture is my driver for learning. If possible, I still want to study in China. When I become a college student, I want to travel to China and other countries in the world while studying, so that I can know about different cultures more deeply.”

Story by Qi Xiaodong