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Egyptian Academic Is at Heart of Growing Arab Interest in Teaching Chinese

Hassanein Fahmy Hussein is at the forefront of a growing movement among Arab nations to boost their capacity to teach Chinese as they expand their cultural and economic ties with China.

An associate professor of Chinese language and translation at King Saud University, in Riyadh, Fahmy has a key role in Saudi Arabia’s efforts to build its resources for teaching Chinese in schools and universities.

In addition, he is also earning international recognition for his translations. He was among the winners of the Sheikh Hamad Award for Translation and International Understanding last year for his translation of  the book “Chinese Food Culture” by Xie Ding Yuan.

The book explains the culture around Chinese food and drink, and the special place food has in the history of Chinese civilization. Egypt’s National Center for Translation has published it in two parts.

The Sheikh Hamad Award was established in Qatar in 2015 with the aim of honouring translators who encourage links between cultures.

Teaching Chinese in Arab Universities

A native of Egypt, Fahmy worked as a professor of Chinese at the Faculty of Languages at Ain Shams University before taking his current position at King Saud University.  At that time, the Riyadh institution was the only Saudi university teaching Chinese and had a very limited number of students.

By the end of the 2021-2022 academic year, more than 200 King Saud University students will have bachelor’s and diploma degrees in Chinese, as the kingdom pushes for greater cooperation with China.

Hassanein Fahmy Hussein
An associate professor of Chinese at King Saud University

That changed in February 2019 when Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman visited China and signed bilateral agreements in education, culture, publishing, and translation, Fahmy told Al-Fanar Media.

“The important breakthrough in Chinese language education in Saudi Arabia came when it was decided to include Chinese in the public schools,” he said. That led to the expansion of Chinese language programmes and departments at universities, he said, as well as a decision to open Chinese studies to both sexes rather than men only, as it had been before.

Fahmy has developed a study plan for teaching Chinese in Saudi universities and is a member of the Ministry of Education’s committee to include Chinese language study in public schools.

Fahmy said that by the end of the 2021-2022 academic year, more than 200 King Saud University students will have bachelor’s degrees and diplomas in Chinese, which should meet the needs of Saudi and Chinese organisations in the kingdom and supply enough translators and teachers.

Specialised Dictionaries

At the start of the century, Ain Shams University’s Faculty of Languages had been the only university department teaching Chinese in the Arab world. But a number of universities in the region have opened departments since then.

To help meet the need for teaching resources, Fahmy has produced three specialised Chinese dictionaries for students—glossaries of tourist terms, business terms and political terms.

He has also overseen the preparation of curricula for teaching Chinese to Arabic speakers and has translated or had a hand in creating many Chinese works for Arab students.

Gallery: An Educator’s Work in Translation and Teaching

The Saudi Ministry of Education adopted Fahmy’s book “Let’s Learn Chinese” for secondary school students and his book “Chinese Language for Beginners.”

Fahmy believes that the Arab region needs more books about learning Chinese.

Translating Chinese Literature

In addition to his educational role, Fahmy has also translated contemporary Chinese literature to Arabic. These include translations of works like “Red Sorghum”, a 1987 novel by Mo Yan, winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize for Literature, and books by other prominent writers, such as Yu Hua, Yujin Yun,  and Tie Ning.

Most recently, Fahmy translated a 2003 novel by the Chinese writer Liu Zhenyun called “Cell Phone”. That translation is the first literary work issued in a cooperation project between the League of Arab States and China.

“The Arab region needs to experiment more in curricula and auxiliary books teaching Chinese to meet students’ needs.”

Hassanein Fahmy Hussein

Fahmy told Al-Fanar Media that the project’s works “are of great value to writers who have a clear impact on the history of Arabic and Chinese literature.”

Fahmy appreciates the diversity of the works selected within this translation project, between ancient, modern and contemporary literature and its geographical inclusion in the Arab world. But what has been accomplished is less than what was targeted for several reasons, he said. These include the lack of translators specialised in literary translation, and the failure to open the door to greater participation by Arab and Chinese private publishing houses. The project needs “more attention, development, and agreement on specific plans that take into account the available capabilities,” he said.

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Fahmy believes it is important to have specialised translators who are expert in certain fields. But it is important to have generalist translators, too.

Good translators who are fluent in two languages or more can translate in more than one field, he said, as long as they possess the cornerstone of both languages and knowledge tools. This enables them to present works that add to the language and culture they are translating into.

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