Many thanks to the Richard Aldrich bursary for enabling me to attend the conference on ‘The History of Language Learning and Teaching: Between the Eurocentric Model, Missionary Linguistics and Colonial Linguistics’, which took place on 8-9 June 2018, at the Université Sorbonne Nouvelle in Paris.
The conference covers a range of papers focusing on various languages relating to European and Colonial contexts. It was an enriching and intercultural experience for me, not only enabling me to explore research interests and theories on a variety of topics but also relating the historical and cultural context of Paris to my existing intercultural experience especially through my experience studying and working abroad.
The paper I presented traces the early development of teaching and learning the Chinese language through missionaries and diplomatic officers during the 19th century in Britain. The uniqueness of this paper is that it focuses on Chinese language studies in the UK context by providing original data (archive materials) relating to those missionaries and diplomatic officers who had long residence in China, produced a varied range of texts for the learning of Chinese and laid the ground for the academic study of Chinese in Britain. The paper derives from my larger British Academy-funded study on the chequered history of British university engagement with Chinese Language Studies.
The conference offered useful theoretical contexts to consider language teaching and learning with historical and non Euro-central perspectives. The fact that the conference was held in Paris with a group of academics specialising in history and language studies added a historical dimension to my research as the examples of materials for learning Chinese appeared in the late 17th century in Europe. The other paper within the same session touches upon the socio-historical formation of Brazilian Portuguese, another example of exploring the variety within languages such as Portuguese and Chinese.
My session was chaired by Joseph Errington of Yale University, who also delivered a keynote speech on ‘Indonesia(n) between the colonial, national, and global’. Indeed, when we talk about teaching and learning languages we must reflect on the changing global context. Interesting discussions were stimulated by questions raised by speakers and the chair, and other audiences particularly who were interested in teaching and learning Mandarin Chinese. There is an increasing interest in the history of language studies. The history of the teaching and learning languages can help policy-makers and course leaders look back and reflect upon what might be achieved in the future, as the geo-political background has changed over the past decades, new imperatives have emerged. Future publications will follow, reflecting these research projects and interesting discussions emerged from the conference.
Tinghe Jin is Assistant Professor (Research) at the University of Durham