Shona-Chinese dictionary to be launched this month

A Shona-Chinese dictionary produced by academics at the University of Zimbabwe and its Confucius Institute will be launched on 20 November in Harare. But the dictionary – the first in Africa – is already on the market.

The Shona-Chinese, Chinese-Shona Dictionary is divided into two parts, said Dr Herbert Mushangwe, one of its authors and a senior lecturer in the Confucius Institute.

The first part is a Shona-Chinese section composed of about 1,500 frequently used Shona headwords. The second section is the Chinese-Shona part, with some 1,250 frequently used Chinese headwords.

The Chinese headwords were selected from an intermediate Chinese vocabulary list, known as HSK level 4 – HSK is a Chinese proficiency test called Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi.

Mushangwe told University World News that the dictionary was designed mainly for beginners and intermediate learners of Chinese and-or Shona.

For each Chinese headword, which is written using both Chinese characters and the ‘pinyin’ – a method of representing Chinese characters using Latin letters to enable learners to read the characters – a Shona equivalent word is given as well as an English reference word.

Why the dictionary?

Mushangwe said that more than 3,000 people had studied the Chinese language through the Confucius Institute since 2007, most of them native Shona speakers.

Currently there are also about six Confucius Classrooms in Zimbabwe where Chinese is taught, including at Chinhoyi University, Alexandra Park Primary School, Morgan Zintec College, Roosevelt Girls High, Churchill Boys High and Midlands Christian College.

It is possible that the Zimbabwean government will introduce Chinese and other foreign languages in primary and secondary schools.

“Considering the increasing number of people learning Chinese in Zimbabwe, the Shona-Chinese dictionary is very important as a reference book,” Mushangwe explained.

“It is also important in developing local teaching resources. Currently all the teaching materials are donated by the Chinese government. The content is far detached from the learners’ environment, thus making it difficult,” he added.

Some learners feel intimidated so they drop Chinese before they acquire the language. The Shona-Chinese dictionary was meant to make the Chinese language simple, and would also help prepare for future projects that would include locally produced Chinese textbooks.

Chinese in the global village

Mushangwe said the Chinese language was not only important to Zimbabweans – it was one of the six official languages of the United Nations.

Following the growth of the China’s economy, developed countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Australia and Russia were sending their students to learn Chinese as a way of penetrating the Chinese market.

Developing countries could benefit from scholarships provided by the Chinese government to go and study in China, Mushangwe continued. These scholarships are mainly available for those who have passed a Chinese proficiency test – a considerable incentive.

There is also a commercial incentive. “Currently Chinese business people are bringing Chinese products to Zimbabwe, yet it is difficult for Zimbabweans to export local products to China. One of the challenges they face is the language barrier,” he said.

Zimbabweans, Chinese first-language speakers, Shona speakers outside Zimbabwe and researchers would be the main users of the dictionary. Also, since Shona is a Bantu, agglutinative language, the dictionary could be used across Africa for academic research.

Nine scholars worked on dictionary: Professor Pedzisai Mashiri, Yuan Lin, Dr Hebert Mushangwe, Dr Laston Mukaro, Professor Emmanuel Chabata, Dr Victor Mugari, Muchinei Musona, Annastacia Dhumukwa and Godfrey Chisoni.

* The dictionary is being distributed through the Confucius Institute at a wholesale price of US$10.