Sinologist for whom the phrase ‘It’s Chinese for me’ does not exist | Interview with Marine Jibladze

Marine Jibladze is one of the first Georgians who mastered the Chinese language professionally. Including the intolerance and stereotypes of society towards foreign culture many different barriers were raised in the young woman’s learning process, however, the firmly set goals and hard work yielded the desired result and today she is one of the most successful sinologists.

There is a widespread saying in Georgia, that something is as difficult for humans as the Chinese language (This is Chinese for me = It’s very difficult). What difficulties did you face in your language learning process?

The phrase “this is Chinese for me” was said even more often when I started studying and the fear and scepticism towards this language in the Georgian society is also the merit of this saying. Despite the great interest, learning was difficult for first-year students. Back then almost no one spoke this language, there was no proper method of teaching and not enough training materials. Added to this was the negative economic situation in the country – “the criminal 90s”. There was no electricity, water, heating, transportation. Long queues to buy bread, sometimes days without eating bread at all. If there was electricity, more or less, we would be able to boil water and practice in Chinese accompanied by hot tea.

I remember the shock of the first lecture – the traditional and simplified characters at the same time (while in China there was already used only simplified), a Latin transcription corresponding to the characters, the sound of which did not always correspond to the graphic image, difficult to pronounce sounds and “exotic” tones. After the first lecture, the number of students in the group has decreased, today it almost does not happen, and the reason is the sophisticated method of teaching and elevated awareness.

Chinese language is particularly time-consuming and stressful at the initial stage of learning, which is due to the transition from alphabet to hieroglyphic script and phonetic features. It is important that the teaching of the Chinese language be laid directly by an experienced and professional language specialist, who knows the specifics of both Chinese and Georgian.

As for the difficulties on my career path it was marriage while learning the basics of the Chinese language and an internship in China when I had to leave my kids for a long time.

I remember when my first lecturer, a wonderful lady, Mali Liu-Kandareli, saw the engagement ring on my hand she insisted that I should have returned the ring and refused the marriage not the carrier. She thought it would hinder my career advancement, though I was already firmly determined I had chosen to face two equally important challenges in my life. I have to admit, it was not easy, but neither was it impossible.

While studying once I went through a very emotional experience, which, I think, to some extent sealed even my fate and I want to share it with you.

During my internship in China, I missed my children very much and the grieving over them suddenly made me decide to go back, about which I wrote to a one of my Ukrainian acquaintance woman who was teaching at a university in another province of China.

And her response was:

“Of course, the decision to stay or return is up to you, and no one can judge you either here (in China) or there (in Georgia). But, my dear girl, I do not want you to regret that you did not achieve goals that you had set. You are a deep and purposeful person, I feel it. When you have two young children, many would not dare to learn Chinese. I understand you as both a mother and a woman, but I also deeply believe that a woman should stay strong. And this does not contradict the duties of a woman as a wife as well as a mother. A woman should have a specialty, a profession that provides and will protect her in unforeseen situations (which, unfortunately, is not uncommon in life).”

These words turned out to be decisive in my life. I want to tell all women that no one can stop them, they definitely need to be independent.

By the time you were studying Chinese, the majority of our population was studying Russian or, more rarely, English and other European languages. What sparked your interest in such a distant and unknown country?

My choice was motivated by several reasons, one of which was an interest in a completely different and mystical culture and language, and the other due to the fact that China was its way to the rapid and sharp economic progress. It was already predicted that China would become a “21st century country”, and I had an interesting specialty: Orientalist with direction – China.

Workshop at the State Language Department

During my student days, Arabic and Iranian languages were popular among the Oriental languages. Everything that is new and different, despite the great interest, I think, is a little difficult for us to accept. For example, many in schools wonder why Chinese should be the second language of choice, along with Russian, French and German. Some wondered why Georgians should learn Chinese at all. In addition to the practical purpose of learning Chinese, the rich culture of China plays a huge role. China has an amazing energy and mysterious force of gravity. I almost do not know a Chinese-speaking person who did not fall in love with this country once they visited it.

As a Chinese language specialist, what trends would you highlight about interest toward Chinese language and culture in Georgia?

Before China became popular, the reason for learning Chinese was so obscure. Students chose this language mainly because of its exoticism and interest towards Chinese culture. Then we opened the ‘Confucius Institute’, which offered Chinese language courses to everyone. The rapid growth of the Chinese economy has increased the number of people showing interest to learn Chinese. Today, Chinese is one of the most popular languages in the world, as well as in Georgia. Due to China’s economic prosperity, Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) a large number of jobs have been created in Georgia. Also, the free trade agreement allowed us to export Georgian products to the Chinese market on favourable terms.

Our students successfully pass international exams in Chinese, actively participate in various events, take prizes in local and international competitions. In terms of employment, even graduates and fourth-year students have 100 percent employment in public and private structures.

Chinese Language Day event at the UN

You have been the director of the ‘Confucius Institute’ for many years, how would you assess its role and importance in the development of China-Georgia cultural relations?

After receiving PhD in Chinese language (Linguistics and Philology) in China in 2005, upon my return to Georgia, I headed the Chinese branch of the ‘Asia-Africa Institute’. Even before I left China, I heard about the ‘Confucius Institute’, and there was discussion about opening it, although I soon had to return back to China. Upon my arrival in Georgia in 2009, Mr. Kakha Bendukidze invited me to the ‘Free University’ and asked me to head the Chinese direction again. In November 2010, the ‘Confucius Institute’ was officially opened. Our current partner is ‘Zhengzhou University’, where students and learners of the ‘Confucius Institute’ are undergoing internships. Within ‘Confucius Institute’ we hold numerous events (Chinese days, conferences, forums, etc.) and competitions, both independently and together with the Chinese Embassy, we publish Georgian language teaching materials, we hold public lectures by Georgian sinologists and Chinese language and culture specialists and so on. Georgian students, including schoolchildren, have the opportunity to raise awareness about China in various ways, improve their oral skills and take international Chinese language exams with us.

It should be noted that in the past the Soviet Union did not want direct friendly relations between Georgia and China. Teaching Chinese was even banned, only Russia had the right to do so. Today, China is our important partner and close friend, which respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia, which is reflected in international organizations, and despite the efforts of our northern neighbour, China never changes its position. This fact is taken into account by other countries in Asia and Africa, which is very important.

Jury at the International Chinese Language Competition in China

You have one of the most prestigious awards in Beijing, the “Honorary Award for Special Contribution and Achievement ” – tell us more about this and other successes.

I was notified of this award in the spring of 2016. It has been handed over to Sinologists from different parts of the world, including very old sinologists. It was an award for special contribution to Sinology. In addition to the award, in the same year I was awarded the title of Visiting Lecturer at Beijing Language and Culture University. I give lectures to Chinese students for undergraduate, graduate and doctoral studies and also at The Communication and Media University of China (both of them are leading universities in Beijing) as a visiting research supervisor giving presentations and lectures on Chinese and Chinese as a foreign language.

Also, I have been a member of the jury at International Chinese language student competitions in China several times. I am glad that as a Chinese language expert at the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sports of Georgia, I have contributed to the development of the annual curriculum of Chinese Language as a Second Foreign Language in the Department of National Curriculum.

There has been a corner of Chinese literature and the My Name Foundation in the National Library of the Parliament of Georgia. Similarly, the National Library of China and several leading universities are planning to open a corner of Georgian literature, which will help to deepen cultural relations between the two countries.

Significant work has been done together with the State Language Department, the rules for transcription-transliteration of the Chinese language sound system into Georgian were developed and published. Prior to that, I had been working on this issue for years, both on a practical and scientific level, I had repeatedly lectured at a conference and published an article on phonetic comparison and the teaching of Chinese sounds in China. This is the basis on which other additional norms will be built gradually.

Orderliness is needed everywhere, otherwise there will be chaos and misunderstanding in language perception and pronunciation. We thus respect, first and foremost, our own language, which is the duty of all of us. “The state language is one of the main attributes of an independent country!”